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

Comments

  1. Louis Sullivan :

    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 :

      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, source NHK. They have not released the dead and dying. You have a 4 – 5 year incubation period before the various forms of cancer appear, especially in children.

      I have placed a $1000 donation challenge to anyone who is willing to be me that there will be more failures in the future and soon. Care to bet! The processes go to the Children of Chernobyl. We start the clock now … after the cooling tower incident, condensation tower ….

      Shut Vermont Yankee down now before it is too late!!!

      Oh and another thing for the record the storage are in building 4 in Fukushima will collapse under a similar earthquake sending radioactive materials in amounts greater than Chernobyl … Part of the roof to the Chernobyl collapsed under snow loads ….

  2. ALEX BARNHAM :

    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.

  3. Bob Stannard :

    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 since it is apparently a financial dog, and we should all be concerned that corners are being cut to save money.

    And don’t count on the NRC to be looking out for safety. They have proven time and again that they are more sympathetic to industry costs than people’s safety.

  4. Mike Kerin :

    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.

  5. Mike Kerin :

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

  6. 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 and difficult battle with Entergy’s Louisiana management while going through the plant closing process.

    I assume that there are plenty of laws and regulations that set forth what an owner must do to close and secure a nuclear plant once it stops operating. If Entergy does elect to close VY for economic reasons, or if it ultimately loses in court, my guess is that they will drag their feet and do everything possible to frustrate Vermont officials all while staying within arguable compliance with applicable laws and regulations, as they see them.

    It will be cheaper to litigate each and every dispute with the state as opposed to rapidly pouring untold millions of dollars into the plant closure. Entergy with its team of heavy weight lawyers have the wherewithal and the will to drag Vermont through the courts with expensive litigation costing the state incredible legal fees and other resources.

    No rational business wants to operate where it is not wanted and where it cannot make a fair return on investment. That being the case, Gov. Shumlin, instead of negotiating a controlled glide landing for the closing of VY, which would have allowed some reasonable period to wind down, has instead forced a potential crash landing. A crash landing being a cold turkey shut down of the plant resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in loses for Entergy.

    The way Entergy sees it, VY is a safe plant and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission agrees with that sentiment. On the other hand, Entergy views Vermont as being motivated by anti-nuclear dogma of the worse kind, which they see as being ignorant and patently unfair.

    For those concerned with safety and pressing for a VY shut down, there could be a black swan event with this plant resulting in a catastrophic accident. I have no way knowing about such an eventuality nor does anyone else. We know that the NRC doesn’t believe the black swan risk warrants closing the plant and I have to place more credence in what they say than the anti-nuclear activists.

    No matter what the final outcome of the plant’s operation is, Vermont will be a loser because Gov. Shumlin elected to play hardball instead of working harder to negotiate a closure settlement where each side got something.

    I have no dog in this fight other than concern for the hundreds of Vermonters, who rely on the plant to support their families, otherwise, the closing of the plant makes no difference to me. The real concern is how the Governor has handled the entire VY matter.

    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.

    • ALEX BARNHAM :

      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 his life as a real patriot, not a terrorist.

    • 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 be of much greater concern to Vermonters.

      Out of state tax shelter set-ups are taking advantage of Vermont’s overly-generous PV solar feed-in tariffs under the SPEED program.

      SVEP, San Francisco, CA, 2200 kW, 25 years @ 30 c/kWh
      Sun Gen, Arundel, ME, 2200 kW, 25 years @ 30 c/kWh
      Great Bay Hydro, Portsmouth, NH, 675 kW, 20 years @
      CRL Solar, Baxford, MA, 2200 kW, 25 years @ 30 c/kWh
      GASNA, San Francisco, CA, 2000 kW, 25 years @ 30 c/kWh

      The energy revenues end up in out-of-state tax shelters owned by multi-millionaires, and already-struggling households and businesses end up paying more for electricity. See attached spreadsheet.

      The costs of Vermont’s SPEED RE program, on auto-pilot, are about to balloon out of control in an attempt to inefficiently reach 2017 RE goals. Here are some numbers of the excess costs.

      PROJECTS 2.2 MW or less; estimated 333,270,000 kWh/yr in 2017

      Actual costs in excess of annual average NE grid price already rolled in electric rates.

      2010, $506,871
      2011, $2,204,334
      2012, $3,423,473
      http://vermontspeed.com/speed-monthly-production/

      Projected costs to attain 2017 RE goals to be rolled into electric
      rates.

      2013, $5,862,804
      2014, $10,036,478
      2015, $17,175,205
      2016, $29,381,491
      2017, $50,246,975

      NOTE: The excess costs of the SPEED projects greater than 2.2 MW, such as Sheffield, Lowell, etc., that will supply an estimated total of 777,630,000 kWh/yr by 2017, have not been determined, as data for analysis, likely known to DPS/PSB people, is not made public. These costs will be of similar magnitude and are NOT included in the above numbers.

      Vermont’s expensive, subsidized RE set up needs to undergo a thorough review and trimming, before it balloons out of control. S-10 will provide time for such proper review.

      Willem

      • ALEX BARNHAM :

        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 the energy equivalent (66,000 MW*hr electrical*) of:

        – 230 train cars (25,000 MT) of bituminous coal or,

        – 600 train cars (66,000 MT) of brown coal or,

        – 440 million cubic feet of natural gas (15% of a 125,000 cubic meter LNG tanker),

        – or, 300 kg of enriched (3%) uranium in a pressurized water reactor.

        • 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 :

          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 closed in North America this year – at San Onofre 2 & 3, CA; Crystal River, FL (pictured, left); Kewaunee, WI; and Gentilly-2 (Quebec). Plus there is a growing list of new reactors and other nuclear projects that are non-starters. Canceled are: Duke/Progress Energy’s proposed twin reactor units at Levy County, FL; and plans to ship radioactive waste from the Bruce nuclear site in Canada to Sweden. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has also informed Duke that license finalization for its proposed new reactors at William States Lee in SC has been postponed by three years, to 2016. And the nuclear market in the U.S. is so bad, the largest nuclear utility in the world, Electricité de France, has announced it is completely withdrawing.” (source Beyond Nuclear)

          Decommission Vermont Yankee now before it is too late!

          Japan Continues to Struggle
          “Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has declared a new “emergency” in the worsening Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe with the disclosure of the uncontrolled release of highly radioactive groundwater flowing into the Pacific Ocean. A TEPCO spokesman admitted that “We understand that this water discharge is beyond our control and we do not think that the current situation is good.” Prime Minister Abe has pledged government support in a renewed hope to gain control of the radioactive contamination of the sea. In fact, Fukushima’s radioactive water crisis has only just begun.” source NHK.

          What will happen to the Connecticut River when Vermont Yankee has its meltdown? Same scenario! …. The Connecticut river valley will be lost forever.

          Decommission Vermont Yankee now before it is too late!

          – See more at: http://vtdigger.org/2013/08/06/green-mountain-power-and-entergy-reach-settlement-over-cooling-tower-collapses/#comments

      • Rob Simoneau :

        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 :

      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 dream, single-payer health plan – now into the second term we still don’t know what the cost is.
      I digress back to Vermont Yankee. The result of READY, FIRE, AIM arrogance is why now Vermont is in the endless loop of litigation. Had Entergy not been backed into a corner market realities would have probably closed the plant down by now leaving Vermont free to pursue the Schumlin dream of 90% renewables by 2050. (Willem can address the folly of that dream better than I can). READY, FIRE, AIM isn’t management it’s malfeasance. We deserve better.

    • Peter Liston :

      “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.

  7. timothy price :

    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

  8. James Leas :

    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 hearings, discuss safety issues, understand the serious safety issues that can cause a meltdown at Vermont Yankee, and use every method available to pressure the NRC to resolve them.

    In view of Fukushima, the list for the Vermont Yankee plant includes loss of power to operate pumps, loss of reactor coolant, containment failure, hydrogen explosion, fuel pool loss of coolant, and fuel pool fire and detonation.

    Is the NRC addressing these concerns? In brief, the answer is no. The responsibility rests with our state officials to understand the issues and take action. Preemption is no excuse. Our state officials have the power to bring top Entergy and NRC officials to Vermont, grill them on these topics and on any conflict of interest they may have, and bring them back time after time to force the NRC to do its job.

    An aging plant, like Vermont Yankee has additional concerns. As we know from Fukushima,the consequences of an accident are too large to neglect any aspect of this task.

  9. Carl Werth :

    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 :

      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 :

      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 VY along with CVPS and others. Their position in the VY CPG case that was pending before the Senate vote (Docket 7440) was supportive of relicensing VY IF there were a contract beneficial to Vermont ratepayers. Entergy never offered such a contract.

    • 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 below ISO-NE data), have been at that level for about 3 years, are likely to stay there for some decades, as a result of abundant, domestic, low-cost, low-CO2-emitting natural gas.
      http://www.ferc.gov/market-oversight/mkt-electric/new-england/elec-ne-rto-mth-pr.pdf

      – Hydro Quebec and Vermont Yankee pricing is about 5.5-6 c/kWh, inflation and or grid price adjusted; 24/7/365, steady, near-CO2-free energy.

      – GMP bought 60 MW of steady, near-CO2-free nuclear energy at 4.66 cents/kWh, inflation and or grid price adjusted. Smart move, now that Lowell has become a PR disaster and will likely be a financial fiasco as well.

  10. 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

  11. Rob Simoneau :

    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 already.

  12. Bob Stannard :

    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 course not and this would be the case whether we were in an adversarial relationship with them or not.

    The fact is that this is a huge corporation based in La. The could give a rat’s behind about Vermont and now Vt. could give a rat’s behind about them. What we should be doing is preparing for the inevitable. This plant very likely will go the way of other old, relicensed plants around the country and when it does how ready are we?

    Well, we’ve taken the first wise step and opted to buy much cheaper power elsewhere so we are no longer dependent upon the power source. We have time. The plant can’t close from one day to the next and there will be many people involved in the decommissioning, so the economic impact will be slow; but be assured the day will come.

    Inasmuch as we are getting nothing from this plant/corporation other than lawsuits it is in Vermont’s best interest to be rid of this thorn sooner rather than later.

  13. Rob Simoneau :

    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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