Saturday, February 27, 2010

Old Tritium, New Problems

Good news. Closing in on the leak!

The good news is they are very close to finding the tritium leak. They think they have it, and they are testing their hypothesis this weekend. VPR has the news, the New York Times has a detailed description of the excavation, and the Vermont Department of Health, doing daily updates, feels they are close to the leak. Some quotes from Health Department updates:
At about 5:00 a.m. on Feb. 26, Vermont Yankee unearthed the concrete AOG pipe tunnel that carries the 2-inch drain line (labeled OGE-100-G1 Drain Line on the AOG Building schematic) at the point where the drain line connects to the AOG pipe tunnel. This revealed a substantial crack in the concrete and the PVC pipe that surrounds and carries the drain line into the tunnel...... "Leak testing" with pure demineralized water is scheduled for this weekend, Feb. 27 and Feb. 28, to help identify the actual mechanism and pathway more definitively.

This is very good news. VY is very close to finding the leak.

Bad News: Closing in on VY

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) has been against Vermont Yankee for quite a while, and has pressured the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) to take action to shut it down. As recently as the end of January, the PSB turned them down flat. In a Public Service Board Order dated January 29, the Public Service Board, the Board
- expressed concern with inaccurate information received from Vermont Yankee,
- but said it would wait for a Vermont-Yankee sponsored Root Cause Analysis to be completed before taking any action.
In that order, it stated that it would not treat the entire docket (about renewing the license) as tainted due to the inaccurate statements.
CLF asked that the Board require ENVY to show cause why all evidence and argument in this docket that is "affected by the false information" should not be stricken from the record. ENVY committed to evaluate and correct any information in the record related to the recent disclosure of the underground piping systems.
We decline, without prejudice, to issue the show-cause order requested by CLF at this time... given that ENVY will be reviewing the record to determine what, in its view, needs correction, it appears premature to issue at this time the show-cause order that CLF requests.

Okay, that seems clear enough considering that we are talking about the law here and only lawyers can really understand this stuff. The PSB will await the results of the ENVY (Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee) review before taking action.

On Thursday, the day after the vote, the PSB reversed itself. The PSB issued a new Order, beginning an investigation into whether or not Vermont Yankee should be shut down earlier than 2012. This one is harder for me to figure out, and I don't just mean the PSB's reasoning. I was not able to find the Order on the PSB website (apparently it hasn't been posted yet) but I found it on the CLF website. The PSB apparently started a new docket to do this, docket 7600 instead of 7440. I had to hunt around to find this stuff.

At any rate, the PSB is now looking into shutting the plant down early. Quoting from the new Order, the PSB states that:
With respect to federal preemption, it is clearly established that the Board would be preempted from attempting to regulate Vermont Yankee based on radiological safety. However, it is also well established that the Board retains significant authority in other areas of traditional state regulation. ...Accordingly, we conclude that we are not preempted from taking action in response to the leaks at Vermont Yankee, to the extent that the leaks may have economic and other non-radiological-health-and-safety consequences....

Dave Gram of the Associated Press covered this story, and my local paper headlined his article "Vt. Yankee's License Could Be In Jeopardy Sooner Than 2012." If you read to the end of this Order, you will see that the PSB plans to hold the first hearing on this docket on March 10. By that time, the leak will be history.

The Opinion

My opinion, that is. I believe the Public Service Board is jumping on the bash-Yankee bandwagon, and despite their use of the words colorable claim , they don't have much of a leg to stand on.

Tritium has few radiological health effects, a fact which I certainly have beaten to death in earlier posts. And if the PSB can't regulate based on radiological effects, what on earth CAN they regulate about tritium? I mean, tritiated water is slightly radioactive, but's just water.

The PSB Order mention of extra costs for decommissioning, but I doubt the NRC would let them shut down a power plant because of their perceptions of decommissioning costs. I actually don't understand why the PSB has done this, except to waste my tax money with hearings that will be quickly overthrown.

More about tritium.

Okay. Instead of personally explaining, once again, why tritium isn't much of a hazard, I am going to just put in some links.

John Wheeler, on putting Picos in Perspective.

Fox News points out that all those picocuries add up to a trillionth of a curie, while exit signs routinely contain thirty curies worth of tritium.

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