Thursday, April 8, 2010

The More Things Change

The more things change, the more they remain the same.


A recent NRC press release stated that the plant

does not have any inspection findings that are “Greater than Green” and any Performance Indicators that are other than “Green”. Normally, a plant in that column would receive the normal level of NRC oversight.

But Vermont Yankee will get a higher level of oversight because of stakeholder concerns and a recent Demand For Information about communications about piping. Predictably, the plant is co-operating with the NRC, and the anti-s are treating this as confirmation that the plant is a complete disaster.

Arnie Gundersen has also repeated the findings shown in recent videos of the pipe inspections, but putting his own spin on the issue. There were eight failures, according to Gundersen. Two pipes had leaks (yes, we saw that in the video) and the concrete has more than one crack in it (this often happens when concrete forms a crack, as any fourth-grader can tell you). Still, his conclusion is that these are the reasons for the enhanced inspections, because

the NRC does not take on enhanced inspections lightly.

Gundersen said he believed a series of eight interrelated problems at Vermont Yankee went undetected by Entergy engineers and inspectors and created the tritium leak, which Entergy declared last week was under control and being cleaned up.

Of course, all these problems were in the area of the same pipe tunnel where Entergy found the leak and fixed it. To me, Gundersen's comments imply that there is no such thing as failure analysis. In this case, engineers couldn't inspect the piping in the tunnel, so a series of events led to a leakage (a failure). The failure is now fixed.

Gundersen speaks as if there each of these problems should have been detected. Each problem by itself led to no consequences visible to an outside observer. It often requires a series of events before there is a failure. That is what happened in this case.

That's also why Vermont Yankee had test wells to look for any released tritium. The wells were placed because a sequence of events could possibly lead to a tritium release, as had happened in other plants. You can't predict every sequence, but you can detect and fix the problems.


Remember when Vermont Yankee was the reason we don't have renewables in Vermont? When people walked in the middle of winter to Montpelier to insist the nuclear plant be closed down and replaced by renewables?

Well, guess what. Vermont just signed a contract with Hydro-Quebec, and sure as shootin', that contract will be the reason we don't develop renewables in Vermont! Environmental groups in Vermont and Canada are gearing up for the inevitable protests.

Their logic is impeccable. If we can't buy power from anywhere, we will have to use renewables at any cost. Not sure how most Vermonters will feel about this, but maybe that doesn't matter.

The more things change....

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