BRATTLEBORO — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was both praised and condemned Tuesday by local residents for its oversight of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
At the plant’s annual assessment meeting, Yankee was described as meeting all of the safety requirements established by the NRC, but with four minor problems in the past year.
The meeting almost didn’t happen when it was disrupted by anti-nuclear protesters, members of the Shut It Down Affinity Group.
The group of women, all wearing masks of former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, stood in back of a table full of NRC officials and said they were “indicting” both the NRC and Entergy for failing to protect the health of people living near nuclear power plants.
Jaczko resigned last year under fire from fellow commissioners and the nuclear industry, and recently criticized the NRC for not doing enough in the wake of the nuclear emergency at Fukushima in Japan.
Ronald Bellamy, branch chief of the NRC’s division of reactor projects, told the gathering at Brattleboro Union High School that NRC inspectors had spent 5,700 hours inspecting Vermont Yankee last year.
Yankee had its supporters and its detractors at the meeting. Many questions focused on the number of spent fuel assemblies still in Yankee’s spent-fuel pool, and why they hadn’t been moved to dry-cask storage facilities.
The public turnout was much smaller than in years past, and anti-nuclear activists said it was a result of being stonewalled by federal regulators.
Nina Swaim, an anti-nuclear activist from Sharon, told the NRC that many people were discouraged from attending NRC meetings because they never got answers to their questions.
In fact, NRC staff from both the regional headquarters outside Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., appeared to outnumber members of the public at the meeting, which was also marked by a large police presence.
Raymond Shadis, senior technical adviser for the New England Coalition, said the NRC had “dropped the ball” in following up on the issue of flooded electrical cables at Yankee. He said recent documents from Entergy disclosed in the relicensing case pending before the Public Service Board showed the issue was continuing.
Chris Miller, director of reactor safety for NRC’s Region One, said more flooded cables had been discovered recently and that it would be covered in the 2013 report, as well as ongoing reports.
On the pro-nuclear side was Meredith Angwin, a blogger from Wilder who said she was proud of Vermont Yankee and its work keeping Vermont’s air clean.
Patricia O’Donnell, chairwoman of the Vernon Select Board and a former Republican state representative from that town, thanked the NRC for coming to the meeting and said she had nothing but praise for the plant and its employees.
“Vermont Yankee is a good place, and you are doing an excellent job,” she said. “You are tough because you need to be tough.”
There’s a difference between free speech and rudeness, she said, and she apologized for how NRC officials had been treated by some activists.
Many of the questions Tuesday night centered on the increasing amount of spent nuclear fuel stored at Vermont Yankee in both the spent-fuel pool and its dry-storage facility.
Residents also asked about ongoing problems at the Fukushima reactors in Japan, and a recent New York Times story that reported that water was continuing to seep into the Japanese reactors, creating vast amounts of contaminated water.
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