Vermont Yankee security endorsed by Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Vermont Yankee
Security sign on the gate at the Vermont Yankee compound in Vernon. Photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger

VERNON – Federal regulators have announced that they’re satisfied with security changes implemented since Vermont Yankee’s shutdown.

But it’s not clear exactly what those changes are, and officials say that’s by design: Radioactive material including spent nuclear fuel remains on site, and there are concerns about publicly disclosing too many details of the Vernon plant’s protection scheme.

“We are letting the public know we took a close look at whether the new plan is consistent with our security requirements for a permanently shutdown nuclear power plant,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “However, we are not providing any details of the changes (including) number of security officers post-shutdown, weaponry needed, etc.”

Since plant owner Entergy ceased producing power at Vermont Yankee in December 2014, at least one security change has been apparent: The plant’s main gate is no longer staffed. But administrators have warned that the gate is still monitored, and an armed security force – authorized to use “deadly force,” according to a sign at the entrance – remains on site to defend the plant’s protected area.

While there had been initial reports of a few people wandering onto the site post-shutdown, that no longer seems to be an issue, according to Marty Cohn, the plant spokesman.

“We believe that the signs have done their job in terms of people recognizing not to trespass on a nuclear facility,” Cohn said.

In another security related matter, Entergy has said crews razed several storage buildings inside the plant’s protected area. Joe Lynch, Vermont Yankee’s government affairs manager, said last month at a meeting in Brattleboro that removing the structures would improve “the view around the site so our security officers have a better view of any potential threats.”

Beyond that, there haven’t been any details disclosed about how security has shifted at Vermont Yankee. But the NRC now has completed its review of the plant’s security plans, and a January letter says the agency’s staff determined that Entergy’s changes “did not result in a decrease in safeguards effectiveness” at the facility.

That decision was based on a June visit to Vermont Yankee to review current and future security plans, the NRC letter says. There also was an August inspection that included a tabletop exercise and assessments of “equipment performance, tests and maintenance,” “protective strategy evaluation,” and “critical responder timelines.”

The NRC says Entergy made changes to the plant’s physical security plan, the security training and qualification plan and a safeguard contingency plan. There is reference in the federal letter to revisions in the plant’s security equipment and its “response force numbers,” along with a few other details.

The company’s detailed security documents, however, “contain safeguards information and have been withheld from public disclosure,” NRC officials wrote.

Sheehan said withholding such information is a matter not taken lightly.

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, NRC officials “grappled with the need to let the public know about security issues at nuclear power plants within their communities versus the need to deprive potential adversaries of any security-related information that could aid them in an attack,” Sheehan said.

“The commission ultimately decided to provide information at a high level without disclosing specifics,” he added. “This approach applies to the post-shutdown security changes we have approved for Vermont Yankee.”

Vermont Yankee
Vermont Yankee reactor. Photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger
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