Shumlin: Vermont nuke plant should step up cleanup

By Dave Gram
Associated Press Writer / October 11, 2010

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BURLINGTON, Vt.—Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin called Monday for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to dramatically increase its extraction of contaminated groundwater from its site in Vernon, following news three days earlier that radioactive tritium was found in a well drawing from an underground aquifer and used for drinking water.

"I have been saying for some time that the radioactive leaks at Vermont Yankee could be the largest man-made environmental crisis that Vermont has ever seen," Shumlin said at a news conference, adding that plant owner Entergy Corp., based in New Orleans, must be held accountable for the costs of cleanup.

"Unless Entergy Louisiana is held accountable for this disaster, it could cost Vermonters millions of dollars and put the health and safety of thousands at risk," he said. "Entergy Louisiana needs to take immediate steps to ensure that this crisis does not worsen."

Shumlin, the president pro tem of the Vermont Senate and a longtime critic of the state's lone reactor, also stepped up his criticism of his Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, whom he called too friendly to Vermont Yankee and Entergy.

"Brian will stand up for the stockholders of Entergy Louisiana instead of protecting the pocketbooks and health and safety of the people of the state of Vermont," Shumlin said.

Vermont Yankee is seeking a 20-year extension of its license, scheduled to expire in 2012. Vermont is the only state with a law saying the Legislature must approve the extension of a power plant's license. Vermont Yankee's extension request failed to get out of the Senate in February.

The vote came a month after tritium leaks were first announced and after revelations that top plant personnel had misled state officials by saying Vermont Yankee did not have underground piping that carried, and could leak, radioactive substances like tritium.

Dubie has said he believes the decision on the plant's future should be left to the state Public Service Board, which would issue a new state license for the plant, and to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"Brian has been very clear from the beginning that the NRC is going to be the one who will determine whether the plant is safe," Dubie spokeswoman Kate Duffy said Monday. "This is a conversation that has to be driven by science and evidence, not politics and emotion."

Shumlin called on Vermont Yankee to triple the number of pumps, from two to six, that it has been using to pull contaminated groundwater from the reactor site on the west bank of the Connecticut River since last winter. In January, officials announced that radioactive tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that has been linked to cancer if ingested in large amounts, had turned up in a test well at Vermont Yankee. Since then, other radioactive isotopes also have been found.

Plant spokesman Larry Smith said technicians at Vermont Yankee had already pulled about 267,000 gallons of water from the ground in an effort to address the tritium leaks and expected to meet their goal of extracting 300,000 gallons by December.

Shumlin said the new discovery -- tritium found at 200 to 220 feet underground, far deeper than previous depths of 30 to 70 feet -- should require the pumping to continue well past December.

Smith noted that the new tritium measurement, about 1,040 picocuries per liter of water, was well below the Environmental Protection Agency's safety standard for drinking water of 20,000 picocuries per liter. He said there is no threat to public health and safety.

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