Entergy Seeks Interested Buyers for Vermont Yankee as Leak Shuts Reactor Down

Days after Entergy Corp. announced it was considering selling its 605-MW Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., the New Orleans–based company on Sunday temporarily shut down the plant after discovering a leak of radioactive water.

In a separate incident—also on Sunday—Entergy also shut down one of two reactor at its Indian Point nuclear plant north of New York City, after a transformer exploded and started a small fire. No one was hurt and no radioactive materials were released at either plant, the company said.

Entergy has been seeking to extend the lifetimes of the plants in both states by 20 years. (See the cover story in POWER’s November issue for more about nuclear plant life extensions.)

Industry analysts suggested that the company’s decision to consider selling the Vermont plant, announced on Thursday, was prompted, in part, by the election of a governor who has opposed extending the plant’s life beyond March 2012, when its operating license expires. Vermont is the only state whose state legislature has the power to veto license extensions.

Governor-Elect Peter Shumlin (D-Vt.) recently told Radio Vermont that the 39-year-old-plant, plagued with problems that include increased levels of tritium in groundwater, was “old and tired,” and “should be retired.”

Entergy acquired the plant from Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation in 2002 for $180 million. Today, the plant could cost between $620 million and $800 million, analysts estimate. On Thursday, Entergy said in a statement that its intent to explore interest from “multiple parties” in buying the plant was for the well-being of plant employees. Moreover, the company said, “The plant has an outstanding operational record.”

“It completed 532 days of continuous operation in April 2010, the second breaker-to-breaker run in the last five years. The record run for the plant is 547 days, which ended in 2007.”

According to J. Wayne Leonard, Entergy’s chairman and CEO, the company has also been “successfully resolving” any issues to secure Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval for a license extension at the plant. “We have been in negotiations with the local electric companies to finalize a long-term power purchase agreement to ensure the continued output of clean and reliable energy for Vermont utilities,” he said.

The leak—60 drops a minute—found by plant operators came from a two-inch access plug in a pipe located in the plant’s feed pump room. The plant was shut down because the leak was in a 24-inch piping section, which could not be repaired with the plant in operation. Repairs are expected to be completed as early as Wednesday, and the plant will be restarted. Until it was shut down, the plant had been online for 163 days of continuous operation, Entergy said.

The transformer explosion that prompted shutdown of the 1,020-MW Indian Point plant’s Unit 2 in New York State was still under investigation at our Wednesday deadline. Spokesperson Jerry Nappi told reporters that the fire was put out quickly and that the unit was automatically shut down. Nappi also said there was a replacement transformer unit on site at the plant, which could reduce downtime for repairs. The Siemens Energy–made unit that exploded was installed in 2006 and designed to last at least 30 years.

Unit 3 was not affected by the transformer explosion and is operating at full capacity. The plant’s Unit 1 was shut down in 1974 after its emergency core cooling system reportedly failed to meet NRC requirements.

Entergy is seeking 20-year life extensions for the two-unit Indian Point after current operating licenses expire in 2013 and 2015.

Sources: Entergy, POWERnews, NRC, Radio Vermont


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