Touring Vermont Yankee

Editor’s Note: Evan Twarog is a new nuclear enthusiast writer from New Hampshire. We welcome his first article on the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

by Evan Twarog

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is well known within the nuclear community for the messy legal battle that surrounded its license extension, which would have allowed the plant to continue to run until 2032. Despite the fact that numerous lawsuits ended up falling in favor of Entergy (the owners of the plant), Vermont Yankee closed in late December 2014 at the end of its fuel cycle after Entergy announced that the plant was no longer economically viable. Despite efforts of anti-nuclear activists, the plant ultimately closed because of lower natural gas prices driving the price of electricity down and the market flaws that worked against larger baseload power generators such as Vermont Yankee. I recently turned 18 and was given the opportunity to tour the closed facility with my dad, who has worked there for the past 16 years.

Vermont Yankee, even from several miles away, is a dominating presence in Vernon. The main reactor building is more than 100 feet tall, and the adjacent turbine building is over 60 feet tall. The “stack,” which is the tower that the ventilation systems run out of, stands about 200 feet tall, and you can easily see it from the town of Brattleboro. Vermont Yankee produced about 620 MWe when it was running, whereas several nuclear plants in the United States have capacities of more than 2000 MWe. Even these larger plants pale in comparison to facilities such as the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station in Japan, which has an installed capacity of 8212 MWe.

At Vermont Yankee we first visited the control room, where my dad spoke of the hundreds of different switches and knobs and what they controlled. Between reactor school and the monthly training that he has gone through, my dad has spent more time learning to operate Vermont Yankee than he did getting his bachelor’s degree n mechanical engineering.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the day was visiting the refuel floor of the reactor building that stands more than 100 feet tall. To get to the refuel floor we had to go nearly to the top of the building. Getting from the Radiation Protection department—where we were badged with personal dosimeters that would measure the radiation dose we would be receiving during our tour—to the refuel floor involved taking an elevator up 10 stories. If we wanted a midday workout, we could have taken the stairs.

The refuel floor had three major components: an access to the reactor, the spent fuel pool, and the moisture separator pit that would be flooded during an outage to do work. The refuel floor itself was where a lot of the work during outages occurred. A massive overhead crane removed components of the reactor and moved them aside so that the fuel bundles could be accessed. A smaller crane was specifically designed to move spent fuel bundles from the reactor into the spent fuel pool. (I’m one of the few 18 year olds who can say that he stood on top of a nuclear reactor… just a little cool.)

As we worked our way down the several floors of the reactor building, we saw several of the systems that fed into the reactor to control the water level and flow. We didn’t have a chance to go to the main floor “Level 252” because the control rod drive mechanisms were being removed from the reactor by GE, since there’s no longer any fuel in the reactor.

Vermont Yankee was a boiling water reactor, meaning that there was no secondary coolant loop. Due to this design, during operation the plant’s turbine building was hot. However, since the plant is no longer in operation, we were able to walk around the turbine floor and even on top of the turbine. Walking into the turbine floor, two things stood out: the size of the turbine and how clean the floor was. The turbine itself was massive. The building was several stories tall, and massive steam pipes fed into it. The turbine and generator stood around 15 feet and easily 100 feet long. The floor was incredibly clean, almost to the point where you could have eaten off of it. This wasn’t something only I noticed in the turbine building during our tour.

Everything in Vermont Yankee was spotlessly clean. There was no indication that the plant had reached the end of its useful life or that corrosion was getting the better of it, as the plant’s opponents would have professed. Everything within Vermont Yankee was maintained with exceptional care and pride.

We turned in our personal dosimeters to the Radiation Protection department. I picked up a tiny amount of radiation: 1/10th what I’d get from a chest X-Ray or 1/20th what I’d get on a flight from Los Angeles to New York City. What most people don’t realize is that throughout our daily lives, we accumulate certain amounts of background radiation from the environment. There’s no distinction between “man-made radiation” and this background radiation. The dosage that the workers accumulate working at Vermont Yankee is only a small portion of the dosage that they pick up from the environment.

Driving away from the site, I left feeling incredibly impressed not only by the size of the facility, but also by the professionalism and knowledge of the people working there. The people who work at Vermont Yankee do their jobs with exceptional knowledge, professionalism, and pride.

While it’s a shame that Vermont Yankee had to close early, my dad is busy preparing a different path once he leaves the plant. I suspect that this is the case with all of the workers. Some have retired. Some have already moved onto other plants, and more are going to stick with Vermont Yankee throughout the decommissioning process. Every end marks a new beginning.

Evan TwarogEvan Twarog is a senior at Keene High School in Keene, NH. He has been involved in pro-nuclear advocacy for several years, writing for Atomic Insights and Yes Vermont Yankee, as well as serving as an intern with the Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project. Beginning in late June, he will be attending the United States Coast Guard Academy, where he will study either civil engineering or operations research and computer analysis.

3 thoughts on “Touring Vermont Yankee

  1. SoonToBe ExVermonter

    Blaming VY’s demise on economic factors was nothing more than a face-saving gesture for all parties involved. It let Bumlin and his anti-nuclear allies off the hook because they could now say, “Don’t blame us, it was Entergy’s decision.” And Entergy could say, “Don’t blame us, it was the market and low gas prices.” And of course, “the market” doesn’t say anything. It was all a sham and Kabuki Theater because everyone knows that in the end it wasn’t economic, but politics.

    Why do I say it wasn’t economics? Very simple, really. Sure, natural gas prices may be low now, but there are plenty of other generating sources on the grid that are much more expensive than the price per kwhr that VY offered at auction. Those being rate-payer and taxpayer-subsidized sources like wind and solar power. Because of the subsidies they receive, wind generators could bid negative pricing into the auction and still make a profit because of the subsidies. How can you beat a price from someone who offers to pay you to take their product because the government is guaranteeing them a profit even if you give your stuff away?

  2. Nowhere Togo

    Your family should count its blessings that your father has options and can prepare a different path after he leaves VY. That isn’t the case for some, especially when you are older and no one wants to hire you. Then, an end marks…an end.

    This country needs to come to its collective senses and realize that not only are we needlessly throwing away perfectly good physical infrastructure, we are throwing away the lifeblood of our intellectual capital. Throwing away a power plant is one thing. Throwing away the lives and jobs of hardworking, productive citizens is another.

  3. Thomas J. Clegg

    Entergy may say VY was closed because of low gas prices but I think it was closed because of Governor Shumlin. He taxed Entergy into closing. Making VY pay taxes that no other supplier in the state had to.He made laws that Entergy had to take the state of Vermont to court to fight. If Vy closed because of low gas prices could you show me where the new gas power plants were built, where the new pipe lines are to send the extra gas needed to make up for the 620 MW that VY produced? Also when did they change the laws that say in cold weather the gas company has to send gas to heat homes before it can send it out to make power. I think as part of some backdoor deal Entergy agreed to not blame the Govenor. But I and a few other fokes know the real reason VY was Closed. Thank You Govenor Shumlin YOU BUM!

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