MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – The state Department of Public Service has declined to let members of a panel created by the Legislature to do a special audit of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant join an inspection of the plant set for Monday, officials confirmed Friday.

The decision was the latest sign of strain between the administration of Gov. Jim Douglas and the members of the newly created Public Oversight Commission appointed by House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin.

“They’re trying to stonewall our appointees,” Shumlin said Friday.

He said the legislative appointees, retired nuclear engineer Arnold Gundersen and former federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Peter Bradford, needed to be full participants in the Vermont Yankee review for lawmakers to have confidence in the plant’s continued operation.

Vermont Yankee, owned by Louisiana-based Entergy Nuclear, is seeking a 20-year extension of its license, currently set to expire in 2012. Under Vermont law, the Legislature gets to vote up or down on whether that should happen, a vote that’s expected in next year’s session.

Shumlin said the administration’s stance could hurt Vermont Yankee’s chances of getting legislative approval for renewing its license. “If this administration is going to stand in the way of that (inspection) process, they threaten to unravel the information we need to make a tremendously important decision for Vermonters.”

Stephen Wark, spokesman for the DPS, said Friday he could not comment of the matter because of an agreement that the deliberations of the Public Oversight Commission be kept secret.

But Diane Screnci, spokeswoman for the NRC’s Northeast regional office, confirmed that no member of the Public Oversight Commission would be attending Monday’s inspection.

“The Department of Public Service has not requested that any member of the panel observe the (inspection),” Screnci said. “And they would have to tell us, they would have to request this specific person and they haven’t at this point.”

Gundersen, who maintains he is not the anti-nuclear activist the department makes him out to be but who has been critical of Vermont Yankee, said Friday he also could not comment on the panel’s deliberations. But he confirmed he had been barred from Monday’s inspection tour, which is to include NRC and state officials.

“Basically we’re in lockout,” he said. “It’s just more of the swift-boating of us, as far as I’m concerned.”

When Gundersen and Bradford’s appointments were announced July 1, the DPS pounced immediately, with Wark saying both men “clearly have a bias against nuclear power.”

Gundersen said there was ample precedent for civilians being allowed to join nuclear inspection tours. He provided a copy of an e-mail from David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a national group with a long history of criticizing nuclear power, in which Lochbaum said he had been invited on such tours in the past.

Meanwhile Friday, two groups critical of Vermont Yankee held a news conference to denounce the state and federal response to the latest mishap at the Vernon power plant. The Vermont Public Research Group and the Citizens’ Action Network took aim at the July 11 leak in part of the plant’s cooling towers.

VPIRG’s Paul Burns blasted what he called the “dangerous level of corporate incompetence shown by Entergy Nuclear and the pass-the-buck attitude of state and federal regulators.”

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