Sunday, August 14, 2016

Taking the High Road with Yankee Water: Guy Page Guest Post

It rains in Vermont. It rains a lot. And rain contributes to groundwater. Everywhere else in Vermont, groundwater moves subsurface into nearby rivers or lakes, usually with little or no treatment.

But Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon is not "everywhere else." After examining groundwater that had intruded into the lower basements of the facility, Vermont Yankee determined that it contained traces of tritium. Even though the extremely low radiation level of this tritiated groundwater is approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be discharged into public waters, Vermont Yankee made the decision to ship this water to Tennessee for processing.

If Vermont Yankee wanted to discharge groundwater into the Connecticut River, it almost certainly could have done so with the approval of the NRC. At the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire, stormwater and groundwater with harmless levels of tritium is sent right into the ocean. Many other nuclear plants do direct discharge, with the approval and oversight of the NRC. Instead, Vermont Yankee has taken the high road by transporting this groundwater to a water treatment plant in Tennessee. Shipping water over 1000 miles costs more time and money than routing it directly to approved discharge paths, and could cost as much as $1 million per year depending on success in eliminating the sources of intrusion water into the plant's Turbine Building.

This is just one more example of Vermont Yankee setting an example for high standards in decommissioning safety practices. The downside is that every dollar spent on shipping is a dollar no longer invested in the facility's decommissioning trust fund. Less money in the fund means more time must elapse before the site can be reused for in the future. The final work of decommissioning — including tearing down the reactor building and removing all radioactive material — cannot begin until the fund accumulates sufficient value, an estimated $1.2 billion. At present, the fund contains about half that amount.

Vermont Yankee is doing its part to be frugal by draining unnecessary systems, minimizing power consumption and reducing workforce. The plant finished its most recent fiscal year about $15 million under budget. VY took out a line of credit of more than $145 million to pay for spent fuel management. But the State of Vermont must also do its part. Officials for the state have suggested or announced a series of VY-related initiatives including "billing back" oversight and monitoring costs that are of dubious necessity to a non-operational nuclear plant, but are guaranteed to draw alarming amounts of money out of the decommissioning fund. Now would be a good time for the state to better prioritize its spending.


Guest post by Guy Page, Communications Director, Vermont Energy Partnership

Guy Page is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.  His most recent post was More Bad News for Vernon in April of this year.


Robert Hargraves said...

I think the nuclear industry failed us by appeasing vociferous activists and wasting money disposing of harmless quantities of slightly radioactive materials. The industry should take a strong stand to fight for regulations based on science and evidence, not appeasement.

Rod Adams said...

Moving near pure water 1000 miles for "disposal" is an environmentally unsound process that produces unnecessary emissions, adds unproductive traffic to the nation's highways and reinforces a myth that tritium is a dangerous isotope. There is no way for water that contains low levels of tritium to cause any negative health consequences because there is no possible mechanism for concentrating the tritium or causing it to be retained in living biological cells.