NRC draws fire at Vt. Yankee meeting
BRATTLEBORO — Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials ran into open skepticism and hostility from local residents Wednesday night, as they were peppered with questions about persistent operating problems at Vermont Yankee nuclear plant as well as future decommissioning issues.
Activists brought “laugh track” buttons that they used whenever there was a response from William Dean, the Region One administrator for the NRC, as well as others.
NRC officials ignored the sound effects, but activists held up signs protesting the continued operation of Yankee nonetheless.
While the NRC’s emphasis was on Yankee’s eventual shutdown and decommissioning, many residents said they remained concerned about problems last year with faulty flood seals, or seals that were not installed as Entergy Nuclear had told the NRC.
Entergy traced the problem to “miscommunication” with a subcontractor, Dean said.
NRC resident inspector Sarah Rich said Entergy did not lie to the NRC about the faulty seals because the company had been told proper installation had been accomplished.
The issue of the flood seals was a persistent theme Wednesday night. And the activists also focused on a statement by Dean that 15 to 18 months after Yankee shuts down, the reactor’s spent-fuel pool could lose its water with no serious ramifications.
Dean later clarified his remarks to say the fuel would have cooled enough that potential loss of water in the spent-fuel pool after 18 months would not pose a serious threat, and there would be adequate time for measures to be taken to avoid a public emergency.
Residents were also concerned about Entergy’s push for reducing emergency planning efforts once Yankee shuts down.
Chris Campany, executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, said emergency planning should remain until the fuel is out of the reactor core, if not off the site.
The NRC brought more than 16 staff members from regional headquarters, as well as security staff, and numerous members of the Brattleboro police and fire department also attended.
More than a dozen anti-nuclear activists signed up to ask questions of the NRC experts, and to make political statements.
Dean praised the work by the state of Vermont in negotiating with Entergy to win financial concessions and post-shutdown concessions, more than any other state had won previously in reactor shutdowns.
But Dean responded pointedly to criticism by Athol, Mass. activist Hattie Nestel, who said the NRC was not telling residents the truth.
“We are not fools,” Nestel said. “We do not buy it.”
Dean answered, “I appreciate your freedom of expression,” but said he found Nestel’s comments “very insulting.”
“We take very seriously our role to assure the safety of the public around Yankee,” he said. “That is our mission and we are dedicated to that mission.”
The activists responded by triggering their “laugh track” buttons.