Security and safety top priority at Vermont Yankee hearings

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(Host) Vermont and Massachusetts want federal regulators to examine whether Vermont Yankee has done enough to protect the reactor against terrorist threats.

Security and safety questions will be aired tomorrow in Brattleboro as part of Yankee’s request to operate the plant for another 20 years.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) William Sherman is the nuclear engineer with the Vermont Department of Public Service. He says the state wants federal regulators to look at Yankee’s security equipment in light of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has kept the security issue off the table.

(Sherman) “The decision not to include security equipment in the review of license renewal was a decision that occurred before September 11th and the attacks. And we feel after those attacks, the whole picture is re-adjusted and we think there are important items about security equipment and the aging of that equipment that ought to be looked at.”

(Dillon) Yankee’s license expires in 2012. It wants permission to operate until 2032.

Both Vermont and Massachusetts says the security and safety issues raised by the license extension warrant an in-depth review.

The two states want the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hold a full hearing on the license extension. They’ve asked for the right to cross-examine witnesses and to use the legal process to obtain documents from the plant’s owners.

But in roughly 40 license renewal proceedings, the NRC has never held a full hearing. Neil Sheehan is an NRC spokesman. He says this week’s hearing before a panel of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is a chance for the state and other parties to explain why a full hearing is justified.

(Sheehan) “This will be an opportunity for the parties that are interested in the Vermont Yankee application to weigh in. They need to really demonstrate that their contention has merit and that it warrants a full hearing.”

(Dillon) Vermont and Massachusetts have raised questions about the long-term storage of spent fuel at the site. The waste fuel is highly radioactive, and Vermont officials say there’s new evidence that the waste could be in Vermont for 50 years or more. Documents filed by the state say it’s now unlikely that the federal repository in Nevada will be in place by 2062.

State nuclear engineer William Sherman:

(Sherman) “When the plant was built, the federal government said, build it and we’ll find a place to dispose of the waste. Now we are 35 years later and there’s still no place. We think it’s a very important issue to air in terms of whether the plant should operate another 20 years.”

(Dillon) Sherman said the state has not yet decided whether to support the license extension request.

The town of Marlboro and the New England Coalition nuclear watchdog group have also asked for a full NRC hearing.

A Yankee spokesman said the company would not comment on the advice of its lawyers until after the hearings this week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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