NRC says Entergy deception ‘willful’

A sign warns of a radiation area inside the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in 2010. (AP File Photo)

VERNON — A senior Entergy Nuclear radiation protection technician deliberately falsified safety records for eight months in 2016 and failed to test employees for radiation exposure on the night shift during those months, according to an investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC issued a violation notice Monday as a result of its investigation into the matter. The NRC said while the violation was considered low-level, the agency increased the significance of the violation level because the deception had been “deliberate” and “willful.” It said it also increased the violation because Entergy did not discover the problem itself and report it.

The radiation protection technician was described as being a former employee.

Entergy spokesman Joe Lynch refused to answer questions about the violation and issued a statement saying Entergy would comply with the NRC’s request that the company respond in a month to the findings of its investigation.

“We are reviewing the Notice of Violation and, as instructed by the NRC’s letter, will be providing a response to the NRC no later than July 26, 2017,” Entergy’s statement read.

According to the NRC document, its Office of Investigation started its inquiry in September 2016; it did not say who or what brought the problem to its attention.

The NRC noted that when its investigators went to the Vernon reactor on Sept. 20, the radiation protection technician started conducting the daily tests.

The NRC said the technician had falsified documents to show that he had conducted the tests, when a review of the hard drives of the Vermont Yankee plant personnel contamination monitors showed no review had been done.

The lack of daily checks was a violation of NRC regulations for the Yankee plant, with the problem surfacing between Jan 19, 2016 and Sept. 20, 2016.

The NRC said those night shift workers were not tested for four days out of the week, but when another radiation safety technician was on duty, they were tested.

How many workers were involved was unknown, but employment has dropped sharply since the Vernon reactor stopped generating electricity in December 2014.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan stressed the violation was low-level, and he noted Vermont Yankee had been shut down for more than two years. He said the NRC issued many low-level violations in any given year to the 99 nuclear power plants in the US, which are either operating or are shut down.

He said the violation did not rise to the level of seriousness that would trigger fines.

Riley Allen, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, said the violation was a federal matter, and was thankfully a low-level violation, but cause for concern nonetheless.

“ I think what is concern for all, is that it was done with some deliberate intent in terms of the nature of the violation,” he said. “ It was an employee who was definitely not performing properly.”

Allen said the state hoped to learn more about the violation once Entergy prepares its response to the NRC investigation.

The NRC notice of violation noted Entergy had maintained the “ more conservative” daily testing while many nuclear companies had switched to a weekly testing system because of advances in technology.

susan.smallheer @rutlandherald.com

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