Vermont Yankee retrofit might require plant shutdown

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(Host) Vermont’s nuclear engineer says the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant will experience a lengthy and expensive shutdown if it’s retrofitted to produce more power. The engineer testified on Tuesday as regulators review Yankee’s proposal to boost the power output by 20%.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) In order to generate an additional 110 megawatts, Yankee’s owners will have to pack more active fuel in the reactor core. They’ll also install new pipes and other equipment to handle the increased heat and energy. The work will cost $60 million. State nuclear engineer William Sherman says it’s the most complex project planned since the plant was built 31 years ago:

(Sherman) “There’s a huge variety of tasks that will be scheduled. I think there’s a high likelihood of schedule slippage.”

(Dillon) Sherman told the Public Service Board that if the project gets behind schedule, Vermont utilities will have to buy more expensive replacement power.

(Sherman) “That will cost, that will potentially cost the state and the ratepayers money.”

(Dillon) Yankee needs state and federal approval before it can proceed with the planned upgrade. But the plant’s owner – the Entergy Corporation – has already ordered the equipment to do the job. Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says the company is taking a calculated business risk.

(Williams) “We think we’re presenting a very good case here and there’s every reason to believe the Public Service Board would grant that approval and we want to be in a position to install that equipment just as soon as we’re able to.”

(Dillon) Opponents of the Yankee plan have called for a complete safety study. Ray Shadis of the New England Coalition says similar reviews led to lengthy shutdowns at other New England plants.

He says the power upgrade will stress the aging equipment and will result in increased radiation exposure for students at the nearby Vernon elementary school.

(Shadis) “It’s time for an inspection. It’s just like, ‘Hey it’s spring, it’s time to take your jalopy down to the gas station and get it inspected before you buzz out on the highway,’ or in this case take it out on the speedway and try it out at really high speed. So that’s the basic issue. The plant needs to be examined.”

(Dillon) Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says radiation levels after the upgrade will still be below state and federal safety limits. Hearings on the Yankee plan continue this week.

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

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