The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, shut down on Sunday night because of a small leak of cooling water, reconnected to the New England grid at 5:18 Thursday morning.
Ordinarily, a nuclear shutdown of this sort does not attract wide attention, but the consensus in the Vermont Legislature is that Vermont Yankee, in the town of Vernon on the Massachusetts border, should be closed when its 40-year license expires in March, 2012.
The reactor is unpopular for a variety of reasons — primarily, broad fear of the potential for a serious accident, judging from interviews with people around the state. The Legislature does not have the authority to pass judgment on the plant’s safety, but opponents have declared that it is “unreliable.” Hence the plant’s announcement of its restarting included the detail that it had been running continuously for 163 days, a fairly long interval, before it shut down.
The leak involved a spot in a 24-inch diameter pipe into which a hole had been cut during construction so that technicians could insert a probe to examine the the quality of the pipe. After the inspection, the hole, called an “inspection port,” was welded shut, a spokesman said, but the weld began leaking.
The spokesman characterized the decision to shut down the reactor as a conservative one; on Monday he said that if plant managers had known on Sunday night what they knew on Monday, they might have tried to fix the leak while the plant kept running.
The owner, Entergy of Louisiana, has evidently given up on convincing Vermont law makers that the plant is safe and should be allowed to continue operating for another 20 years, and put the reactor up for sale last week.
The reactor’s opponents smell blood in the water. The Brattleboro Reformer newspaper reported Thursday that in Keene, across the Connecticut River on the New Hampshire side, city officials are debating whether to sign a letter asking to be involved in decisions on how the reactor would be torn down.