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NRC to hold annual Vermont Yankee performance review on May 28

The annual assessment letter for Vermont Yankee, as well as the notice for the May 28 public meeting, are available at www.nrc.gov. Current performance information is also available for Vermont Yankee.

BRATTLEBORO—The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, May 28, to discuss the agency’s annual review of safety performance at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Brattleboro Union High School. It will include a brief presentation on the decommissioning process followed by a formal question-and-answer session regarding plant performance and regulatory oversight topics.

There will be a security bag search at the entrance to the meeting.

The NRC says that, overall, Vermont Yankee, which is owned and operated by Entergy Nuclear, operated safely during 2013, with no findings exceeding very low safety significance.

As a result, Vermont Yankee will continue to receive the NRC’s normal level of oversight for the remainder of 2014, barring any changes.

According to the NRC, the normal level of oversight consists of a detailed regime entailing thousands of hours of inspection. In 2013, the NRC devoted approximately 5,940 hours of inspection at Vermont Yankee, a boiling-water reactor that began operations in 1972 and that is scheduled to permanently cease operations in late 2014.

“We take very seriously the task of stepping back on a regular basis to size up plant performance. These comprehensive evaluations help guide our reviews for the year ahead, though we maintain flexibility should conditions change,” NRC Region I Administrator Bill Dean said in a news release. “Vermont Yankee, by virtue of its performance in 2013, will receive our routine – though still substantial – battery of inspections.”

The NRC issues reports on performance at each plant twice a year: during the mid-cycle, or mid-point, of the year, and at the conclusion of the year. Inspection findings and performance indicators are also updated on a quarterly basis on the agency’s website. Following the release of the annual assessment letters each March, the NRC meets with the public in vicinity of each plant to discuss the results.

Normal inspections are carried out by the two resident inspectors assigned to Vermont Yankee. Reviews are also performed at the site by specialist inspectors assigned to the agency’s Region I office in King of Prussia, Pa. Among the areas to be inspected this year at Vermont Yankee are emergency preparedness, radiological protection and control room operator training.

The New England Coalition, the region’s longest standing nuclear opponent, hopes that decommissioning issues will be discussed at the hearing.

“We’ll be glad to talk about decommissioning,” said Clay Turnbull, a Coalition trustee, in a news release, “but we have seven long months to go with an antique reactor operating at 120 percent of its original licensed thermal power, reduced maintenance, and a demoralized staff.”

Turnbull says the NEC wants to know “what the NRC is doing in its oversight capacity to compensate for the effects of Entergy’s August 2013 decision to finish irradiating one last load of fuel before permanently shutting down this coming winter. NRC works best with us looking over their shoulder.”

NEC senior technical advisor Ray Shadis, who worked with the NRC more than a decade ago in its initial evaluation of the current Reactor Oversight Process, said that “in my experience a good number of people at the NRC want to do the right thing, they want to be vigorous and fair regulators, but they need our help; they need a show of public interest to cut through the political haze at the agency."

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Originally published in The Commons issue #255 (Wednesday, May 21, 2014). This story appeared on page C3.

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