June 24, 2004

Vermont Yankee Plant to Remain Offline Indefinitely

Following a recent transformer fire at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, officials have decided to keep the facility offline for more thorough investigation.

From the Champlain Channel:
UPDATED: 10:40 am EDT June 24, 2004

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Vermont Yankee remained off-line Thursday after two fires there on Friday, but Entergy now says the plant's safety system didn't respond the way it should have.

Vermont Yankee officials said the accident was far less serious than originally feared, but critics charge it's the pattern they're concerned about. It's just one safety lapse after the next, they said. "A fire at a nuclear plant is a big deal," one customer said. Five days after the fire there, critics call the accident more serious -- and more telling -- than first believed.

"Powerplants have what's called a bathtub curve," said longtime nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen. "They fail a lot when they're new. They fail a lot when they're old. In between though, they don't fail a lot. I have been saying that they're on the upslope of the bathtub curve, and we should see more of these failures as the plant gets older." Gundersen cites three forced shutdowns in nine months due to broken valves and pumps.

Vermont Yankee turns 32 this year, but marks the year with a series of embarrassments: cracks in the steam dryer, a pair of missing fuel rods and, most recently, the transformer fire. Public service commissioner David O'Brien sent the state nuclear engineer to Vernon this week for a closer look. "We've got to find out what caused it," Public Service Commissioner David O'Brien said. "Was it a problem with the equipment? Was it a problem with maintenance? We've got to find that out first."

Officials hope to find out what caused the accident within a week. The plant will remain off-line indefinitely. The NRC, meanwhile, still plans to assess Vermont Yankee for its proposed uprate later this summer.

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