News

Vermont Yankee to power down to fix leak

By BOB AUDETTE, Reformer Staff

Tuesday, June 9
BRATTLEBORO -- The miles and miles of pipes that are used to cool
reactor steam produced by Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant sprang
another leak Monday.

According to a press release from Yankee, the plant will be reducing
power in "the next several weeks" to attempt to repair the condenser,
stated Rob Williams, spokesman for Yankee, in a press release
detailing the leak.

The condenser acts as a radiator, using water from the Connecticut
River to cool steam from the reactor, turning it back into water
before sending it back to the reactor.

The condenser is overpressurized to prevent reactor water from getting
into the river.

The leak is allowing river water to enter the system and was
discovered after plant technicians identified a slight increase in the
chloride concentration in the reactor water.

"This condition has occurred at Vermont Yankee several times over the
life of the plant including the last operating cycle," stated
Williams. "Planning is under way to temporarily reduce power to allow
technicians to identify the precise location of the leak and to repair
it."

In April 2008, a similar leak forced the plant to power down to 45
percent of its 650-megawatt capacity. The leak was estimated to be
about one quart a minute.

Technicians were unable to find the leak and returned the plant to 100
percent.

The condenser is made up of 24,000 copper-alloy tubes containing cold
river
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water, which removes the heat from the steam. A total of 360,000
gallons per minute of river water flows through the condenser tubes
during normal plant operation.

The leak is allowing one-half gallon a minute of river water into the
reactor water system. Filters are installed in the system to remove
any contaminants in the river water from getting into the reactor.

"Vermont Yankee has been aware of its condenser problems and has made
the economic decision to wait until license renewal is approved to
repair or replace it," said Arnie Gundersen, a critic of the manner in
which Entergy, which owns and operates Yankee, maintains the plant.

Condenser replacement or retubing is currently scheduled for the
refueling outages in 2013 and 2014, said Gundersen. It could take up
to $100 million to "fix it right," he said.

Gundersen was a member of the Public Oversight Panel, which reviewed
an audit of the power plant that was mandated by the Vermont state
Legislature.

Entergy has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the
operating license to 2032. It also must receive approval from the
Vermont Department of Public Service and the state Legislature.

The Legislature asked for the audit to help it inform its decision on
whether to allow the plant to continue operating. The Legislature is
expected to render a decision during its 2010 legislative session.

Gundersen identified the condenser problems during power uprate
hearings in 2003.

According to the audit, the condenser is near the end of its useful
life and might not be able to operate reliably through 2012 without
some remedial actions.

"Vermont Yankee has known about (the problem) since 1999," said
Gundersen, three years before it bought the plant from the Vermont
Yankee Nuclear Power Corp.

Leaks are caused by thinning tubes, according to Gundersen.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311,
ext. 273.
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