Vermont Safety Official Inspects Nuclear Plant After Tower Collapse

Vermont’s Public Service commissioner said the collapse of a cooling tower at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant appears to have been an isolated problem and that the plant could be back to full power in a matter of days.

“We do not see any other evidence of problems of the sort that occurred the other day,” Commissioner David O’Brien said Wednesday after meeting with plant officials.

O’Brien said safety was not compromised when the wooden support structure collapsed Aug. 21, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the plant’s cooling tower and releasing thousands of gallons of water from a broken pipe.

The plant has been running at half its capacity ever since.

Plant owner Entergy Nuclear said it was about to inspect a problem with a tower at the time of the collapse.

O’Brien said he was concerned that inspection and maintenance procedures didn’t detect a problem sooner.

“We want to know what failed and why,” he said. “The inspection procedures were obviously not what they should be. … I made sure they know we’re not happy about this situation.”

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that his agency does not know what caused the collapse.

“We’re still waiting for a root-cause evaluation and an extent of condition review,” Sheehan said.

Ray Shadis, technical adviser for the watchdog group New England Coalition, said the tower collapse might be a sign of other problems at the plant, and has demanded a thorough review of the plant’s operation. He said he was unhappy with O’Brien’s remarks.

“Clearly, he is too eager to put the public’s mind at ease, and that’s not his job,” Shadis said.

O’Brien disagreed. He said safety was not compromised by the collapse of the cooling tower because it’s used to cool the reactor’s condenser, not it’s core.

The “nuclear side of the plant” undergoes more sophisticated inspection and maintenance, he said.

“I do not see a reason for pushing the panic button here,” he said.


Information from: The Burlington Free Press,