BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) – The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant will receive no penalty for allowing a cooling tower to degrade so badly it collapsed last summer, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided.

Instead, regulators issued a “noncited violation” to plant owners Entergy Nuclear for not following nuclear industry recommendations for preventing the problems that led to the Aug. 21 incident.

“We looked at it in terms of nuclear safety, and there was no real significance involved,” said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC.

The collapse of the 50-foot tall structure, captured in dramatic photographs widely circulated on the Internet, led to heightened public concern about the condition of the 36-year-old reactor and prompted Gov. Jim Douglas to call for an independent review of the plant as its owners seek a 20-year license extension.

Sheehan said Vermont Yankee failed to heed warnings about fungus that can grow on the wooden beams that support cooling towers, which operate in a very wet environment.

“They needed to tap into industry operating experience, the latest available. There was some operational experience they should have been aware of,” he said.

“We want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Sheehan said. He said the NRC has asked Vermont Yankee to study what caused the collapse and make changes to fix the problem.

“They have done just that,” he said.

Plant spokesman Robert Williams concurred.

“Our employees and contractors have put a lot of work into engineering, inspections and making the upgrades since last August,” he said. “We expect to have the towers available in the coming weeks for the normal cooling tower season.”

Raymond Shadis, technical adviser to the nuclear watchdog group New England Coalition, said he was not impressed with the NRC’s decision.

“It essentially means they get off scot-free,” Shadis said.

Information from: Rutland Herald,

AP-ES-05-07-08 1413EDT

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