Vermont Yankee boosts output

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant appeared to be performing well Sunday, one day after the reactor was brought up to 110 percent of the power output for which it was originally designed, a spokesman said.

“We started increasing power at 8:30 yesterday (Saturday) morning,” plant spokesman Robert Williams said. That came a day after getting approval from federal regulators to do so.

Williams said the 34-year-old plant had reached 110 percent of its original capacity at 6:30 p.m. Saturday – that’s halfway to the 20 percent power increase for which state and federal regulators gave final approval in February.

Williams said the plant appeared to be operating without problems. “So it’s going very well.”

The nuclear plant, in Vernon in Vermont’s southeast corner, won permission to increase its power output from a rated capacity of 540 megawatts to 650 megawatts.

In approving the 20 percent power increase, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreed with plant owner Entergy Nuclear’s plan to perform the increase in four increments of 5 percent each, with at least four days of testing and systems checks between each one.

After the plant reached 105 percent of original capacity on March 4, instruments picked up new sounds from a steam line coming off the reactor. That prompted concerns that Vermont Yankee might be heading for the sort of trouble that some other nuclear plants that have tried to increase power have experienced.

That problem is cracking in a key plant component called the steam dryer, which removes moisture from the steam the plant makes before it is sent to the turbines that generate electricity.

Rather than a four-day halt in the power increase process, plant and NRC personnel took four weeks to study what the sounds being made by the steam line might mean.

Plant officials said last week that they had satisfied themselves that the sounds were not a cause for major concern. The NRC concurred on Friday and gave its permission for Vermont Yankee to take the next step in the power increase process, pushing the plant from 105 percent to 110 percent of original capacity.

“At this current plateau, the plant is producing an additional 53 megawatts for the New England electrical grid,” Williams said in a prepared statement issued Saturday evening. “The 53 megawatts is enough to power approximately 53,000 homes.”

He said Sunday that if all goes well, Vermont Yankee should be ready to be ratcheted up to 115 percent of its original capacity by Wednesday evening. That could put it on track to achieve its new full power limit by Sunday, April 9.

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