Recchia inquires into NRC relicensing of Vermont Yankee

The new commissioner of the Public Service Department is concerned about systemic problems at Vermont Yankee, and he wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to provide more details about the federal agency’s 2012 decision to relicense the nuclear plant.

Vermont Yankee on the banks of the Connecticut River. Photo by Deborah Lazar/Special to The Commons

Vermont Yankee on the banks of the Connecticut River. Photo by Deborah Lazar/Special to The Commons

Commissioner Chris Recchia’s inquiry into how the NRC provided a new 20-year license for the plant came after two infrastructure incidents last week.

“I’m seeing system problems and equipment problems,” he said. “I’m concerned about how those systems were evaluated during licensing. They are all aging. Were they tested? Did they perform as they intended to? Does the NRC see issues that they didn’t consider properly or should have considered more in the relicensing process?”

The first incident at Vermont Yankee occurred last Monday, when plant workers were testing the ventilation system in a reactor building.

The plant is currently shut down for refueling and maintenance, and during these tests a 6-by-10 foot “blowout panel” blew out due to over pressurization.

”If the reactor building is threatened by tornado-force winds, the panels can blow out and provide near instantaneous pressure equalization in the building,” said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan. “They are designed to open at specific differential pressures. Other structures, including turbine buildings, are also equipped with blowout panels.”

Entergy spokesman Jim Sinclair said that the panel has been replaced, and there is no problem.

“The panel did what it was designed to do, and there was no consequence from the situation,” he said.

But Recchia said that the incident is cause for concern.

In a March 21 letter to NRC Regional Administrator William Dean, Recchia pointed out that the panel blew out as a result of ventilation issues and that it should have been affixed to the reactor, rather than dropping onto the roof of the turbine building.

“The information provided to me is that due to incorrect ventilation line-up, pressure increased in the secondary containment until a blow-out panel released,” Recchia wrote. “The panel, when released, should have been secured to the structure by an attached wire rope to prevent it from falling from the building.”

Recchia’s letter also inquired into how the NRC has evaluated the plant’s mechanical components, its exhaust system, its procedures for detecting abnormal equipment and other infrastructure areas associated with the blowout panel.

A day after that incident, water flooded into an electrical switchgear room at the plant from dredging on the premises.

According to the NRC, a worker was installing a new transformer in the room, when the individual noticed water entering from a manhole.

“The level of water inside the switchgear room manhole was less than two feet at all times,” NRC’s Sheehan said.

Vermont Yankee personnel began inspecting outside manholes on Saturday, and they found a displaced mechanical seal on the outside manhole, which allowed the water to enter, according to the NRC.

Sheehan said that Vermont Yankee replaced the mechanical seal with a foam seal on Sunday.

“The bottom line is that the water in the switchgear room manhole was quickly identified and action taken to mitigate it,” Sheehan said. “There were no impacts on the electrical equipment. The replacement of the seals will prevent a recurrence of the problem.”

Vermont Yankee spokesman Rob Williams said the situation was resolved immediately.

“We have since replaced the seal plug and four others with a better design to preclude a similar situation in the future,” he said.

Recchia said he’s concerned about the incident because it’s reminiscent of a similar manhole problem the plant experienced a year prior.

“This is a very complicated plant. There are a lot of things that need to work and need to work well,” Recchia said. “I’ve been here two and a half months, and I’ve got two or three incidents that cause me concern. I want to understand how the NRC looked at these systems when it relicensed the plant.”

These incidents occurred the same week that the NRC began investigating Vermont Yankee’s finances. The NRC is concerned that the plant’s fair value plummeted to below a third of its carrying value in 2012.

Recchia said his department is also concerned about the aging plant’s finances.

“We’re concerned that VY is able to meet all of its obligations in terms of having the plant operate and meeting its commitments to its employees as well as the state,” he said.

He is worried about the plant’s financial capacity to properly manage its facilities and to decommission when the time comes.

Asked about systemic problems at the plant, Williams said: “For some perspective, the plant operated continuously for almost 500 days this last operating cycle, which is only possible when you maintain a plant to high standards and learn from industry operating experience and your own.”

Andrew Stein

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27 Comments on "Recchia inquires into NRC relicensing of Vermont Yankee"

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Louis Sullivan
2 years 10 months ago

So a few minor incidents that posed no immediate danger to the integrity of the plant were dealt with swiftly and efficiently. How is this an issue? It seems like Mr. Recchia is searching for things to complain about here.

Rob Simoneau
2 years 10 months ago

Dear Mr. Sullivan, This is an issues because these repair are not anticipated. Would you expect the same type of vigilance from the FAA. No you would not. The plant is being run beyond it 40 year design window and beyond it’s design limits. There will be increasingly unknown modes of failure that will lead to catastrophic failure in the near future. Quickly and efficiently do not cut it. These should have been anticipated but more importantly the plants needs to be decommissioned … now. For the record the current cost of Fukushima is now 180 billion dollars and counting,… Read more »

ALEX BARNHAM
2 years 10 months ago

That is the purpose of the new commissioner of the Public Service Department. His concern is an aging high pressure system that may pose a danger to the public. The reactor produces 1,912 Million Watts of heat which is converted to electricity at 32% efficiency to generate the 620 Million Watts electrical output. This thing is so powerful it heats up the Connecticut River. He is supposed to regulate the utility, not the other way around.

Bob Stannard
2 years 10 months ago

According to Entergy’s, Jim Sinclair and Rob Williams, and the NRC’s, Neil Sheehan, there’s nothing to see here; keep moving; nothing to see here; move along. Problem solved. No one got hurt. Nothing to see here. All well and good except for one small fact; why is it these things keep happening? This plant is getting old and is showing its age. Three incidents in the first three months of the new DPS commissioner’s job should give him cause for concern. Add to that the UBS report that is now questioning why Entergy is even bothering to operate this plant… Read more »

Mike Kerin
2 years 10 months ago

The NRC is NOT doing its job! It is the only entity that can regulate safety of the nuclear industry and it is in collusion with the industry instead. VY is a disaster waiting to happen. When it does a large area of Vermont , NH, and MA will become dead zones.

I hope that the NRC will start doing its job before a disaster does occur.

Mike Kerin
2 years 10 months ago

Can this guy deny the CPG? If the public service board denies it then wont the plant have to close down?

2 years 10 months ago

PSD Commissioner Recchia is seeking new data from the NRC on Vermont Yankee, lets see where this all leads. On the other hand, if the Governor gets his wish and the plant closes, Commissioner Recchia will really have his hands full. Here’s a scenario that the Commissioner and others in Vermont government could be facing. The vtdigger states the Governor has suggested that Vermont Yankee may close due to economic pressures. If this proves to be true, in addition to losing tax revenue, hundreds of good paying jobs and suffering other economic dislocations, the state will likely face a long… Read more »

ALEX BARNHAM
2 years 10 months ago

READY, FIRE, AIM mentality? You equate his administration to a terrorist regime? How so? If you need to remove a dangerous corporation from Vermont soil, you do not send in the Vermont National Guard, you have to deal with bullying lawyers. As I understand it, he is being named in a lawsuit personally by Entergy. Anyone who has the guts to stand up to the owners of an atomic bomb planted in our wonderful part of the globe that could literally render Vermont a national disaster needs all the support he can get. As I see it, he is risking… Read more »

2 years 10 months ago

Peter, A great, thorough comment. VY is a complicated plant, as are all other power plants. I know, because I designed a few of them that were much bigger than VY’s 620 MW. These kind of equipment failures occur at such plants. That is the reason periodic testing is mandated by the NRC. That is also the reason, life boat drills are held on cruise ships, as required by US law. Making a mountain out of a mole hill. I wish Mr. Recchia were as concerned with the expensive SPEED program whose annual costs are about to balloon which will… Read more »

ALEX BARNHAM
2 years 10 months ago

Thorium is highly abundant and easily attainable. It runs on a low pressure system, so much safer than present day high pressure Nuclear reactors. It’s also nearly 100% efficient. Here are some figures from Kirk Sorenson’s Google presentation: 6600 tonnes of thorium (500 quads) is equal to one of the following in the list below: – 5.3 billion tonnes of coal (128 quads) – 31.1 billion barrels of oil (180 quads) – 2.92 trillion m3 of natural gas (105 quads) – 65,000 tonnes of uranium ore (24 quads) more figures. 6 kg of thorium metal in a liquid-fluoride reactor has… Read more »

2 years 10 months ago

Alex,
Dr. Robert Hargraves is a member of the Coalition for Energy Solutions, as am I and a few other energy systems professionals.
http://www.coalitionforenergysolutions.org/

He is a worldwide-known authority on thorium reactors, advises the Chinese government, which has a significant thorium program to build reactors.

He has written a book “Thorium, Energy Cheaper Than Coal”. You can get it on Amazon.

Rob Simoneau
2 years 6 months ago

All of the these costs and future plant failures are ultimately payed for by the ratepayers. These costs must be transparent to the public. Again there will be increased number of failures and far worse failures. The economic reality of nuclear power is that it is no longer feasible and was never really feasible. Please read the attached report from the University of Vermont School of Law; PUBLIC RISK, PRIVATE PROFIT RATEPAYER COST, UTILITY IMPRUDENCE ADVANCED COST RECOVERY FOR REACTOR CONSTRUCTION CREATES ANOTHER NUCLEAR FIASCO, NOT A RENAISSANCE. http://www.vermontlaw.edu/Documents/PublicRiskPrivateProfit_Cooper.pdf The end of nuclear power … “A record number of reactors… Read more »

Rob Simoneau
2 years 10 months ago

Dear sir,

This not an appropriate cost analysis. The only true cost structure is life cycle costing from extraction to processing of uranium to creation of fuel rod bundles to operation and then storage and maintenance of facilities for spent fuel rods for thousands of year or the cost of decommissioning. These are operation expense only. Life cycle costing is the real cost or total cost of ownership. This does not include years of life lost due to radiation poisoning of humans or the environment. You have not even scratched the surface with these kw hour rates.

Coleman Dunnar
2 years 10 months ago

Well stated Peter: “Moving from VY to a broader scale, a more disturbing issue is the overall management record that Gov. Shumlin is establishing. Instead of being a do your homework and careful executive, he seems to operate with a: READY, FIRE, AIM mentality. This is not good.” The Schumlin modus operandi as always is go for the short term political gain without any analysis of the long term consequences. Promise utopia now and push the how and how much answers down the road in the meantime the populace gets caught up in the dream. A good example of the… Read more »

Peter Liston
2 years 10 months ago

“Gov. Shumlin elected to play hardball instead of working harder to negotiate a closure settlement where each side got something.”

HUH!?!? How was Entergy Louisiana ever going to agree to a closure settlement?!?!? They weren’t!!!!

Your entire argument is a fantasy.

timothy price
2 years 10 months ago

The Japanese and US media have hidden the extent of the ever increasing disaster that is destroying the ecosystem and people’s lives in Japan. Please watch this video which tells us, and also is confirmed by residents actually living there. This impacts US as well, and Vt. Yankee is capable of much worse. Please watch.

Fukushima Daiichi: A Chronological Account of the Disaster

James Leas
2 years 10 months ago

Public Service Department, members of the legislature, and the governor all have a responsibility to fully investigate and understand the safety issues at this plant and pressure the NRC to do its job. The legislature can hold hearings and let the NRC commissioners testify as to why this plant is safe enough to operate in view of its identical sister plants in Fukushima melting down. Some have said that the legislature cannot discuss safety because safety is preempted under federal law. The legislature is limited only in that it cannot pass legislation regulating nuclear safety. But the legislature must hold… Read more »

Carl Werth
2 years 10 months ago

Is it true that no Vermont utility buys power from VY anymore, but GMP DOES have a contract with a another nuclear power plant in New Hampshire that they DO buy power from?

Am I crazy or is there some hypocrisy going on here?

Mike Kerin
2 years 10 months ago

No hypocrisy at all. It is a vote of no confidence in Entergy. Entergy has taken a good plant and made it unsafe and nonviable out of pure greed. Entergy has not kept up with all the safety precautions and the NRC is complicit by issuing the license renewal without even inspecting the plant. The NRC took Entergy’s word as fact. And maybe someone took some $$$, too!

John Greenberg
2 years 10 months ago

It is correct that no Vermont utility buys power from VY any more and also correct that GMP has a contract to purchase power from Seabrook. CVPS, which GMP now owns, also had contracts for small amounts of power from Millstone. (GMP may have as well; I don’t know. Both utilities owned portions of most of the nuclear plants in New England at one time.) The contract Entergy offered for VY power was substantially more expensive and less beneficial than the one offered by Seabrook. GMP is not anti-nuclear, and has never pretended to be so. They built and owned… Read more »

2 years 10 months ago

Carl, GMP is buying nuclear energy from Seabrook, a much larger capacity plant than Vermont Yankee. A good move, because it is likely Lowell will not be producing energy as much as claimed, 185,570 MWh/yr, based on a CF of 0.336, whereas, 133,831 MWh/yr, or less, is more likely, based on Maine ridge line CFs of 0.25. Such a lack of energy production will adversely affect the economics of the project and the rate payers of Washington Electric Cooperative and Vermont Electric Cooperative. http://vermontspeed.com/project-status/ – NE grid prices have averaged about 5-6 c/kWh (there are occasional spikes, as shown by… Read more »

2 years 10 months ago

Mike Kerin, you say:”

Entergy has taken a good plant and made it unsafe and nonviable out of pure greed. Entergy has not kept up with all the safety precautions and the NRC is complicit by issuing the license renewal without even inspecting the plant.”

Those are pretty strong allegations, where do you get this information?

So you

Mike Kerin
2 years 10 months ago

http://sanonofresafety.org/2012/03/07/congress-told-nrc-stop-enforcing-regulations-or-well-cut-your-budget/

http://fairewinds.org/content/nrc-plays-keep-away

Peter, just two reasons among many. To answer your question.
I also suggest reading past articles on the VY and Entergy.

Entergy is a large corporation and is GREED oriented.

Mike Kerin
2 years 10 months ago

More reasons to NOT trust Entergy.
This is their MO.

http://start.toshiba.com/news/read.php?rip_id=%3CDA5C7EHG4%40news.ap.org%3E&ps=931

Read about a death and injuries at an Entergy plant. They don’t care about the workers, just the bottom line.

Rob Simoneau
2 years 10 months ago

Nuclear power plants are totally amoral. They do not care about your laws, your petty politics, if you go to church, if you are Republican or Democrat, if you read poetry, if you pray. These plants are subject to the laws of physics, chemistry, mechanics, dynamics, harmonic frequencies, strength of materials, and hydrogen embitterment to name a few. When the plant is ready for a catastrophic failure from an unanticipated mode of failure it will explode… pure and simple. Close Vermont Yankee before it is too late. Time is running out!Close the NRC because it is too late for them… Read more »

Bob Stannard
2 years 10 months ago

Here’s what you all should be worried about: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=ubs%20report%20on%20vermont%20yankee&source=web&cd=7&cad=rja&ved=0CFMQFjAG&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.vpr.net%2Fnews_detail%2F97065%2F&ei=HSNUUa37K4aH0QGthoH4Aw&usg=AFQjCNGhKINbqzxUB9xmz6ikrihWf2I4ew&bvm=bv.44342787,d.dmQ It’s the story about UBS declaring the financial woes of Entergy and specifically the VY plant. For all the ardent supporters that show up here to defend this aged plant it will be a big disappointment if/when Entergy just pulls the plug because the plant doesn’t make enough money. If/when that happens do you think that Entergy will give two hoots about the loyal employees who’ve written letters to newspapers nearly everyday? Do you think Entergy will care one iota about the families, the county or the State of Vermont? Of… Read more »

Rob Simoneau
2 years 10 months ago

Here is the human cost of Fukushima nuclear accident. But really, who wants to keep track of these costs. Source NHK. http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/newsline/201303271312.html

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