Inspectors got an obstructed view

NRC cites visibility for probe failure

November 18, 2008

VERNON — A special inspection team from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission failed to find five degraded support columns in the only safety-related cell in Vermont Yankee’s cooling towers because inspectors didn’t have a clear view of the interior of the cell, according to an NRC spokesman.

The columns, estimated to be 40 feet tall, were either bowed or cracked and were in the interior of the cooling towers, where inspectors’ views were obscured by louvers that cover the structural timbers but accommodate the trickling and cooling of the water.

“There was no way the special inspection team could see these with fill and louvers in place,” according to NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

“It’s almost better not to have a regulator, than to have a regulator that just obscures the picture,” said Raymond Shadis, senior technical advisor to the New England Coalition, a Brattleboro-based anti-nuclear group. “The work that the NRC has done is counter-productive to public safety.”

Deteriorating cooling towers produce loose debris, which falls into the cooling tower basin underneath the towers, Shadis noted. “You cannot have loose debris in the cooling tower basin without affecting safety,” he added.

Shadis said the coalition also plans to file a formal complaint with the Office of Inspector General regarding the NRC oversight. “This is a very serious matter. It has to be handled in a formal way, we want a serious response — the fact is — at every level, headquarters, at NRC Region One, at the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, at the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, on very level of review, NRC has fallen on its face.”

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