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From The Burlington Free Press: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20081125/NEWS02/81124033

Nuclear plant renewal dealt setback

By Sam Hemingway • Free Press Staff Writer • November 25, 2008

Entergy Nuclear’s hopes for renewing its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant’s license for another 20 years were dealt a surprise setback Monday when a federal panel raised concerns about possible metal fatigue problems at the facility.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a panel that acts as the judicial arm for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in a 154-page decision that Entergy needs to do more tests now, not later, on metal nozzles used to supply water and maintain the temperature in the reactor core.

Entergy had proposed putting off such tests until sometime after the anticipated 2012 date for renewal of its license. One of the nozzles is critical to protecting the reactor’s core in the event of an accident.

The board said it would not issue a license renewal for Vermont’s only nuclear power plant until the panel is satisfied that the metal fatigue issue regarding the nozzles has been adequately addressed.

“The key question is as follows: Is it legally and technically permissible to issue the license now, and allow Entergy to postpone the necessary metal fatigue analyses until later? Our answer is — no,” the three-member, quasi-judicial board ruled.

“To defer determining such a significant safety issue until after the license has already been issued would impermissibly remove it from the opportunity to be reviewed in the hearing process.”

Monday’s ruling was a victory for the New England Coalition, a Brattleboro nuclear watchdog group that had brought the metal fatigue issue before the board in the face of stiff opposition from Entergy lawyers and the NRC’s staff.

“We are the first citizen organization in the country to have one of our contentions sustained by the hearing board,” said Raymond Shadis, a coalition consultant. “Vermonters ought to be extremely proud of what this little, homegrown, organization has done.”

Shadis said the board did not go far enough in examining problems at Vermont Yankee and said his group would ask the board to reconsider its decision. He said the cost of appearing before the board had nearly bankrupted his organization, however, and he called on Vermont energy regulators to help pursue issues the group has raised.

“This is their opportunity to bring in their experts or help us a little,” Shadis said. The state supported the coalition’s contentions at the board’s hearings, but only minimally participated in the proceedings.

Sarah Hofmann, director of public advocacy for the state Public Service Department said that, in light of the board’s decision, Vermont will hire xperts to monitor Entergy’s handling of the metal fatigue issue.

“We’re very excited about this ruling,” Hofmann said. “It is an historic decision to actually have an intervenor or a state to prevail at the board level.”

An Entergy spokesman said late Monday saying the company would not appeal the board’s decision and that it had begun more extensive testing of the metal nozzle components as required by the panel.

“Time is of the essence,” said Laurence Smith, Vermont Yankee communications manager. “We are not going to wait.”

Smith, in a statement, said the company expects that once the additional testing is done, it will show that the nozzles are in good shape.

“Entergy … is confident that they will show that there is significant margin in the components so that they will continue to be in service safely throughout the license renewal period,” Smith’s statement said.

The board’s decision also contained a sharply worded rebuke of the NRC. The board noted that the NRC had initially required that the nozzles undergo a full testing regimen for any aging problems, but then relented and concluded that Entergy’s plan to do the work later was legal and permissible.

“This is an example of form over substance,” the board said. “Entergy re-labeled its TLAA (time-limited aging analyses) as an AMP (aging management program) and the NRC staff now deems it compliant.”

Read the entire article: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20081125/NEWS02/81124033

Thank you, Ray Shadis and the New England Coalition!

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