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Patrick Calls For Plymouth Nuclear Plant Investigation After Vermont Leak 01:08
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A warning sign is seen at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., in June 2009.  The recent discovery of radioactive tritium at the plant means that more than one-fourth of all reactors in the U.S. have tritium leaks. (AP)
A warning sign is seen at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., in June 2009. The recent discovery of radioactive tritium at the plant means that more than one-fourth of all reactors in the U.S. have tritium leaks. (AP)

A radioactive leak at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., has prompted Gov. Deval Patrick to request a federal investigation into whether a similar problem may be occurring at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.

The governor is also calling for a halt to federal reviews of whether either plant should be allowed to operate after 2012.

Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee, both owned by the Entergy Corporation, first went online in 1972 and each is up for a 20-year license renewal in 2012. The plants are valued by many energy regulators for their cheap electricity and low greenhouse gas emissions.

But their future is growing more uncertain in the wake of a significant leak of tritium — irradiated water — detected underground at the Vermont plant in January.

Massachusetts officials say they do not have direct oversight of the Pilgrim plant's re-licensing, as that decision lies with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC. But the situation is different in Vermont, where lawmakers have retained authority to decide a nuclear plant's fate.

Vermont Senate President Peter Shumlin, whose district includes Vernon, said the legislature is unlikely to give the plant a green light for the future.

"Tritium right now is leaking into the Connecticut River and floating down towards Massachusetts," Shumlin said. "And the time is well past when we can pretend that we have a new, modern nuclear power plant sitting on the banks of the Connecticut River. We don't. It was designed to be shut down in 2012. We should land this airplane on time."

Massachusetts officials have monitored the situation but had little to say publicly — until now.

Gov. Patrick's letter (PDF) to the NRC calls for an immediate stay of re-licensing consideration for both plants until the leak issues are resolved. He also calls for an "extensive" investigation as to whether similar leaks may be plaguing the Plymouth plant.

NRC offices in Washington, D.C., were closed multiple days this week for the snowstorm, and officials could not be immediately reached for comment. A Pilgrim official said ongoing monitoring for tritium there has turned up no evidence of any leaks.


Fred Bever originally reported this story for WFCR-FM in Amherst.

This program aired on February 11, 2010.

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