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Shumlin to Vermont Yankee: Suck it Up 

Published December 7, 2010 at 9:24 p.m.

Governor-elect Peter Shumlin is calling on Entergy to re-start its efforts to extract tritum-laced groundwater at Vermont Yankee.

"I respectfully request that Entergy return its extraction wells to service and repeat my earlier request to increase the number of wells to prevent tritiated water from entering Vermont’s precious and irreplaceable aquifers," wrote Shumlin in a letter delivered today to Entergy VY Vice President Michael Colomb.

Looks like Gov-elect Shumlin will continue the hard-nosed approach with Vermont Yankee he took as Sen. Shumlin during the past legislative session. A stance that stood in contrast to Gov. Jim Douglas who, after tritium was found at Vermont Yankee, called for a "time out" to give the company time to repair its image, its trust with Vermonters and the environment.

As "Fair Game" noted last week, Shumlin talked directly to Columb after Entergy announced it had stopped extracting tritium since it had reached its pre-determined limit of 300,000 gallons of tritium-tainted water.

Shumlin called the decision to stop sucking up the water before it was completely cleaned up "illogical." Just days after the pair spoke, the Vermont Health Department revealed that higher concentrations of tritium had been found in two test wells near a former drinking water well and 60 feet below the surface.

Hmm, issuing bad news on a Friday. Imagine that.

Health officials said the findings were “of particular concern” because the wells are so close to a former drinking well that was shut down earlier this year after tritium was first discovered.

This time, however, the levels were much higher than the 1000 picocuries per liter found during the summer. The new tritium readings were 65,000 and 500,000 picocuries per liter respectively. Federal drinking water guidelines have a limit of 20,000 picocuries per liter.

An Entergy spokesman said that the higher tritium findings in the deep well was "not unexpected" given the wells are squarely within the tritium plume that continues to move eastward toward the Connecticut River. Tritium levels near the banks of the Connecticut River in some wells are more than 400,000 picocuries per liter; readings on the site have topped 750,000 picocuries per liter.

An Entergy spokesman said Colomb had received the letter and was reviewing it with technical staff.

"We take seriously and share Gov.-Elect Shumlin's commitment to protecting public health and safety and to preserving the natural environment," said Larry Smith, a VY spokesman. "On-going monitoring, testing and remediation campaign by Vermont Yankee and overseen by NRC, Vermont Department of Health and Vermont Department of Public Service show no threat to public health and safety or to any drinking wells."

Smith said VY is assessing data collected by existing and new sentinel wells and "will take all measures necessary. Entergy is committed to working cooperatively with new administration going forward."

Smith said Entergy will respond to Shumlin as soon as possible. The plant will also soon determine whether to resume tritium extraction.


Shumlin's complete letter:

Michael Colomb, Site Vice President

320 Governor Hunt Rd

Vernon, Vt 05304

CC: Gregory Jaczko,  NRC Chairman

Dear Mr. Colomb,

As Governor-elect, the integrity of Vermont’s aquifer is of the highest concern to me. I respectfully request that Entergy return its extraction wells to service and repeat my earlier request to increase the number of wells to prevent tritiated water from entering Vermont’s precious and irreplaceable aquifers.  It appears that ENVY made the decision to arbitrarily terminate the process of extracting tritiated ground water from the Vermont Yankee site as soon as 300,000-gallons of water had been removed.  The tritium concentration level of the remaining on site tritiated water after the 300,000-gallon cutoff was never provided to justify that decision.

On February 25, 2010, ENVY also made the decision to close its Construction Office Building (COB) well, which had been leaking tritiated water  into the underlying aquifer. ENVY’s February press release stated that if the well continued to operate, there was a “small possibility” that its operation would draw tritium into the aquifer and cause “cross contamination”. Therefore, shutting down the COB well was an appropriate precaution to avoid contaminating the aquifer.

However, the October 8, 2010 hydrological COB well test results showed that the tritiated water had indeed contaminated the COB well even though it had been shut down seven months earlier. This October 2010 discovery suggests that the likelihood of cross contamination of the COB well water was more significant than ENVY engineers had estimated in February. The evidence shows that cross contamination of bedrock has apparently been occurring even after the COB well was shut down. At that time, I recommended that the extraction wells remain in operation and their number be increased to avoid contamination of our aquifer.

On October 13, 2010, Dr. William Irvin with the State Department of Health said,

…the 300,000- gallon mark shouldn’t be an end point for the extraction process. He said cold weather is an impediment, but Entergy should continue to pump and store tritiated water through the winter. Irwin described the “extraction” wells as “critical.”… “(Entergy) should make an effort to continue the extraction as long as tritium is in the water,” Irwin said.  (Vermont Digger)

Yet despite my suggestion and Dr. Irwin’s recommendation that the extraction wells remain operational, ENVY went ahead and on November 18, 2010 shut down these vital water safety devices. The following day Entergy detected 500,000 pCi/l of tritium near the COB well and at bedrock. This high radioactive concentration near the COB well and at bedrock is a further indication that the aquifer may be in serious jeopardy of contamination from tritium and other radioactive isotopes.

Furthermore, I have been informed that since detecting tritium at a depth of 220 feet in the COB well in October, Entergy has not taken any radiation samples from the bedrock or aquifer via the COB well.  The COB well is the only source of data about what is happening in the aquifer under the site, so I also respectfully request that additional samples be taken regularly to allow the State of Vermont and Entergy to ascertain if one of Vermont’s essential aquifers has been or is being contaminated by tritiated water from this newest expansion of the tritium plume. I also request that a formal schedule of testing of water, Connecticut River fish, and on-site vegetation be conducted for tritium, strontium and cesium.

None of these requests should take any extensive effort and I would anticipate that recommended actions could be completed by the end of the week. I would hope you would support these actions which I believe are in the public interest. I look forward to hearing from you and to a productive working relationship.


Peter Shumlin

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Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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