Water Issues Derailing Nuclear Power in Utah

From AlterNet:

Nuclear power has been a hot topic these past few weeks with Vermont’s leaking reactor, Georgia’s plans for new ones (thanks to Obama), and the press’s blind approval of all things nuclear.

And now, Rachel Waldholz from High Country News, writes that Blue Castle Holdings, “a 3-year-old, politically connected startup” is trying to get Utah’s first new nuclear plant since 1987 built in the state.

While there are lots of reasons that nuclear power is a bad idea, residents in Utah are particularly concerned about water. Waldholz writes:

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Vermont Senate Votes to Close Nuclear Plant

From the New York Times:

In an unusual state foray into nuclear regulation, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 Wednesday to block operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant after 2012, citing radioactive leaks, misstatements in testimony by plant officials and other problems.

Unless the chamber reverses itself, it will be the first time in more than 20 years that the public or its representatives has decided to close a reactor.

The vote came just more than a week after President Obama declared a new era of rebirth for the nation’s nuclear industry, announcing federal loan guarantees of $8.3 billion to assure the construction of a twin-reactor plant near Augusta, Ga.

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In Memoriam

From ibrattleboro.com:

After a costly and protracted fight for her life, Entergy Vermont Yankee died today in her Vernon home surrounded by her loving family of control room operators, excavators, legislative lobbyists, NRC inspectors, and media consultants.

Yankee was born in 1968 by unanimous vote of the Central Vermont Public Service Corporation board of directors. Following a family fight at the age of ten, Yankee moved out of her home in Rutland and relocated to Brattleboro in hopes of becoming independent and responsible. Unable to financially support herself, Yankee put herself up for adoption. Custody was awarded to the Entergy family of New Orleans who are notorious for taking in recalcitrant strays.

Because Yankee was brought up in surroundings known for its lack of discipline, her inability to tell the truth resulted in a lifetime of paying fines followed by public apologies. Attempting to remake her image, Yankee’s legal guardians tried to change her name to Nexus in the likely event that if Yankee misbehaved really badly there would be no financial assets for anyone to attach.

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Criticism arises over Public Utility Commission's complaints division's chief

From the Patriot News:

The Public Utility Commission’s recent hiring of a utility insider to be its consumer watchdog has some fearing that she might be more of a utility lapdog.

Alexis Bechtel of Reading, who has 32 years of experience working for gas and cable companies, began working this month as the director of the commission’s bureau of consumer services.

She is only the third director in the bureau’s 33-year history but the first to come out of the utility industry. The two other directors came from state government.

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The Hidden Threat to the Nuclear Renaissance

From the American Prospect:

It's a little misleading to call America's renewed interest in nuclear power a full-blown renaissance. For one thing, the renaissance hasn't happened yet. Even with the perfect storm of global warming, dwindling fossil fuels, and the second Bush presidency, the current zeal for new nuclear power has fed on speculation for the last decade. It will have to do so for a long time to come. Tuesday's news that President Barack Obama agreed to provide $8 billion in federal backing for two reactors in the state of Georgia -- the first nuclear plants cleared for construction in nearly 30 years -- ignored the massive financial, political, and technical hurdles between announcement and production.

However, it is fair to say that the unlikely partnership of Republicans and pro-nuke environmentalists just got a lot stronger. Candidate Obama's nuclear support was often read as political posturing; President Obama's nuclear support comes with hard cash. Viable or not, the nuclear revival now has the backing of the most prominent Democrat in a generation. His 2011 budget proposes to triple federal loan guarantees for new plant construction, essentially forcing taxpayers to shoulder the immense risks that Wall Street learned to shun decades ago. Nuclear power offers all the fiscal risks of a "too big to fail" bank, with the added risk of being too dangerous to fail as well.

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State probes allegations of prior VY leaks

From the Brattleboro Reformer:

If an anonymous phone call received by a member of the Vermont Yankee Vertical Audit Public Oversight Panel is determined to be true, Entergy, which owns and operates the nuclear power plant in Vernon, could find itself in even more hot water than it is in now with the state.

Attorney General William Sorrell and the Vermont Public Service Board are investigating whether Entergy representatives lied under oath or knowingly gave false information during PSB hearings last year about the extent of underground and buried piping at the power plant.

In a phone call to Arnie Gundersen on Feb. 14, a person claiming to be a Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant employee said the facility's advanced off-gas system, which is currently under investigation as the possible source of tritiated water that has contaminated ground water under the plant, has had underground pipe leaks in the past.

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Vt. nuclear plant gets closer to licensing defeat

From the Brattleboro Reformer:

A former nuclear engineer told lawmakers Thursday that the Vermont Yankee reactor should be shut down and a whistleblower raised new questions about what plant officials knew when about leaking radioactivity, as chances for the plant's relicensing weakened.

Vermont's troubled nuclear plant -- tied up in controversy over radioactive tritium leaking into groundwater and allegations that it misled regulators about whether it had pipes that carried tritium -- had another tough day at the Statehouse.

It culminated in the Senate Finance Committee's 7-0 vote to send to the floor a bill that would authorize the state Public Service Board to approve the plant's operation past the 2012 expiration of its current license. The committee did so without endorsing the bill, and it is expected to be defeated easily when it comes up for a vote Wednesday.

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Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin Calls For A Senate Vote On The Continued Operation Of Vermont Yankee

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Montpelier, Vt – Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, today announced that the Senate will vote before the town meeting break on whether or not relicensing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station to operate beyond its scheduled closing date is in the best interest of Vermonters.

“It is the responsibility of the General Assembly to vote on the continued operation of Vermont Yankee,” said Senator Peter Shumlin. “We have a responsibility to provide Vermonters and Vermont businesses a direction for our energy future, provide our electric utilities with sufficient time to secure delivery of energy, and in the event that the plant ceases operating as scheduled in 2012, provide the workers at Vermont Yankee adequate time to secure employment.” 

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin has asked the Senate Finance Committee to take up the legislation relating to the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear energy generating plant this week.  The full Senate is expected to consider the question of continued operation before legislators return home for town meeting.

“Vermonter’s deserve better than what Entergy Louisiana has to offer.  The reactor is too old to operate reliably past its scheduled closure in 2012.  The corporation has misled our public officials and the people of Vermont,” said Senator Peter Shumlin.  “Vermonter’s confidence in Vermont Yankee has been further marred by Entergy’s attempt to create a debt ridden spin off corporation to take ownership of the plant.  The cleanup fund is already more than half a billion dollars short and Vermonters cannot afford a corporation that may shift that cost to ratepayers.  There is also frustration with Entergy/Enexus’ power purchase proposal, which would raise Vermonter’s electricity rates by nearly 50% and provide us with only 11% of our power. Operating Vermont Yankee beyond its scheduled closing date of March 12, 2012 is not in the best interests of Vermonters and unnecessary delay is an irresponsible option for our energy future.”

Batting 1,000 on Yankee

From the Rutland Herald:

For years there have been many lawmakers, lobbyists and state officials at the Statehouse who thought Arnie and Maggie Gundersen were alarmist and rabid anti-nuclear kooks.

But it turns out that this husband-and-wife team from Burlington have been right about many things Vermont Yankee – including this latest scandal surrounding tritium leaks and plant owner Entergy giving false info to the state.

Maggie Gundersen told the Senate Natural Resources Committee last week that, back in 2009, a lawmaker pulled her and Arnie aside and told them to lay off on Entergy, that they are "losing credibility" when they question the company.

"We stuck to our analysis," Maggie Gundersen said.

Arnie Gundersen was a controversial choice as a member of the Vermont Yankee Public Oversight Panel and pro-nuclear groups quickly said he was biased and his participation would discredit the process. Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin stuck by his pick, saying Gundersen brought years of nuclear experience to the team.

Gundersen seemed to be the only one asking Entergy and state officials about these underground radioactive pipes that may be now leaking tritium. When everyone told him they didn't exist, he persisted and asked the question again and again. Same result.

Turns out he was right the whole time. There was a dramatic shift in the couple's recent appearances before legislative committees. Even pro-nuclear Republicans now look at the couple knowing they know what they are talking about.

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Investigation into Tritium Contamination at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station

From the Vermont Department of Health:

Since Jan. 7, the Vermont Department of Health has stepped up its environmental surveillance of Vermont Yankee by testing water samples taken from drinking water wells and ground water monitoring wells on site at the plant, and in the surrounding area. Water is now being sampled at least weekly for independent testing by our public health laboratory. Other samples, such as soil, milk, river sediment, and vegetation (when available), are being taken for testing as needed.

The Department of Health is using gamma spectroscopy analysis to determine if other radioisotopes, in addition to tritium, are present in samples collected from and around Vermont Yankee site.

These independent test results to date for tritium and gamma spectroscopy are available here:

Health Department Laboratory Test Results (xls)

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