Saturday, January 16, 2010
Vermont nuclear plant controversy raises same old questions about reliability
Reports of a resurgence of interest in nuclear power plants may well be accurate as well as troubling but are, hopefully, premature. Reports from the state of Vermont demonstrate why. From Montpelier comes word that officials of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant are under investigation for allegedly misleading state regulators about the source of radioactive tritium discovered in a well near the plant, according to radio station WPTZ. The state Public Service Board was not informed of the existence of a system of underground pipes carrying radioactive fluids around the plant, the radio station said. The issue has sparked a statewide controversy because Vermont Yankee is seeking permission to operate beyond 2012, when its 40-year operating license is due to expire. "I'm very unhappy about what we've learned about their representations to the PSB," said Gov. Jim Douglas, a longtime backer of the plant. Douglas asked the plant's operator, Entergy Corp. of New Orleans, to explain what happened -- whether the misrepresentations were inadvertent, which appears likely, or deliberate, which is far more sinister. Entergy Vice President Jay Thayer told a local television station that the mistake was inadvertent, that he didn't know about the pipe system at the time he testified at a PSB hearing. "I take full responsibility," Thayer said. "It's pretty serious, and I'm very sorry about it." Sorry? About a nuclear plant, where thousands of lives and future generations could be at risk? Does sorry really cut it? That's really the problem -- that humans, even humans with the best of intentions, are inherently incapable of being perfect -- and perfection is required when dealing with radioactivity on such a large scale. To their credit, state legislative leaders have demanded a new reliability report on the plant, even though their consultants delivered one last year. The new report is due Feb. 16, the radio station said.