Maine nuke reports missing

Seeking solace
By COLIN WOODARD  |  March 30, 2011

With Japan in the midst of the most serious nuclear power plant mishap since Chernobyl, Mainers may have been looking for reassurances regarding the spent fuel stranded at what was once Maine Yankee.

The plant itself is long gone, but its over 1400 spent fuel rods remain in Wiscasset, entombed in two-story tall storage casks and monitored and guarded 24/7, with the costs being paid by you and me. (They're stuck there until the federal government makes good on a promise to take possession, which will likely be decades down the road.) The press and public alike can keep close tabs on what pass for unusual events at the facility via the monthly reports submitted to the state legislature by State Nuclear Safety Inspector Patrick Dostie.

But as Fukushima Daiichi careened toward a full-scale meltdown — and air-monitoring stations in Maine detected minute traces of radiation from the stricken plant — we learned that no monthly reports had been filed since September 2010.

Previous monthly reports — available on the Maine Office of Nuclear Safety's website — paint a tranquil picture of life at what is officially called the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation. Instruments measure extremely minute and decreasing levels of radiation in the air and groundwater. Unspecified security devices are frequently flummoxed by the weather (cameras and motion detectors can have a hard time with fog). Guards occasionally respond to motorists parking at the end of an abandoned access road or intercept area worm-diggers attempting to take a shortcut across the site to reach nearby mudflats. The facility's tractor mower was temporarily disabled not long ago when its blades hit a tree — one of the more dramatic events regarding plant infrastructure.

But after September this happily mundane hum gave way to disconcerting silence. The reports — which by law must be presented to the legislature each month — ceased being issued. What gives?

When reached, Dostie offers an innocent enough explanation: He was overwhelmed by another project. A lengthy report on the plant's decommissioning and demolition was long overdue, and completing it turned out to be more time-consuming than he had assumed. "As a result the monthly reports fell behind," he says. "I did get it done and shifted gears to the monthly reports, but then Japan hit and everybody is interested in nuclear stuff."

Reports for October through December are under internal review and will be posted in the coming week or two, he said, and others will follow before the end of April. Most reassuring? He tells us they report nothing unusual.

Read more at maine.gov/dhhs/eng/rad/hp_Npow.htm.

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  Topics: This Just In , Japan, Maine, Chernobyl,  More more >
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