Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant
- "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|
|Commission date||November 30, 1972|
|Nuclear power station|
|Reactor type||BWR-4/Mark I containment|
|Reactor supplier||General Electric|
|Nameplate capacity||620 MW|
|Annual generation||4,703 GWh|
Vermont Yankee is a General Electric boiling water reactor (BWR) type nuclear power plant currently owned by Entergy and scheduled to close in late 2014. 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 original operating license expired in March 2012, but was extended for twenty years by the NRC in March 2011. The question of whether Vermont Yankee can continue to operate is complicated by the fact that the Vermont state government legislated to give itself a say in continued operation of the plant, rather than just the federal government. Entergy requested a new state certificate of public good (CPG), but the Vermont legislature voted in February 2010 against allowing consideration of renewed permission to operate. In January 2012, Entergy won a court case to invalidate the state's veto power on continued operation, but on August 28, 2013 the company said economic factors, notably the low cost of electricity caused by cheap natural gas, means Entergy will decommission the plant the fourth quarter of 2014.
There have been many anti-nuclear protests about Vermont Yankee since the 1970s, including large protests following the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011 and on the date of the original operating license expiry in March 2012.
- 1 Design and function
- 2 Cooling water
- 3 Ownership and operational license
- 4 Spent fuel
- 5 Closure/extension planning
- 6 Controversy and operations
- 7 Protests and politics
- 8 Seismic risk
- 9 Surrounding population
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Design and function
Vermont Yankee is a BWR-4 Boiling water reactor that uses a Mark I containment structure. It provided 71.8% of all electricity generated in Vermont in 2008 and meets 35% of the overall electricity requirements of the state.
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.
Vermont Yankee uses the Connecticut River as its source of cooling water for its two major water systems: the circulating water system and the service water system. The circulating water system removes heat from the power generation process of the plant by cooling the plant's main condenser. The service water system cools both safety and non-safety related auxiliary components in the nuclear facility and the turbine facility of the plant, and additionally absorbs decay heat from the reactor's cooling systems 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 reduce the thermal discharge of the plant to the river. The circulating water system at Vermont Yankee can operate in a variety of different configurations. It is 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 of the water cooled by the cooling towers back to the intake structure instead of being discharged into the river. 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 energy used to operate the mechanical fans in the cooling towers and booster pumps that pump the water to the top of the towers, use of the cooling towers reduces the plant's net electrical output.
The plant's safety and non-safety auxiliaries are cooled by either the service water system or the emergency auxiliary cooling system. The service water system draws from the plant's main intake structure, and after cooling the plant's heat exchangers, discharges water into the discharge structure where it joins water from the main circulating water system and either flows to the cooling towers or is discharged into the river. The emergency auxiliary cooling system is an alternate heat discharge system for the plant's safety-related auxiliaries in the event the service water system is unavailable or if the Vernon Pool is unavailable due to dam failure or other reasons. The ACS utilizes cell 2-1 of cooling tower 2 as its heat sink. That one cell is of more robust construction than the rest of the cooling tower and is seismic-rated. Its neighboring cell, 2-2, while it does not perform the safety function, is also built safety-rated to protect cell 2-1 from damage in the event of a collapse of the rest of the cooling tower due to earthquake or other force. The emergency auxiliary cooling system is the safety-related cooling system for licensing purposes and cooling tower cell 2-1 is the safety-related ultimate heat sink. The service water system would normally provide all safety-related cooling, but its pumps, piping, and heat exchangers are not built to safety or seismic 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.
Vermont Yankee employs approximately 600 people including the employees that work out of the corporate location on Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro, VT.
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.
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 for dry-cask storage 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. 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.) 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. A large specially designed cask-moving machine transports casks to the pad. Each cask contains 68 spent fuel assemblies.
Entergy Vermont Yankee applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license extension of 20 years on January 27, 2006. 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.
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.
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. 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.; the renewed license will expire March 21, 2032.
On August 14, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled on Wednesday, upholding a lower court’s decision that allowed the Vermont Yankee plant to keep running despite a seven-year effort by the Vermont Legislature to close it, finding that states are “pre-empted” from regulating safety by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which made safety a federal responsibility.
On August 27, 2013, Entergy announced the plant will be closing in 2014.
Controversy and operations
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. 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.
The cooling tower collapse caused Vermont's then governor, Jim Douglas, to question the reliability of the power station: 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.
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. 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." 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.
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. The level of the isotope was initially below the acceptable limit for drinking water set by the Environmental Protection Agency. 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.
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. 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.
Samples taken from the river and other drinking water sources by the Vermont Department of Health showed no detectable levels of tritium. The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services made a similar statement after several tests of the river.
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. (The level of cesium-137 was less than that present in many common foods. Bananas, for example, may contain 3,500 pCi/kg.)
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.)
In early November, 2010, a water leak 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."
In 2010, Vermont Electric Power Company constructed a new substation, designated as the Vernon Substation, on the Vermont Yankee site to serve as the site's new main transmission facility and to connect a new 345 kV transmission line to Central Vermont as part of its Southern Loop project. The aging Entergy-owned Vermont Yankee substation could not handle the additional line or any additional transformers and VELCO desired to have a utility owned and controlled substation for what is probably the state's most important interconnection point. Additionally, the local 115 kV system was relying exclusively on Entergy's single 345 kV to 115 kV transformer. The construction of the Vernon substation included a second 345 kV to 115 kV transformer to supplement the existing Entergy owned transformer. The additional transformer also provided redundancy for Vermont Yankee's source of offsite power. The four transmission lines that formerly connected directly to the Vermont Yankee substation now connect to the Vernon substation, and three tie-lines, one at 115 kV and two at 345 kV, connect the Vermont Yankee substation to the Vernon substation. Each 345 kV tie line is capable of carrying the full power output of the plant.
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.
On January 19, 2012, Judge J. Garvan Murtha of United States District Court in Brattleboro ruled that the state of Vermont could not force Vermont Yankee to close down, as the legislation that attempted to do so was based on radiological safety arguments that are the exclusive concern of the NRC. The judge also held that the state cannot force the plant’s owner, Entergy, to sell electricity from the reactor to in-state utilities at reduced rates as a condition of continued operation.
On June 7, 2013, Vermont's Public Service Board issued Entergy a Certificate of Public Good to install an outdoor diesel generator to replace a tie line from the nearby hydroelectric station as its station blackout power source. The outdoor generator would only operate if the plant's main emergency diesel generators located inside the turbine building were to fail. The outdoor generator is a self-contained unit that does not require cooling water from the plant's cooling water systems. The new generator would power instrumentation in the control room and would be capable of providing emergency AC power to one train of each of the plant's emergency cooling systems. On August 27, 2013, Entergy announced in a press release that it would close Vermont Yankee by the end of 2014. Among the reasons cited for the closure were ongoing low energy prices resulting from increased shale gas production, and the high operating costs of the plant.
Protests and politics
Esther Poneck led the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution in opposing construction of Vermont Yankee in 1971. In the 1970s and 1980s there were many anti-nuclear protests at Vermont Yankee which attempted to block access to the plant. More recent protests include:
- January 2006: 100 anti-nuclear supporters demonstrated at the front door of Entergy Nuclear, and eleven people were arrested for trespassing.
- April 2009: About 150 activists marched from Montpelier's City Hall to the State House to urge lawmakers to back development of clean energy sources such as wind power and solar power; the marchers had gathered 12,000 signatures in support of closing Vermont Yankee.
- January 2010: A coalition of anti-nuclear activists participated in a 126-mile walk from Brattleboro to Montpelier in an effort to block the re-licensing of Vermont Yankee. About 175 people took part in the March, some joining for the day and some for longer stretches.
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. Some businesses in Vermont were concerned there was 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". 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"." 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.
Governor Peter Shumlin is a prominent opponent of the Vermont Yankee. Two days after Shumlin was elected governor in November 2010, Entergy sought offers to purchase the plant. The company withdrew the plant from consideration for sale in late March 2011.
In March 2011, 600 people gathered for a weekend protest outside the Vermont Yankee plant, in the wake of the Fukushima I nuclear accidents. 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.
In March 2012, more than 130 protesters were arrested at the corporate headquarters of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, on the first day of the plant's operation after the expiration of its original 40-year license.
In March 2013, more than 500 people, carrying banners and chanting "shut it down", marched through downtown Brattleboro in protest against Vermont Yankee.
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 8.1×10−6 per year, according to an NRC study published in August 2010.
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.
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.
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- In Historic Vote, Vermont Poised to Shut Down Lone Nuclear Reactor – video by Democracy Now!