Keep emergency plan in place

 

Greenfield Recorder 04/21/2015, Page A04

The following message is to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Entergy: safety trumps shortcuts.

This should have long been understood about operating a nuclear power plant, including every step of the decommissioning process.

A number of Franklin County towns and neighboring communities in New Hampshire and Vermont have expressed concern and dismay over Entergy’s request to curtail requirements that are part of the 10-mile emergency planning zone for Vermont Yankee. Entergy, Yankee’s operator, claims that since the plant is no longer operating, the company should be allowed to reduce the size of the emergency zone, lengthen the time by which Entergy has to issue a notification of an emergency from 15 to 60 minutes and to ease a number of other protocols.

Those opposing Entergy’s requests aren’t buying the assurances that a radiological accident would be more limited in scope now that the plant has been shut down. Critics argue, instead, that while spent fuel is stored in pools there, emergency measures, including quick notification to towns in the evacuation zone should be maintained. Highly radioactive spent fuel rods require constant power in a storage pool to keep them from igniting, and thus are vulnerable to maintenance or mechanical breakdowns.

“As long as there is fuel in the fuel pool, we want an evacuation plan the way that it stands,” said Gill Selectboard member John Ward at a recent meeting moderated by state. Rep. Paul Mark. Ward is not the only area resident who wants to be heeded on the issue. Vermont officials are worried that the state will lose its ability to conduct radiological monitoring of the plant next year based on cutbacks of money coming from Entergy. The public concern is valid. If the past is any indication, Entergy hasn’t always been the best steward when it comes to the nuclear plant. The company didn’t prove itself to be very interested in investing in upkeep or renovations unless forced, judging from several past incidents like pipe leaks, cooling tower failures and contamination found in monitoring wells. Why should regulators, state officials and the public now believe that Entergy i s to be trusted, especially if emergency safeguards have been loosened? They can’t.

And if the NRC isn’t willing to listen to these concerns, at least there are members of Congress who are. Senators, including Edward Markey of Massachusetts, have reintroduced bills that seek increased safety at the nation’s nuke plants. The legislation would ban federal regulators from issuing exemptions from emergency response or security requirements until the spent fuel is stored in relatively safe dry casks. Given that moving Yankee’s fuel into dry cask storage would not be complete until 2020, there’s plenty of reason for concern — and not to let Entergy take shortcuts.

The issue: Vermont Yankee’s owner seeks to get exemptions from the plant’s emergency plan.

Our opinion: The message that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Entergy should be hearing is that safety trumps shortcuts.