June 16, 2010– The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant, operated by Entergy, reportedly had a near emergency shutdown recently when a cooling water valve started leaking heavily. The leak was of the order of 1.6 gallons of radioactive water per minute (far above the “legally allowable” limit of 1 gallon per minute). However regulatory officials and the plant management claimed that there was no immediate danger.
The maintenance team replaced the faulty valve within about five hours after the incident. If they had been unsuccessful, probably the plant would have had to do an emergency shutdown as per the rules. Local sources said that the 38 year old plant was prone to “many leaks” in the recent past, but these reports could not be independently verified. The latest incident underscores however that the public belief that nuclear energy is “far better” than fossil fuel based energy (after the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill) is not correct. Nuclear power plants also have their risks, although the proper engineering and management of the safety systems can mitigate these risks to a large extent. This was also thought before the BP Oil Spill about offshore drilling….now of course we know how that went awry.