Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant

Sharon Kim
March 12, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016

Fig. 1: Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station. (Courtesy of the NRC)

On December 11, 1967, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued the first construction permit for Vermont Yankees, the first and only nuclear power plant in the State of Vermont. [1] The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, since 1972, provides approximately 35 percent of Vermont's energy requirements. [2] By 2006, the plant provided the state of Vermont with 73% of its power needs. [3] Since then, the power plant's production has been cut by 50%, and a series of issues with safety and local contamination has set it to go offline in 2012. [3] There mainly three events that led to controversies over this nuclear power plant.

First, in 2004, a 3-story portion of one of the plant's cooling towers collapsed and consequently released cooling water back into the Connecticut river. [3] Eighty-three thousand gallons of water contaminated with radioactive tritium were spilled and was caused by a faulty valve. [3] Later in January of 2010, the nuclear power plant came under strict scrutiny when it was discovered that tritium was leaking into the groundwater near the site. That year, spent fuel was also discovered missing in April 2004, when the NRC resident inspectors at the plant conducted an inspection. [4] The inspectors found that the licensee had been performing an annual physical inventory of the spent fuel pool but had not verified that the two fuel rod segments contained in a special container were present in the container. [4] Then the Vermont Yankee Licensee formed an investigation team to search for the fuel rod pieces, and they investigated documents, interviewed employees, and inspected past fuel pool activities. [4] Eventually they found that the root causes of this event were (1) special nuclear material account devices used in inventorying the material had not been properly maintained and (2) the plant's special nuclear material inventory and accountability procedures did not provide guidance for controlling pieces of special nuclear material as they do for whole fuel assemblies. [4] This process of investigating cost the licensee several million dollars to locate the spent fuel rod pieces and review the plant's material control and accounting procedures and activities to determine the root causes of this incident. [4] By February of 2010, a sampling of the groundwater at the Vermont Yankee site revealed radiation levels to be 834,000 picocuries per liter, which is approximately 42 times the federal limit. [3] It was later found that the source of the radiation was due to underground pipes that were pumping high-level waste throughout the plant and which the executives of the power plant denied of existence. [3]

With the power plant's license scheduled to expire in 2012, the Vermont Senate in 2011 voted 26-4 to not renew the plant's permit, citing radioactive leaks, misstatements in testimony by plant officials, and other serious problems. [2] However, in March 2011, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted Vermont Yankees permission to stay open until 2032, a 20-year extension from its initial closure date. [2] In April 2011, the Louisiana-based company Entergy, which bought the plant in 2002, filed a federal lawsuit to try to change the state law that gives the Vermont legislature the power to decide the end date of operations. [2] At the end of 2014, the nuclear power plant was shut down for good, primarily because it was not cost- competitive.

© Sharon Kim. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] Mongolia Investment And Business Guide (USA International Business Publications, 2009), p. 189.

[2] S. G. Philander, Encyclopedia of Global Warming and Climate Change, 2nd Ed. (SAGE Publications, 2012), p. 1432.

[3] P. E. Rosenfeld and L. Feng, Risks of Hazardous Wastes (William Andrew, 2011), pp. 122-123.

[4] "Nuclear Regulatory Commission: NRC Needs to Do More to Ensure that Power Plants Are Effectively Controlling Spent Nuclear Fuel," U.S. General Accounting Office, GAO-95-339, April 2005.