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Vt. Yankee power down to 15% to fix oil leak

BRATTLEBORO — Vermont Yankee was reduced to 15 percent power Tuesday to allow technicians to locate and fix an oil leak in a pump that regulates power production at the nuclear reactor.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the reason for a low-level alarm of low oil levels was discovered to be a loose compression fitting on a recirculation pump’s motor oil reservoir.

Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman, said plant technicians tightened the fitting and the reservoir was refilled.

“Once the pump is restarted, operators will keep an eye on it to ensure the leak has been fully halted and the oil level remains where it should be,” Sheehan said later in the afternoon.

Sheehan said that Vermont Yankee reduced power down to about 15 percent to allow the workers to enter the reactor’s dry well, or torus, which is underneath the reactor core, to check on the oil level.

He said that compression fittings are routinely used in plumbing and electrical conduit systems to join two tubes or thin-walled pipes together.

In its daily morning report to the NRC, which typically is issued before 6 a.m., Vermont Yankee had said that Yankee was at 29 percent Tuesday morning. None of Vermont Yankee’s 620 megawatts of electricity is sold to Vermont utilities and instead is sold on the New England spot market, company officials have said previously.

Robert Williams, spokesman for Entergy Nuclear, confirmed that the problem appeared to have been corrected, but he refused to give a timetable for when the reactor might be back at full power, saying it was proprietary information.

Williams said the oil problem affected one of two recirculation pumps, which are not located on the nuclear side of the reactor, and thus are not considered safety equipment. He said there was no danger to the public.

Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said that Tuesday’s problem was the sixth or seventh physical problem at Vermont Yankee since January, when he became commissioner.

“This has been happening with regularity since January,” said Recchia, noting it was more proof that Entergy Corp. had made the right decision last month when it decided to close Yankee next year, when its current fuel is used up.

“There will be more parts or equipment in need of repair or replacement,” said Recchia. “I’m glad Entergy made the right decision.”

Recchia said that faulty radiation monitors had been replaced earlier this summer at Yankee, but were still giving off alarms. Even the replaced monitors were still giving off alarms, he said.

Entergy has now undertaken a root cause analysis of the monitor problem, he said.

Plant spokesman Rob Williams said Wednesday afternoon that the problem was being corrected, and the plant would begin returning to normal power levels.

Entergy executives announced in late August that market forces had forced them to decide to shut down Yankee. Entergy officials blamed low energy prices, driven by the cost of natural gas, as well as what it called a “faulty” market design for Yankee’s problems, as well as increasing costs driven by regulators.

“Costs exceed revenues,” the executives said.

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