Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant

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Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant
Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant is located in Vermont
Location of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant
LocationVernon, VT
Coordinates42°46′44″N 72°30′47″W / 42.77889°N 72.51306°W / 42.77889; -72.51306Coordinates: 42°46′44″N 72°30′47″W / 42.77889°N 72.51306°W / 42.77889; -72.51306
StatusOperational
Commission dateNovember 30, 1972
Licence expirationMarch 21, 2032
Operator(s)Entergy
Architect(s)Ebasco
Reactor information
Reactor type(s)BWR-4/Mark I containment
Reactor supplier(s)General Electric
Power generation information
Installed capacity620 MW
Annual generation4,703 GW·h
Website
www.safecleanreliable.com
 
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"Vermont Yankee" redirects here. For the U.S. Supreme Court decision, see Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc..
Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant
Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant is located in Vermont
Location of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant
LocationVernon, VT
Coordinates42°46′44″N 72°30′47″W / 42.77889°N 72.51306°W / 42.77889; -72.51306Coordinates: 42°46′44″N 72°30′47″W / 42.77889°N 72.51306°W / 42.77889; -72.51306
StatusOperational
Commission dateNovember 30, 1972
Licence expirationMarch 21, 2032
Operator(s)Entergy
Architect(s)Ebasco
Reactor information
Reactor type(s)BWR-4/Mark I containment
Reactor supplier(s)General Electric
Power generation information
Installed capacity620 MW
Annual generation4,703 GW·h
Website
www.safecleanreliable.com

Vermont Yankee is a General Electric boiling water reactor (BWR) type nuclear power plant currently owned by Entergy. It is located in the town of Vernon, Vermont, in the northeastern United States, and generates 620 megawatts (MWe) of electricity at full power. The plant began commercial operations in 1972. It provided 71.8% of all electricity generated in Vermont in 2008, which is 35% of the overall electricity used in the state. The plant is situated on the Connecticut River just above the Vernon Hydroelectric Dam. The reservoir pool created by the dam serves as the source of Vermont Yankee's cooling water.

The plant's operating license ran out in March 2012, and the question of whether its license will be renewed is complicated by the fact that Vermont is the only state in which the state government has a say in nuclear plant licensing, rather than just the federal government.

In February 2010, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 against re-licensing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant after 2012, citing radioactive tritium leaks, misstatements in testimony by plant officials, a cooling tower collapse in 2007, and other problems.[1] On March 21, 2011 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued their renewal of the operating license for the Vermont Yankee plant for an additional 20 years.;[2] the renewed license will expire March 21, 2032. As of April 2012, its request for a new state certificate of public good is pending before Vermont regulators.[3]

There have been many anti-nuclear protests about Vermont Yankee since the 1970s.[4] In March 2011, following the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster, 600 people gathered for a weekend protest outside the Vermont Yankee plant.[5] In March 2012, more than 130 protesters were arrested at the Brattleboro, VT offices of Entergy, the corporate owners of the plant, after more than 1,000 protesters marched over three miles from the Brattleboro downtown area to the protest site.[6]

Contents

Design and function

Vermont Yankee is a BWR-4 Boiling water reactor with a Mark I containment structure. It provided 71.8% of all electricity generated in Vermont in 2008[7] and meets 35% of the overall electricity requirements of the state.[8]

It was originally designed and constructed for 500 MW electrical output. In 2006, it was upgraded to 620 MW electrical output. The reactor produces 1912 MW of heat which is converted to electricity at 32% efficiency to generate the 620 MW electrical output[9]

The reactor core holds up to 368 fuel assemblies, and 89 control rods.[10] The spent fuel pool is allowed to contain up to 3353 spent fuel assemblies.[10]

Cooling Water

Vermont Yankee uses the Connecticut River as its source of cooling water for its circulating water and service water systems. The circulating water system removes heat from the power generation process of the plant by cooling the plant's main condenser, while the service water system cools both safety and non-safety related auxiliary components in both the nuclear and turbine sides of the plant and additionally removes decay heat from the reactor in emergencies or in times when the reactor is shutdown. For the circulating water system, water is withdrawn from the pool above the Vernon Dam and pumped to the condenser by the circulating water pumps. It is discharged downstream of the intake structure after cooling the condenser. Two mechanical-draft cooling towers help control the thermal discharge of the plant. The circulating water system at Vermont Yankee is rather unique and can operate in a variety of different configurations controlled by large gates in the discharge structure which can direct some or all water to the cooling towers before it is discharged to the river depending on the gate position. There is also a recirculation line, also controlled by gates in the discharge structure, that can redirect some or all water back to the intake structure instead of it being discharged. Completely closed-cycle cooling with no discharge is possible using the cooling towers and recirculation line. Recirculation is only used during the hottest times of the year between Mid-July and Mid-September. During the cooler months, the cooling towers are not used at all. Due to the mechnaical fans in the cooling towers and booster pumps that are required to pump the water to the top of the towers, use of the cooling towers does reduce the plant's net electrical output.

The plant's service water system utilizes the same intake and discharge structures as the circulating water system, but utilizes separate pumps and piping. After cooling plant loads, the discharge water from this system is also delivered to the discharge structure and can then be either discharged or sent through the cooling towers. One cell of one of the cooling towers, cell B-1, can serve as an alternative heat sink for decay heat and the safety related components in the event the service water system or the Vernon Pool itself is unavailable which could occur if the Vernon Dam was to fail. That one cell is of more robust construction than the rest of the cooling tower and is seismic-rated. Its neighboring cell, B-2, while it does not perform the safety function, is also built safety-rated to protect cell B-1 from damage in the event of a collapse of the rest of the cooling tower due to earthquake or other force. The alternate cooling system using the B-1 cooling tower cell utilizes separate pumps from the normal service water system and is the system that is considered the safety-related heat sink credited for licensing. The normal service water system using the river normally performs this function, but is not built to safety-related standards.

Ownership and operational license

On July 31, 2002, Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, LLC (EVY) purchased Vermont Yankee from Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation (VYNPC) for $180 million. Entergy received the reactor complex, nuclear fuel, inventories, and related real estate. The liability to decommission the plant, as well as related decommissioning trust funds of approximately $310 million, was also transferred to Entergy. The acquisition included a 10-year power purchase agreement (PPA) under which three of the former owners will buy a portion of the electricity produced by the reactor at a cost of approximately 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour.[11]

Vermont Yankee employs approximately 600 people including the employees that work out of the corporate location on Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro, VT.[12]

As a result of an NRC approved Extended Power Uprate (EPU), Vermont Yankee achieved its new rated power of 1,912 MWth (120% of its original licensed thermal power of 1,593 MWth) on May 6, 2006. The power increase was carried out in steps to allow collection of data on the reactor's steam dryer at various power levels, in accordance with the NRC imposed power ascension test plan.

In 1978, the Vermont Yankee reactor was the subject of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., an important United States Supreme Court administrative law case which ruled that courts cannot impose procedures upon the NRC as this exceeds their power of judicial review.

Spent fuel

Vermont Yankee's spent fuel pool is nearing capacity. Since there is no projected date for operations start for the national long-term nuclear waste storage facility at the nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain Repository, Entergy Nuclear obtained approval[citation needed] for dry-cask storage[13] to avoid exceeding the pool's licensed capacity; this allows for continued operations to store additional spent fuel, beyond the original operating license term, ending in 2012. In lieu of relocation of spent fuel to an operating national nuclear waste repository, some of the spent fuel has been transferred to "dry-storage" casks on site; most of the spent fuel continues to be stored in the spent fuel pool.

Vermont Yankee began the first stage of its dry-cask storage program in May 2008.[citation needed] The first 97 short tons (88 t) fully loaded cask was accidentally dropped onto the refueling floor from a height of about 4 inches (100 mm), after being raised from the spent fuel pool. The accident was attributed to failure of a relay in the 110 short tons (100 t)-rated overhead crane. (The crane reportedly was tested in 1975 for only about 70% of the weight of a fully loaded cask.)[citation needed] In August 2008, Vermont Yankee successfully completed the first stage of its dry-storage program with the transfer of the fifth cask from the reactor building to a storage pad located above the 500-year floodplain of the Connecticut River.[citation needed] A large specially-designed cask-moving machine transports casks to the pad. Each cask contains 68 spent fuel assemblies.

Closure/extension planning

Entergy Vermont Yankee applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license extension of 20 years on January 27, 2006.[14] In early 2010, the Vermont State Senate voted 26–4 to block the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) from considering continued operation of Vermont Yankee.[15]

On May 20, 2010, the NRC released a report on Vermont Yankee:

Based on the results of this inspection, the NRC determined that Entergy-Vermont Yankee (ENVY) appropriately evaluated the contaminated ground water with respect to off-site effluent release limits and the resulting radiological impact to public health and safety; and that ENVY complied with all applicable regulatory requirements and standards pertaining to radiological effluent monitoring, dose assessment, and radiological evaluation. No violations of NRC requirements or findings of significance were identified.[16]

On March, 10, 2011 the NRC voted to conclude proceedings regarding renewal of the operating license for the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station near Brattleboro, Vermont, for an additional 20 years.[17] The NRC issued the renewed license on March 21, 2011. The renewed license will expire March 21, 2032.[2]

On March 21, 2011 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued their renewal of the operating license for the Vermont Yankee plant for an additional 20 years.;[2] the renewed license will expire March 21, 2032.

On April 14, 2011 Entergy, the owner of Vermont Yankee sued the state of Vermont to stay open despite the Senate's blocking vote.[18]

The nuclear plant's private owners filed a federal lawsuit on April 18, 2011, against a state law that gives the Vermont state legislature veto power over operation of the reactor when its current license expires March 2012.[19]

Controversy and operations

2007

Cooling for the plant's steam condenser is provided by circulating water through it, drawn from the adjacent Connecticut river. This water does not come in contact with the nuclear reactor and is not radioactive. The cooling towers are used to cool water returning from the condenser before it is discharged back into the river at times when it is too warm to comply with the environmental discharge permit. In 2007 the fourth cell of the west cooling tower collapsed, spilling some of the non-radioactive, cooling water.[20] The collapse was an "industrial safety event," which did not threaten the integrity of the reactor or release any radiation into the environment. The NRC stated that the remaining cooling tower had enough capacity to allow the plant to operate at full output, however, until September 16, 2007 the reactor was kept at 50% power.

The cause of the collapse was found to be corrosion in steel bolts and rotting of lumber. Entergy has asserted that future inspections will be much more stringent in order to prevent further problems.

2008

The cooling tower collapse caused Vermont's governor to question the reliability of the power station:[21] In March 2008, a State Senate committee recommended that the Legislature appoint a panel to oversee an independent review of the plant's reliability. The panel gave Vermont Yankee a generally positive review. "What this report suggests to me is there is not a cause or reason to seek the closure of the plant because of operational or safety concerns," said Public Service Commissioner, David O'Brien.[22]

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission performed a tri-annual inspection July–August 2008. It found three "minor faults." An Associated Press report said that it had won "high marks."[23]

2009

In May 2009, the vice-president of operations at Vermont Yankee told the PSB during the reliability review that he did not believe there was any radioactively contaminated underground piping at the plant, but that he would check and respond to the panel.[24] In October 2009, Arnold Gundersen, a member of a special oversight panel convened by the Vermont General Assembly, confirmed that radioactive contamination had been detected in underground pipes. An Entergy spokesperson told Vermont Public Radio (VPR) that the earlier testimony was a "miscommunication."[24] On June 4, 2010, VPR reported that, because they had provided misleading information, Entergy Nuclear would be liable for legal expenses incurred by certain parties.[25]

2010

In January 2010, it was reported that tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, had been discovered in a sample of ground water taken from a monitoring well the previous November.[26] The level of the isotope was initially below the acceptable limit for drinking water set by the Environmental Protection Agency.[27] By mid-January, however, the level had risen to 20,000 picocuries per liter (pCi/l), the federal limit for drinking water. The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Vermont’s congressional delegation that the agency would devote more resources to addressing concerns about Vermont Yankee, and that he expected the source of the tritium leak would be located within the next several weeks.[28]

On February 4, 2010, Vermont Yankee reported that ground water samples from a newly dug monitoring well at the reactor site were found to contain about 775,000 pCi of tritium per liter (more than 37 times the federal limit). On February 5, 2010, samples from an underground vault were found to contain 2.7 million pCi/l.[29] On February 14, 2010, the source of the leak was found to be a pair of steam pipes inside the Advanced Off-Gas (AOG) pipe tunnel. The pipes were repaired, stopping the leak.[26]

Samples taken from the river and other drinking water sources by the Vermont Department of Health showed no detectable levels of tritium.[30] The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services made a similar statement after several tests of the river.[31]

During the search for the source of the tritium leak, other radionuclides were found in the soil at the site. Levels of cesium-137 were found to be three to ten times higher than background levels. Silt in a pipe tunnel contained 2,600 picocuries/kg, but contamination outside the pipe tunnel was limited to a small volume, about 150 cubic feet (4.2 m3) of soil. According to the Vermont State Department of Health, there was no health risk from the cesium, as the quantities were small and it had not migrated.[30] (The level of cesium-137 was less than that present in many common foods. Bananas, for example, may contain 3,500 pCi/kg.[32])

Since cesium-137 is a fission product, it is an indicator of a nuclear fuel leak, but the consensus was that the cesium-137 probably leaked from defective fuel assemblies during or prior to 2001, when the last leak of that type was reported by Vermont Yankee. (Problems with fuel rods were common in the 1970s and 1980s.)[33]

In early November, 2010, a water leak[34] caused by a faulty weld caused a "conservative" four-day shutdown while the pipe involved was repaired. A company spokesman said that "if plant managers had known on Sunday night what they knew on Monday, they might have tried to fix the leak while the plant kept running."[35]

2011

During the week of January 17, 2011, tritium was detected at a level of 9,200 picocuries per liter (below the federally-required reporting level) in an area 150–200 feet north of the location where it was detected a year earlier. According to the State's radiological health chief at the Vermont Health Department, Bill Irwin, and Vermont Yankee spokesman, Larry Smith, the source of the leak is not yet known. Irwin and Governor Peter Shumlin expressed concern about the discovery.[36]

Protests and politics

Frances Crowe, speaking in 2006 at a peace rally in Brattleboro, Vermont
See also: Anti-nuclear movement in the United States, Nuclear Free Vermont, Safe Energy Vermont, New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution.

Polls have found that a majority of Vermonters oppose relicensure of Vermont Yankee.[37][38] In the 1970s and 1980s there were many anti-nuclear protests at Vermont Yankee which attempted to block access to the plant.[4] More recent protests include:

In February 2010, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 against allowing the PSB to consider re-certifying the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant after 2012, citing radioactive tritium leaks, misstatements in testimony by plant officials, a cooling tower collapse in 2007, and other problems.[1] Some businesses in Vermont are concerned there is an absence of a clear plan to replace the electricity generated by the plant. A spokesman for IBM, the largest private employer in the state, and the state's largest consumer of electricity, said "we have to be smarter than this".[46] Larry Reilly, president of Central Vermont Public Service Corp., Vermont's largest utility, stated in 2011 that he was untroubled by the prospect of closure. "There's plenty of power out there . . . The bottom line is that it's not a big problem for us. Historically we have used 140 megawatts [from VT Yankee] and we have been planning for years to close this gap through diversification."[47] Reilly also stated that he did not expect the price of electricity in Vermont to increase if Vermont Yankee closed.[47] Analysis by researchers at the University of Vermont estimated that an increase of "slightly more than 3 percent" in the retail price of electricity in Vermont would result from closing Vermont Yankee.[9]

Governor Peter Shumlin is a prominent opponent of the Vermont Yankee. Two days after Shumlin was elected governor in November 2010, Entergy put the plant up for sale.[48]

There have been many recent protests against continued operation of the plant.[39][49][50] In March 2011, 600 people gathered for a weekend protest outside the Vermont Yankee plant. The demonstration was held to show support for the thousands of Japanese people who are endangered by possible radiation from the Fukushima I nuclear accidents.[5] On March 22, 2011, the day after the NRC issued Vermont Yankee's license extension, Vermont's congressional delegation—Senator Patrick Leahy (D), Senator Bernie Sanders (I), and Representative Peter Welch (D)—issued a joint statement decrying the NRC's action and noting the similarity of Vermont Yankee to units then in partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power station, Japan.[51]

In March 2012, more than 130 protesters were arrested at the corporate headquarters of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, the first day of the plant's operation after the expiration of its 40-year license.[6]

Seismic risk

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's estimate of the risk each year of an earthquake intense enough to cause core damage to the reactor at Vermont Yankee was 1 in 123,457, according to an NRC study published in August 2010.[52][53]

Surrounding population

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines two emergency planning zones around nuclear power plants: a plume exposure pathway zone with a radius of 10 miles (16 km), concerned primarily with exposure to, and inhalation of, airborne radioactive contamination, and an ingestion pathway zone of about 50 miles (80 km), concerned primarily with ingestion of food and liquid contaminated by radioactivity.[54]

The 2010 U.S. population within 10 miles (16 km) of Vermont Yankee was 35,284, an increase of 1.4 percent in a decade, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data for msnbc.com. The 2010 U.S. population within 50 miles (80 km) was 1,533,472, an increase of 2.9 percent since 2000. Cities within 50 miles include Brattleboro (6 miles to city center); Keene, N.H., (16 miles to city center); Fitchburg, Mass., (38 miles to city center), Greenfield, Mass., and Northampton, Mass.[55]

See also

References

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  2. ^ a b c NRC license renewal letter March 22, 2011
  3. ^ "Entergy: No need to plan for VY closing". Burlingtonfreepress.com. http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012120411061. 
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  7. ^ Vermont Nuclear Profile Energy Information Administration, September 2010.
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  19. ^ Democracy Now news April 19, 2011
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  55. ^ Bill Dedman, "Nuclear neighbors: Population rises near US reactors", MSNBC, April 14, 2011 Accessed May 1, 2011.

External links