July 18, 2008
Editorial: More safety concerns for Vermont Yankee
The revelations of substandard work carried out to repair the Vermont Yankee cooling tower that collapsed last summer brings concerns about the competency of those running the nuclear power plant to new heights.
There is simply no excuse for short cuts on any work having to do with a nuclear power plant. The consequences of failure are simply too great, although in this case a Vermont Yankee official says the problem involves no radioactive materials and poses no threat to public health.
A leak was discovered last week in the same cooling tower that suffered a spectacular collapse last year that spilled thousands of gallons of water onto the ground. The new problem was critical enough for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to send its director of operations, William Borschardt, to look into the matter.
Borschardt said the leak was the result of inadequate repairs done last year. Vermont Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien said a leak in another cooling tower appears to have been caused by work done since last year where an inadequate number of brackets were installed.
How could Vermont Yankee management fail to grasp the importance of making sure the repairs were done right given that the cooling tower collapse sharply raised public concerns about the plant’s safety?
If there is no danger of a radioactive leak, then the big issue becomes: If this is the level of work we can expect from Entergy, the plant’s owner, when dealing with such a high-profile problem, then what is going on in areas that receive less public and regulatory scrutiny?
This is a critical question as Vermont Yankee goes through state and federal review to extend its operating license 20 years. The future of the plant is extremely important to Vermont as it supplies about a third of the power consumed in the state, and is a major factor in Vermont’s having the lowest electricity rates in the region and a small carbon footprint.
There is little doubt that Vermont benefits from the electricity generated by Vermont Yankee. The state so far has no way to replace that power at a similar cost should the plant be shut down when its operating license expires in 2012.
Should the force of the political winds blowing against a license extension increase, Vermonters will pay the price. With energy prices continuing to rise, there is only so much more cost Vermonters can afford to absorb. Vermont Yankee must get this absolutely right.
But safety trumps cheap, reliable power, and even the most structurally or mechanically sound power plant is only as safe as the people who manage the operation.