ANDOVER — The empty cask being hauled by a tractor trailer that overturned Friday on Simonsville Road was not intended to move nuclear waste off-site, according to the company responsible for it.
“This new, unused cask is one of our transfer casks, not a transport cask,” stated Curtis Roberts, director of communications for Orano USA, a company with offices in Bethesda, Maryland, in an email Monday. “This transfer cask is not used for offsite transport and remains onsite. Transfer casks are only used onsite for loading and transferring radwaste canisters from the loading pool to onsite dry storage or to placement inside a transport cask.”
He explained that radioactive waste is placed in containers that then go into casks to be moved.
“The transfer cask does not leave the site, and is not a transport package for moving radwaste to offsite disposal,” he stated. “The radwaste is sealed inside the canister. The canister is the loaded object that is moved around and placed in a storage module. Once the loaded canister is moved out of the transfer cask and into the onsite dry storage module, the empty transfer cask can then be used again to move another radwaste canister. Depending on the process flow, a transfer cask could temporarily hold a radwaste canister until the canister’s onsite destination is ready.”
According to Vermont State Police, on Friday at 9:48 a.m., an oversized “superload” tractor trailer being escorted by two cruisers from the Bennington County Sheriff’s Department attempted to navigate Simonsville Road where there was road construction work taking place. The driver, Donald L. Pease, 63, of Cookeville, Tennessee, told police that he came to a section where the road narrowed, causing the heavy trailer’s rearmost tires to go off the shoulder of the road and sink, which led to the entire rig to turn over.
No one was injured. Reed Truck Services removed the crashed vehicle and its cargo, an operation that lasted into Saturday, said police.
The cask was bound for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, which shut down in 2014 and is in the process of being decommissioned. It was formerly owned by Entergy, but ownership was transferred to NorthStar, a company based in New York, which is overseeing the decommissioning. Orano USA is a subcontractor for NorthStar.
While state police said the cask was to be used to store spent nuclear fuel rods, that’s not according to other state officials.
“While the canister is designed to hold spent nuclear fuel, they intended to use this canister to ship contaminated, internal reactor vessel components which are classified as low-level radioactive waste,” said Jim Porter, director of public advocacy at the Department of Public Service. He said all spent nuclear fuel from the Vermont Yankee plant is being stored on-site.
Porter said the DPS and other state agencies expect a report on this incident from NorthStar. He didn’t have a specific time frame on Monday, but felt a report would be forthcoming.
Michael Smith, director of operations for the Department of Motor Vehicles, said Monday an investigation into the crash is under way, but is in its early stages.
“I think there’s going to be an investigation by law enforcement into this so it’s premature to say what happened, because quite frankly we don’t know. This occurred on Friday, the investigation is ongoing,” he said.
Roberts stated this was to be the final transfer cask moved to the Vermont Yankee site. He said the number of transfer casks on-site in total is proprietary information. The transfer casks have interiors that are 16 feet in length and five feet in diameter.
“Both our transfer and transport cask designs are specifically engineered to securely perform their functions and certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” stated Roberts. “Though the transfer cask appears undamaged, we have a rigorous inspection process that must be completed first to ensure that the cask is in good working order before we put this transfer cask into use.”
Andover is about an hour from Vernon.