Nuclear plant’s new owners receive high marks

  • The containment building and the turbine building of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vt. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/20/2019 11:55:51 PM

VERNON, Vt. — The new owners of the permanently shut down Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant have passed their first inspection by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC, said inspections are done throughout each quarter and a report is generated.

NorthStar Nuclear Decommissioning Co. LLC completed the purchase of the nuclear plant in early January. Inspections were done in late January, mid-March and mid-April.

“Our observations have been that decommissioning activities at Vermont Yankee, since NorthStar took over, have been conducted safely and in accordance with NCR regulations,” Sheehan said.

He said decommissioning work at the site has clearly picked up since Entergy Corp. sold the property to NorthStar. The NorthStar decommissioning team includes: Orano USA for reactor vessel segmentation and used fuel management support; Waste Control Specialists for waste management, packaging, transport and disposal; and Burns & McDonnell for engineering and regulatory support.

Some of the things the NRC checked during its recent inspections were drain down and decontamination of the spent fuel pool and removal of the racks that held spent fuel assemblies at the bottom of the pool, Sheehan said.

He said inspections involve observing work being done, interviews with personnel, a review of procedures and records, and walks around the plant and property.

He said one of the inspectors noted that NorthStar is preparing the plant’s refueling floor for the start of the reactor vessel and vessel internals segmentation project — those components will be cut up and shipped off site for disposal.

“They’re moving along more quickly than Entergy was,” Sheehan said. “It was going to take decades for Entergy to complete the work, whereas NorthStar touts its expertise in this area — it specializes in decommissioning.”

The plant shut down at the end of 2014, and the NRC has been overseeing that shutdown and the decommissioning. Sheehan said a half-billion dollar trust fund, which NRC also oversees, will be used for all of the work that needs to be done.

According to the inspection report, “no findings of safety significance were identified” the first quarter of this year, but, Sheehan said, because activity has been ramped up by NorthStar, the NRC will be providing even more oversight than it did when Entergy owned the nuclear power plant.

“We were visiting once or twice quarterly back then,” Sheehan said. “NorthStar is being very cooperative, so we’ll be there to make sure there’s good communication and things are being done right. We want to know exactly where things stand throughout this whole process.”

At the same time NorthStar received good inspection results from the NRC, it also received praise from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, which says the industrial demolition firm has been ready and willing to provide information the state has requested.

Chuck Schwer, director of the Vermont DEC’s Waste Management and Prevention Division, said the state is interested in potential non-radioactive waste and contamination that may be on the industrial property due to all the years it was active — Vermont Yankee went online March 21, 1972, so it was active for almost 43 years. On July 31, 2002, Entergy purchased the plant from Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp.

“We tried many times to get Entergy to provide us with information about possible non-radioactive soil and groundwater contamination,” Schwer said. “We just couldn’t get them to do the work.”

Schwer said NorthStar has been “very cooperative” in the short time it has owned the plant, and has already started forming a plan for testing groundwater and soil on the property.

“It’s very encouraging,” he said. “If there is any non-radioactive contamination, remediation could be done concurrently with the decommissioning — and done a lot sooner than we expected.”

For more information or a copy of the inspection report, visit: bit.ly/2WIamXj.

You can reach Anita Fritz at: afritz@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269


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