Monday, May 24, 2010

About the Piping

"They lied!"

This is the biggest issue about the piping. Did Vermont Yankee deliberately mislead regulators about the existence of underground-or-buried pipes containing tritium and other radionuclides? That is THE question, from the days of the potluck to Donald Kreis post in Vermont Digger a few days ago. All other issues pale in comparison. The tritium leak was found within six weeks, and is being remediated as I write this. It's not about the tritium. It's about the question: Did Entergy lie about the pipes?

Two people responded to one of my recent posts about the subject:
  • Donald Kreis, Vermont Law School professor, who advises the legislature on methods to shut down Vermont Yankee
  • David O'Brien, Vermont Public Service Board Commissioner
In return, I have responded to their comments, and the conversation continued on Vermont Digger. The conversation was removed from Digger for a while, but has recently been restored.

Considering that the conversation was spread between various blog posts, I need to do a bit of a summary.

The Piping Diagrams in Review

In the post Piping Diagrams, I reviewed the legal investigative report Report of Investigation Entergy Vermont Yankee written by the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Since the Report is 140 pages long, I devoted myself to the first forty pages. I also referenced an article by Donald Kreis which referred to events that were described in the first forty pages of the Report.


I posted some facts:
  • On September 9 and September 11, 2008, Entergy met with the NSA, a group doing the CRA assessment (Comprehensive Vertical Audit and Reliability Assessment).
  • The NSA group were knowledgeable engineers and they were mainly assessing reliability.
  • Entergy presented piping diagrams for the plant, and gave copies to the NSA members
  • Entergy presented tables of piping which consisted of a table of pipes and whether the pipes carried radionuclides. They gave these tables to the NSA also.
  • Entergy and the NSA members agreed that the service water system posed the most reliability issues, and decided to investigate the service water system more thoroughly than other piping.
  • Entergy gave PowerPoint presentations at the meetings.
  • The NRC had copies of the diagrams that Entergy gave to the NSA members.
As far as I can tell, nobody has taken issue with the facts above.

I am going to post one more fact here, one that is worth remembering when we read the rebuttals.
  • All accusations against Entergy quote verbal statements and PowerPoint presentations, not diagrams or tables. Nobody has accused Entergy of altering any diagrams or tables before giving these items to the NSA.
Until somebody points out an alteration on a diagram or chart, we can conclude that the diagrams handed to the NSA were correct. PowerPoint slides and verbal statements may not have been correct, but the diagrams were accurate.

My opinions

I also posted some opinions:
  • The NSA and PSB were given piping diagrams, and if they did not examine them carefully, they have as much egg on their face as Entergy does. (I never said I wanted to be popular. Sigh. The number of people who will avoid me at meetings is growing and growing and....)
  • Don Kreis article concentrated on the misleading aspects of the Entergy PowerPoint presentations. He included references to the Space Shuttle and Afghanistan, but only mentioned the piping diagrams in passing. I pointed out that PowerPoint is always a short-form communication device, and a difficult one. However, the diagrams were available to check and answer questions.
Donald Kreis and Chairman O'Brien took issue with these opinions.

Kreis and O'Brien Object

In comments on my post, both Don Kreis and Commissioner O'Brien disagreed with my opinions. Disagreed rather strongly, as a matter of fact.

I will summarize their arguments below. I also cut and pasted their comments to my earlier post, An Amazing Conversation.

Objections to my opinions were:
  • Kreis said that the presentation was focused on the PowerPoint. Maybe it should have focused on diagrams, but it didn't.
  • O'Brien said that indeed, they had piping diagrams, but they were not told that some of the piping carried radionuclides.
  • O'Brien further stated that the legislation had us on a very tight schedule where we had less than 4 months to complete a massive inspection
  • O'Brien noted further that after discovering that Entergy's affidavit could not be relied upon, contractors (had to) go over the drawings and other information to identify the pipes that do carry radionuclides and it took about 5 weeks and cost about 150K.
  • O'Brien and Kreis agreed that regulators have to trust utility information. O'Brien put it very succinctly: we have to trust a utility to provide us with accurate information. Our entire system of regulation is based upon that basic premise. If that was not true, the DPS and every other PUC in the country would have to be at least twice as large. Once a utility shows it cannot be trusted to give accurate information, then we have to go over everything with a fine toothed comb.

Trust But Verify?

Entergy gave both piping diagrams and pipe lists (including radionuclide information in table form) to its regulators. It also made verbal statements that might have been misleading.

Obviously, it would have been better if Entergy had given this information in a more understandable fashion: a piping diagram labeled with radionuclide-carrying pipes. But that is not how P and I D diagrams are usually formatted. The fact is: Entergy gave the regulators complete information, in diagrams and tables.

So the question: Did they lie? becomes a different set of questions:

  1. Did Entergy have an obligation to present the information in a clearer form?
  2. Did the oversight panels and regulators have an obligation to verify the information they received, by looking past the PowerPoint and reviewing the basic data?
As a former EPRI project manager who reviewed many many sets of research results, I believe question two is very relevant. Research reports had "results" at the front, and data sets the size of phone books in the back of the book. I had to look at both areas. Surprisingly often, the two areas disagreed. This shouldn't happen, but it happens all the time. The data didn't quite support the conclusions. That's why they hire project managers, I guess.

Still, the questions above are both important questions, and worth an entirely separate post.


Late-breaking news. The NRC just released its report on groundwater monitoring at Vermont Yankee.

Graphics. I like this sculpture of Lady Justice by J. L Urban. The statue is part of a court building in the Czech Republic. Lady Justice holds a book instead of scales, and is not blindfolded. I consider her to be Lady Justice for the Regulatory Process. (The usual Wikimedia license.)

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