Group raises questions about security at Vermont Yankee

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(Host) Nuclear watchdog groups continue to raise questions about potential security problems at Vermont Yankee and other nuclear plants. They say older reactors like Yankee are especially vulnerable to terrorist attacks. A Yankee spokesman defended the plant’s security procedures.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the nuclear industry has spent more than a billion dollars to improve security. Yankee, which is located near the Connecticut River in southern Vermont, has invested about $8 million in new fences, guard towers and other security measures. But critics say that these steps are not enough. They’ve called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to shut down older plants like Vermont Yankee due to security concerns.

Ray Shadis is with the New England Coalition. He says that Yankee and other older plants store their highly radioactive spent fuel above ground, which makes it an attractive target for terrorists.

(Shadis) “That fuel is in a tank, in a storage pool, some 40 by 40, by 40 deep. But it’s 100 feet in the air and it’s behind a relatively thin concrete wall. It’s vulnerable to aircraft penetration. It’s vulnerable to ballistics or shoulder launched missiles. And it’s vulnerable to explosive shock.”

(Dillon) Shadis raises the frightening scenario of a truck bomb or other explosion rupturing the spent fuel pool.

(Shadis) “Once that fuel loses it’s cooling water, it’s a matter of time before its metal cladding begins to burn. Then you have releases potentially much worse than the classic meltdown of the reactor.”

(Dillon) But Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says the building is strong enough to withstand earthquakes, tornadoes and terrorists.

(Williams) “That strength, along with the high-level of security that’s in place at the plant, that would obviously protect against a terrorist attack. It’s the combination of design and security that make nuclear plants throughout the United States the best defended industrial facilities.”

(Dillon) Williams points out that Yankee is building new security barriers this fall. He dismisses the criticism as part of an ongoing campaign against the nuclear industry.

(Williams) “We expect these anti-nuclear [groups] to always try to create fear. We expect them to always be opposed to be anything we do.”

(Dillon) Several anti-nuclear groups have also teamed up with a national labor union to criticize the company that provides security at Yankee and other nuclear plants. The groups say the Wackenhut Corporation has a conflict of interest because it’s allowed to run the exercises that will test the plant’s defenses. But an industry spokesman says federal regulators will oversee the tests, and will have ultimate responsibility for plant security.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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