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Vermont Yankee Plugs Leak, NRC Wants Answers

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has dispatched a special inspector to Vermont Yankee in the wake of yet another radioactive leak.

On Friday, a new leaking pipe was found near the same spot where Entergy Vermont Yankee found two pipes leaking thousands of gallons of radioactive water into the ground a few months ago.

In a late Saturday night press release, Entergy said the "new" leak spouted from an eighth-inch hole in a two-inch drain line.

On Sunday and Monday, Vermont Yankee engineers and maintenance personnel worked to develop a repair technique to isolate the drain line, which was discovered to be leaking during the plant's restart on Friday night. The plant had been offline for a month during a refueling outage, and during which time other leaking pipes were fixed.

Repairs were completed about 6:30 p.m. Monday, said Larry Smith, ENVY spokesman. The repairs consisted of sealing the pipe and closing an existing valve, effectively removing the pipe from service.

No steam or water is currently flowing through this drain pipe, Smith said.

Meanwhile, the NRC hopes to determine just how a leaking pipe right near other leaking pipes could have gone undetected.

"We're working to better understand how this defect could have gone unnoticed until the plant was returning to service late on Friday. We have a specialist inspector at Vermont Yankee today to assist our resident inspectors at the plant in reviewing the condition and questioning Entergy regarding it," NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan told Seven Days.

These pipes that seem to be leaking a heckuva lot lately didn't even exist last year, or so ENVY told inspectors. Incredible!

So, how did Entergy miss an eighth-inch hole in a two-inch pipe, when they allegedly fixed all the broken pipes?

"As part of our evaluation of this latest leakage, we will want to know if this line was tested and, if not, why not," Sheehan said.

Tough talk from an agency that is often seen as a paper tiger, and about as industry friendly as its federal counterpart in the Minerals Management Service. You know, the folks that OK offshore-drilling permits.

By several estimates, the pipes have been leaking for two years, and were the likely source of five sink holes observed since July 2008, as reported in last week's "Fair Game."

All is well, though, says ENVY spokesman Smith. The “new” leak, as he called it, has been stopped up, and the contaminated soil will be removed.

"Following isolation of the drain pipe, workers today are in the process of removing contaminated soil from the area.  Excavation is expected to be completed on Wednesday," Smith said in a statement.

Groundwater samples taken at a nearby test well on Sunday and Monday showed no detectable levels of tritium, he added.

The leak has been entered into ENVY's "corrective action process," which will determine the cause of the event and how it can be prevented in the future.

Given VY's proclivity to act like Old Faithful, something tells me there will be more leaks to come.

Legislative leaders are planning a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the new leak and actions they want to see taken.

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