Groups raise safety concerns with Entergy nuke plants in Vermont, Massachusetts, New York

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MONTPELIER, Vermont — Nuclear watchdog groups said Friday that Entergy Corp. is trying to cut costs at reactors it owns in Vermont, Massachusetts and New York, and may be placing safety in jeopardy as a result.

The company replied that it has kept safety a paramount concern, but that it will comply with any new requirements placed on it by federal regulators resulting from the complaints from the groups.

"Running an aging nuclear reactor is already risky business," said Jessica Azulay, program director of the Syracuse, New York-based Alliance for a Green Economy. "But running an aging nuclear reactor on the cheap — that's just beyond irresponsible."

The alliance, Massachusetts-based Pilgrim Watch, and the Citizens Awareness Network, which has affiliates in Massachusetts and Vermont, filed emergency petitions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission relating to Vermont Yankee and the FitzPatrick plant in Scriba, New York. They also asked the NRC to investigate whether cost-cutting is affecting safety measures at the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the NRC's Northeast regional office, said Friday the agency is reviewing the petitions.

Kelle Barfield, spokeswoman for New Orleans-based Entergy, said the watchdog groups are raising unnecessary alarm.

"Clearly, we say over and over again that safety is our top priority. We would do nothing that would compromise the safety of our employees or the communities where we operate," Barfield said.

The groups maintain that Entergy's slowness to replace an aging cooling system condenser at the Fitzpatrick plant has resulted in higher than necessary radiation exposure for workers. The condenser has been plagued by frequent leaks. They also question security at the Pilgrim plant, saying the grounds have been targeted frequently by unauthorized intruders.

In addition, they maintain that staffing levels contemplated by Entergy at Vermont Yankee after it closes at the end of the year won't be adequate to guard against an accident involving its spent fuel storage pool.

The NRC wrote to Vermont Yankee on Oct. 20, saying its request to relax emergency planning around the plant after it shuts down contained inaccuracies, including about the amount of radiation that could escape in an accident involving the spent fuel pool.

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