Financial settlement reached in 2004 Vermont Yankee fire

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(Host) The owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant have agreed to pay utilities for a shutdown caused by a fire two years ago. But a nuclear watchdog group wants Yankee to go one step further. The group wants Yankee to admit that the fire was caused by changes related to the power increase at the reactor.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The fire in June of 2004 caused the plant to go offline for 19 days. The shutdown required Vermont utilities to buy electricity on the open market. Yankee has agreed to pay the companies about $2.4 million to cover the extra costs.

The utilities are satisfied with the settlement, as is the state agency that represents consumers. But when the Public Service Board held a hearing on the issue this week, the New England Coalition anti-nuclear group said it couldn’t accept the deal. Ray Shadis is the group’s technical adviser.

(Shadis) “What about the money for the next replacement power outage coming up? I mean they’re doing this thing without any admission of liability. So in essence they’re saying there’s no guarantee the next time, or the next time.”

(Dillon) The utilities have asked the Public Service Board to approve the settlement, called a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU. Peter Zamore represents Green Mountain Power. He wants the Public Service Board to reject the New England Coalition’s claims.

(Zamore) “The MOU parties submit that there is no entitlement to litigate the issue of liability or any other issue unless it’s going to have an effect on the outcome of this case.”

(Dillon) Vermont Yankee says the fire was not caused by the 20 percent power increase. Spokesman Rob Williams says the short circuit that started the blaze occurred when a piece of metal came lose in an air duct.

(Williams) “It was due to fatigue in an expansion joint. And there was increased airflow due to the uprate preparation, and that may have accelerated the timing of it. But it appears that the piece would have come lose eventually even without the increased cooling airflow and that’s why we don’t believe it was uprate related.”

(Dillon) The issue of whether the power increase will make the plant more vulnerable to shutdowns will come up again next week. The Public Service Board is investigating whether the 20 percent power increase will make the plant’s steam dryer more prone to failure.

The stream dryer is a component that removes moisture from the super-heated steam before it spins turbines to produce electricity. Steam dryers in plants similar to Yankee have failed under increased power conditions.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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