(Host) Federal regulators let Tuesday’s deadline pass and failed to respond to Vermont’s request for an independent assessment of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien says he’s disappointed with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. O’Brien says the federal agency runs the risk of losing public confidence in the Yankee plant.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) When the state Public Service Board approved a 20 percent power increase for the Vernon reactor, it did so only under the condition that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission conduct a detailed engineering assessment. The request for the new review gained urgency last week when officials learned that Yankee lost two pieces of a highly radioactive fuel rod.
Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien says an independent study of the nuclear plant is needed to restore confidence in Yankee’s operation. O’Brien and Governor Jim Douglas had asked the NRC to respond by Tuesday. But the NRC failed to meet the state’s deadline. O’Brien was disappointed in the lack of response.
(O’Brien) “I don’t see the level of sensitivity here from the federal agency responsible for this.”
(Dillon) An agency official said the NRC is taking it’s time because of concerns that the state’s request could change long-standing policy. The federal government has the prime authority over nuclear power, and the NRC worries that if it approves the Yankee study assessment, it may be hit with similar requests from other states.
O’Brien says the NRC needs to conduct the study in order to restore public trust in the safe operation of the state’s only nuclear plant.
(O’Brien) “They are in a unique position to provide public confidence. And to the degree to which they believe in this facility, they have a responsibility to step up.”
(Dillon) The NRC said this week that there is no link between the missing fuel components and its review of the 20 percent power increase. O’Brien says that’s not the way the public sees it.
(O’Brien) “I think what is on the mind of Vermonters right now is, does this present any sort of possibility of any other issues we’re not aware of? I’m not saying that there’s anything to be ultimately concerned about at the end of the day. But that’s what’s on the minds of everyday people. And the NRC, I think, struggles to understand that in a lot of cases.”
(Dillon) Meanwhile, a Vermont Yankee spokesman says operators searched the spent fuel pool with a camera today and did not find the missing pieces. He said a remote controlled camera will be used on Thursday to continue the search.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.