Bolts loosen on spent nuclear fuel casks

  • Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. recorder file photo

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, March 20, 2018

VERNON, Vt. — Entergy’s expedited move of spent fuel from the Vermont Yankee spent fuel pool into steel concrete-and-steel storage/transportation casks has come to a halt over concerns about potential problems with those casks.

With 43 of 58 storage casks loaded and stored on the fuel storage pads and 15 remaining to be loaded by the end of 2018 as a precondition of the planned sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar Group Services, shifting of the spent fuel stopped on March 10, when plant officials became aware of loose bolts on similar Holtec casks discovered at another nuclear plant.

The bolts are used to fasten to one of multiple aluminum shims used to keep the basket stabilized in each of the casks, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Neil A. Sheehan.

Sheehan said two of the four-inch bolts had been found to have loosened — one at the Holtec fabrication facility and another at a nuclear plant, which he declined to name. He said no problems have been found with any bolts at the Vermont Yankee casks.

He said Entergy had called for the “stand-down while they gather information,” adding that it was done “out of an abundance of caution. We believe they’re doing the right thing.”

That discovery “led to the subsequent identification of a bolt in a cask at the fabrication facility,” he added. “Holtec is investigating why the bolts detached and any safety implications.”

The NRC inspected the plant last week, Sheehan said, and is in communication with both Holtec and Entergy. But NRC is continuing to gather information before it decides whether to notify other nuclear plants where the casks are used.

Joseph R. Lynch, senior manager of government affairs for Entergy, said “The fuel loading campaign at Vermont Yankee was delayed after Entergy became aware of an issue with Holtec’s spent fuel storage canisters at another site. Holtec and the VY team are in the midst of evaluating the issue which will include inspections of the unloaded casks. Safety is Entergy’s most important value and at no time has the safety of VY staff or the community been implicated.”

He added, “The campaign is on track to be complete by the end of 2018,” and added that the company’s focus “continues to be the safe transfer of spent nuclear fuel from the pool” by year’s end.