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Feds reject last contention to VY uprate

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted March 1, 2007

ROCKVILLE, MD — A key advisory panel to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) threw out a citizen group’s final challenge to Entergy’s application to boost power at Vermont Yankee an additional 20 percent.

The ruling, issued Feb. 26, essentially closes the door on further federal review of the uprate, which won formal approval in March of 2006 and began shortly thereafter, unless the New England Coalition (NEC) raises additional money and appeals the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s (ASLB) decision to the full NRC.

The NEC had two of its initial six contentions approved for review by the ASLB, one on the stability of a cooling tower during an emergency, and the other on whether the plant should undergo a full transient test before boosting power. They argued that such a test was needed to ensure that key plant components would operate safely while pumping out additional power.

While this ruling is likely the end of the road on the federal side, the NEC still has challenges to the uprate before the Vermont Public Service Board and the Vermont Supreme Court. The court held a hearing last week on the appeal.

The NEC is also challenging Entergy’s thermal discharge permit before the state Environmental Court. The NEC believes an adverse ruling could affect the uprate, but Entergy disagrees.

“We could appeal it to the full commission, but the history of the commission overturning the ruling of the ASLB in favor of public interest interveners is not in our favor,” said Ray Shadis, technical advisor to the citizens group. “More frequently, they will overturn a decision on behalf of industry appellants as opposed to public interest appellants.”

In its ruling, the ASLB said Entergy had presented a burden of proof that the plant could be operated safely.

“After considering the evidence and arguments, we conclude that Entergy 1 has met its burden of showing that it is not necessary to perform the testing proposed by NEC in order to satisfy the relevant legal requirement … and thus deny NEC’s contention,” said the ASLB in its ruling.

VY officials were not surprised by the ruling, and have contended all along that their application met NRC muster.

“Our application was grounded in NRC regulations, and our power ascension testing program involved all of the NRC-required testing and the NEC was clearly wrong in its interpretation of the regulations regarding power ascension and the ASLB has upheld that view,” said VY spokesman Rob Williams. “But, the NEC exercised its right to have its concerns addressed and that has been done. Our focus is continuing to operate the plant safely and reliably.”

However, the ASLB did acknowledge that the computer codes used to simulate the stress of the plant under uprated conditions could be improved upon in the future, though not flawed enough to warrant concern in this case.

“I think the public has been served well in this case by the coalition,” said Shadis, who represented the group pro se in this case. On the other side were batteries of attorneys at both Entergy’s corporate counsel and that of the NRC.

“In the process with the various contentions, we led Entergy Corp. to engineering examinations and calculation that they would not have done otherwise,” said Shadis.

However, the coalition is focusing most of its efforts — and fundraising to cover legal expenses — on Entergy’s proposal to extend VY’s operating license beyond 2012.