State Panel Barred from Nuke Inspection

July 18, 2008 - Associated Press
By Dave Gram, Associated Press Writer

MONTPELIER, Vt. --The state Department of Public Service has declined to let 
members of a panel created by the Legislature to do a special audit of the 
Vermont Yankee nuclear plant join an inspection of the plant set for Monday, 
officials confirmed Friday.

The decision was the latest sign of strain between the administration of 
Gov. Jim Douglas and the members of the newly created Public Oversight 
Commission appointed by House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President 
Pro Tem Peter Shumlin.

"They're trying to stonewall our appointees," Shumlin said Friday.

He said the legislative appointees, retired nuclear engineer Arnold 
Gundersen and former federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Peter 
Bradford, needed to be full participants in the Vermont Yankee review for 
lawmakers to have confidence in the plant's continued operation.

Vermont Yankee, owned by Louisiana-based Entergy Nuclear, is seeking a 
20-year extension of its license, currently set to expire in 2012. Under 
Vermont law, the Legislature gets to vote up or down on whether that should 
happen, a vote that's expected in next year's session.

Shumlin said the administration's stance could hurt Vermont Yankee's chances 
of getting legislative approval for renewing its license. "If this 
administration is going to stand in the way of that (inspection) process, 
they threaten to unravel the information we need to make a tremendously 
important decision for Vermonters."

Stephen Wark, spokesman for the DPS, said Friday he could not comment of the 
matter because of an agreement that the deliberations of the Public 
Oversight Commission be kept secret.

But Diane Screnci, spokeswoman for the NRC's Northeast regional office, 
confirmed that no member of the Public Oversight Commission would be 
attending Monday's inspection.

"The Department of Public Service has not requested that any member of the 
panel observe the (inspection)," Screnci said. "And they would have to tell 
us, they would have to request this specific person and they haven't at this 

Gundersen, who maintains he is not the anti-nuclear activist the department 
makes him out to be but who has been critical of Vermont Yankee, said Friday 
he also could not comment on the panel's deliberations. But he confirmed he 
had been barred from Monday's inspection tour, which is to include NRC and 
state officials.

"Basically we're in lockout," he said. "It's just more of the swift-boating 
of us, as far as I'm concerned."

When Gundersen and Bradford's appointments were announced July 1, the DPS 
pounced immediately, with Wark saying both men "clearly have a bias against 
nuclear power."

Gundersen said there was ample precedent for civilians being allowed to join 
nuclear inspection tours. He provided a copy of an e-mail from David 
Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a national group with a long 
history of criticizing nuclear power, in which Lochbaum said he had been 
invited on such tours in the past.

Meanwhile Friday, two groups critical of Vermont Yankee held a news 
conference to denounce the state and federal response to the latest mishap 
at the Vernon power plant. The Vermont Public Research Group and the 
Citizens' Action Network took aim at the July 11 leak in part of the plant's 
cooling towers.

VPIRG's Paul Burns blasted what he called the "dangerous level of corporate 
incompetence shown by Entergy Nuclear and the pass-the-buck attitude of 
state and federal regulators."

2008 The New York Times Company