State not satisfied with NRCs response on VY mishap
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | April 25,2013
MONTPELIER — Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia said he received “a nice letter” from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about concerns he raised last month about incidents at Vermont Yankee during its recent refueling outage, but the letter didn’t answer his concerns.
“It’s a nice letter, but I guess we’ll have to wait for the root cause analysis,” said Recchia Wednesday.
Recchia said the April 19 letter from William M. Dean, regional administrator for the NRC, said that Entergy Nuclear workers reacted properly during the March incidents, which resulted in a panel blowing out of the containment building. At the time, Vermont Yankee was shut down and it hadn’t started moving spent or new fuel, the letter said.
During the incident, the metal cables holding the panel in place didn’t work, and the panel was blown about 30 feet to the roof of an adjacent building. The cables were supposed to keep the blow-out panel in close proximity.
According to Dean’s letter, “the wire ropes and eye-bolts on the panel did not keep it attached to the building; however the purpose of attaching a wire retaining rope to the blow-out panel is to prevent a potential occupational injury. Therefore, the failure of the wire rope did not impact plant safety.”
“That’s somewhat entertaining. They’re saying because no one got hurt, it functioned as intended,” Recchia said, while noting the panel’s cables did not work as intended.
“So, if a tree falls in the forest but no one hears it...” said Recchia.
Recchia said that if the plant had been operating, or Entergy had been moving fuel, the incident on March 18 would have been much more serious, since the plant’s secondary containment around the reactor vessel had been breached.
Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that he had originally said Entergy had to make a report on the incident within 30 days, but that he had made a mistake.
Reports are only due in that relative short time span if they involve radiation exposure, radiation levels or concentrations of radioactive material exceeding limits or constraints. “And that is not the case here,” Sheehan wrote in an email.
He said that Entergy officials had done radioactivity dose assessments for the time period the panel was missing from the containment building, but he said Entergy determined that no criteria had been “tripped” by the short period of release.
Sheehan said that Entergy was still evaluating what kind of report it would make about the incident, which reflects the seriousness of the problem.
“We are continuing to inspect the issue, including an assessment of reportability requirements,” Sheehan added.
“That is between the NRC and the state and we have no comment on it,” said Robert Williams, a spokesman for Entergy Nuclear.
The problem occurred when a worker turned on the ventilation system for the containment, and the system did not line up properly, causing in an over-pressurization of the building, which in turn caused the panel to blow out.
While the panel functioned as designed, the state is concerned about the actions that led to the over-pressurization, Recchia said.