Gov’s presser on video: Shumlin announces plans for oversight panel to keep tabs on management of VT Yankee

Photo of Peter Shumlin and Liz Miller.
Gov. Peter Shumlin and Commissioner Liz Miller announce the creation of an oversight panel to watch over the management of Vermont Yankee. Photo by Josh Larkin

In the wake of new tests that show elevated levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, in two monitoring wells at Vermont Yankee, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced on Tuesday that the state will create an oversight panel to keep tabs on Entergy Corporation’s management of the plant.

The affected wells are 150 to 200 feet north of the tritium plume that was first identified a year ago.

Entergy notified the Shumlin administration about the new tritium discoveries two weeks ago. The results were from tests conducted in December. The corporation’s radioactive sensing equipment broke down in the interim. The governor noted that Entergy didn’t mention the problem when officials gave testimony before the Public Service Board recently.

“We have a responsibility to all Vermonters that we operate a nuclear power plant that is not leaking tritium or other radioactive substances into the ground,” Shumlin said.  “This is the second January in a row that we’ve been stuck with this challenge. I intend as governor to work together with the commissioner to ensure we get straight talk and transparency; have a plan to get to the bottom of it; have a more active relationship with Entergy to ensure we’re getting accurate information in a timely fashion.”

On Friday, Dr. Harry Chen, the commissioner of the Department of Health sent a letter to Entergy, insisting that the company send the state split samples of water from monitoring wells. DOH is missing “hundreds” of samples, some of which date back to September.

“Obviously, I am concerned, No. 1 that this aging plant continues to show signs of a lack of reliability by yet another leak or a plume that is moving in directions north,” Shumlin said. “No. 2 by a lack of transparency by Entergy Louisiana in communicating to Vermont the challenges we’re facing in terms of the aging plant and reliability that should be a concern to all Vermonters. They’re certainly a concern to me.”

Shumlin outlined a three-point plan for the Department of Public Service to address the tritium problem at Vermont Yankee.

  1. The governor has charged Liz Miller, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, with appointing nuclear experts to a Reliability Oversight Committee. The panel will advise the department about Vermont Yankee reliability and “other issues that come up” as the state moves toward closing the plant in 2012.
  2. The state will expect daily updates on tritium levels in monitoring wells from Entergy to the Department of Public Service and the Department of Health, Shumlin said. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has called for a similar testing regimen.
  3. Shumlin has demanded that Entergy give the Department an emergency plan within 24 hours that explains how “they’re going to get to the bottom of this will be formulating a plan to get to the bottom of this latest leak.”

Shumlin said these steps are necessary because “Entergy Louisiana does not do business the way Vermonters do business.”

“That’s been my experience,” Shumlin said. “I have not seen any behavior that suggests that they’ve decided to do business differently.”

Shumlin appointed Peter Bradford and Richard Saudek to the Texas Low-Level Nuclear Waste Compact Commission. Bradford, an adjunct professor at Vermont Law School, and Saudek, Vermont’s first commissioner of the Department of Public Service, will replace Uldis Vanags, the state’s nuclear engineer, and Stephen Wark, the communications director for the department.

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Anne Galloway

About Anne

Anne Galloway is the founder and editor of VTDigger.org and the executive director of the Vermont Journalism Trust. She has been a journalist for 20 years. Galloway was the editor of the Sunday Rutland Herald and Times Argus from 2006 through 2009. For many years, she was a contributing writer for Seven Days, and her reporting has appeared in The New York Times (Vows column), the New York Daily News, Vermont Life and City Pages (Minneapolis). In March 2017, she was a finalist for the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism for her investigation into allegations of fraud at Jay Peak Resort. Galloway was also a finalist for the Investigative Reporters & Editors FOI Award in April 2017.

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  • Al Salzman

    Montpelier has given Entergy too much wiggle room. The tritium leak is a public health hazard and Vermont Yankee should be taken over by the state under emergency rules. If the Governor or any member of his staff or Entergy’s staff consider this too extreme, they and their families should be invited to drink the water from those test wells. Again, sadly, this stalling has a class component not as extreme as Bohpal but still an example of high wage mucky mucks putting low wage folks at risk. Can anyone believe that the Entergy CEO or Shumlin, for that matter, would impanel a committee to monitor the wells in question if they lived a few hundred yards from the poisonous ground water?