Public Cut out of Yankee Info

October 16, 2008
By Rep. Sarah Edwards
In the midst of all the events occurring at Entergy Nuclear-Vermont Yankee over the past several months, you may be wondering why there have been no meetings or comments coming from the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP). I can say that as an appointed legislative member of the panel, I am also concerned about this situation.

One of the statutory obligations (Title 18,Ch.34, 1700) of the panel is to hold regular public meetings for the purpose of discussing issues relating to the present and future use of nuclear power, and advising the Legislature and the governor.

The last time the panel was called to order by the commissioner of the Department of Public Service was March 18, 2008. When I look back over the past several months, I see many issues that have come to the attention of the public through the media but apparently in the department's opinion have not warranted review or discussion by VSNAP. Some of the issues that may benefit from review by VSNAP are an update on the comprehensive vertical audit, the decline of decommissioning funds, the Entergy spinoff, Enexus, the rise in fence-line radiation without due process, a crane malfunction that caused a 103-ton cask containing radioactive waste to drop, a power reduction due to a leak or leaks in condenser tubes that were never located, continuing problems with the cooling towers and a host of other events.

All of these issues are of concern to the people of Vermont, whether they favor nuclear power or would like to see the plant cease operations in 2012 as originally agreed upon. For the public, VSNAP is the important link to information and communications available to their Department of Public Service. But it's not just the public that has had no communication.

There has been little or no communication from the department to VSNAP. The types of communiqu├ęs VSNAP has received from the department over the past several months are forwarded generic Nuclear Regulatory Commission messages such as "NRC Names New Resident Inspector at Palisades Nuclear Power Plant" and "NRC Schedules Meeting in Lynchburg To Discuss BWXT Nuclear Fuel Plant Performance." Rarely, if ever, do we receive any update related to Vermont Yankee. We can even ask why the panel isn't informed when an event occurs at Vermont Yankee that warrants a letter to the NRC from the department. For example, an important letter was written by the commissioner to the NRC about the continuing failure of the cooling towers. VSNAP members did not receive a copy of the letter and VSNAP has not discussed the cooling towers since last March, when we were assured that the problem was resolved.

It is important to note that it is not only the commissioner who can call for a meeting. Any three panel members can call for a meeting. But without reliable communication from the department about important occurrences, we must rely on sometimes delayed media reports or word of mouth from various groups. We also do not necessarily know about ongoing efforts of the department to deal with critical issues. The time for a lack of good communication from the department to VSNAP has come and gone.

The continued operation of Entergy's Vermont nuclear facility is very much on the minds of Vermonters. The Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel has an important role to play in looking at the complex issues before us. The meetings are important to the public's ability to keep up to date with current issues and to be able to speak publicly about their views and concerns. It is the one realistic forum for people who cannot make it up to the Statehouse on a regular basis to listen in on committee testimony.

In order to serve the public and to help keep us all informed about Vermont Yankee, the Department of Public Service should live up to its statutory responsibility and step up its VSNAP activities by calling for a minimum of quarterly meetings, and more if needed, over the next few years while we are making important decisions about the continued operation of Entergy Nuclear-Vermont Yankee. Commissioner, I believe we must call a public meeting now. There seems to be plenty of relevant and meaningful information to discuss.

Rep. Sarah Edwards, a Progressive from Brattleboro, is a member of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.