What can I say. Vermont Yankee is making it hard for people who defend it. I still consider Vermont Yankee to be a good plant, and worth relicensing, but this tritium leak is troubling. Governor Douglas is talking about "breach of trust." Public Service Board Commissioner O'Brien practically called the company a bunch of liars. The Burlington Free Press reported:
O'Brien said he didn't see how the misinformation could be described as miscommunication. "What they clearly communicated to us is not true," he said. "There was not a miscommunication here."
So, were the potluck people right? Did Entergy lie to us?
The potluck people were expressing both the facts (Entergy said there were no underground pipes carrying tritium) and their belief system (nuclear people tell lies all the time, you can count on them to lie to us again).
I will start by expressing my own belief system. Something went wrong, and it was pretty big, but the engineers did not lie under oath.
I can't prove that, of course, but it is what I believe. Starting from there, what explanation do I have for all this? Two possibilities.
First possibility is that the spokespeople were asked ambiguous questions. It has been reported that Entergy said one thing to one group of regulators and another thing to a different group. This could happen very easily if the two groups asked slightly different questions.
Engineers tend to give very specific answers. Sometimes they take the time to spend half an hour helping you qualify your question, and sometimes they just answer it. The latter is dangerous because they are making a set of assumptions about your question, and those assumptions may not have much to do with what you asked. And a few months later, with a different group, they may make a different set of assumptions, due to a slightly different question.
That's a "communications" possibility.
My second possibility is more technical. I decided to look at other plants that had tritium leaks. Specifically, I read about Oyster Creek. In late August, Oyster Creek discovered that it had a tritium leak from a pipe within the condenser building. This was not an underground pipe. Tritium was leaking through through the concrete walls of the building.
The preliminary report from the NRC suggests the leakage is passing through the condenser building wall, which is about 4 feet thick. Staff at Oyster Creek have excavated around the wall and found leakage coming from that area. This suggests that the leak is located inside the wall, Sheehan said.
The aluminum pipe is surrounded by a sleeve, so plant personnel would be able to make repairs to the pipe without excavating the wall, according to Sheehan.
If Entergy was asked about tritium leaks before August of this year, they would not have had this information about Oyster Creek. They would only have been looking at heavy-duty, water-carrying underground piping as a possible source of tritium. It is quite possible that the Vermont Yankee tritium leak also has nothing to do with underground piping. I don't know.
I hope they find the leak soon. In this hope, pro-Vermont Yankee and anti-Vermont Yankee people are united.