Officials rule out Yankee sabotage
Aug 24, 2007

VERNON — A special investigator with the Homeland Security division of the Vermont State Police went to Vermont Yankee earlier this week and ruled out sabotage or terrorism in the unexpected collapse of a portion of the plant's cooling towers.

Kerry Sleeper, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said the state also wanted an "independent assessment" about the basic facts of the collapse. Sleeper said he had conferred with Gov. James Douglas' office before sending in the special investigator.

Sleeper said it was the second time a special Vermont State Police investigator looked into an incident at Vermont Yankee, the first being a fire that shut down the plant in 2003.

Lt. Stephen Piro, southern field manager for the Homeland Security Unit, said he quickly determined that the incident was not "manmade."

Piro said his job was to determine whether the collapse was an accident and to gauge any risk to the public. Piro was accompanied by John Angil, who runs the Office of Emergency Management's Brattleboro office.

"It appeared that the wooden structure failed and that there might have been some decay. But there's nothing to suggest any human factor," Piro said.

Vermont Yankee remained at 50 percent power Thursday, as it prepared for an investigation into what caused the collapse, according to spokesman Robert Williams.

"We'll be looking at the adjacent sections, as well as the entire tower, and the adjacent tower," he said.

Vermont's three-man congressional delegation released a letter late Thursday afternoon addressed to the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking for a "thorough investigation" into the "alarming" collapse of the cooling tower.

Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch said they want the NRC to investigate the impact on the two safety-related towers that exist within the 22-tower array.

"The NRC has not yet committed to undertaking a thorough investigation of the safety related cooling tower cells that are located on the same site and could potentially have similar structural issues. We find this extremely troubling," they wrote.

Those two towers, which are seismically reinforced and have their own piping system, are designed to provide backup cooling to the reactor core in the event that the Vernon hydro dam is breached by an earthquake or other event and there's a full-scale emergency.

The congressional delegation said it wanted an "immediate and thorough" investigation to determine if there are "similar structural deficiencies" in other portions of the towers.

As recently as 2005, the NRC and Entergy Nuclear inspected and reviewed the wooden and metal towers and surrounding edifice in response to issues raised by the New England Coalition during state and federal hearings on the plant's uprate request. Entergy gave the coalition a clean bill of health, with the concurrence of the NRC.

Spokesman Neil Sheehan said Thursday the NRC was "an auditing agency" and that it had reviewed the work of Entergy's consultant. "If there are lessons to be learned, we will certainly heed them," he said.

Sheehan said since the Sept. 11 attacks, cooperation between law enforcement and nuclear power plants has increased. "They merely want to rule out sabotage," Sheehan said.

Sheehan also confirmed that four photographs released late Wednesday evening by the New England Coalition of the damage to the bank of cooling towers were identical to photos taken by NRC staff shortly after the incident.

Sheehan said he was unconcerned how the anti-nuclear group got the photos, saying that NRC staff may have shared the photos with Entergy Nuclear staff, which may have shared the photos with the coalition.

Raymond Shadis, the senior technical advisor for the coalition, refused to say Wednesday night how he had gotten the photos, which he sent to Vermont media by e-mail.

But on Thursday, Shadis said the four photos were not from the NRC. "It's news to me," Shadis, who said he had reason to believe that the photos came from either an Entergy employee or contractor, but he said they came through a "third party."

"They are not NRC photos," he said.

The photos show water gushing out of a 50-inch-plus pipe, cascading down to the ground and the collapsed wood and metal structure that surrounds the cooling tower.

Shadis said it was no coincidence that the tower partially collapsed as Entergy was still seeking court approval to pump more hot water into the Connecticut River and not use its 35-year-old cooling towers. The towers traditionally have been used from May to October.

Several environmental groups, including the coalition, have so far successfully fought the state discharge permit, which would raise the overall temperature of the river by 1 degree.

Contact Susan Smallheer at

Source: Rutland [VT] Herald