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Originally published Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 8:13 AM

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Vt. Yankee says didn't mean to mislead lawmakers

Vermont Yankee officials were put on the defensive again Wednesday, saying no one meant to mislead lawmakers about underground piping at the plant last year but "should have been more thorough" in answering a legislative panel's questions.

Associated Press Writer

MONTPELIER, Vt. —

Vermont Yankee officials were put on the defensive again Wednesday, saying no one meant to mislead lawmakers about underground piping at the plant last year but "should have been more thorough" in answering a legislative panel's questions.

The reactor on the Connecticut River in Vermont's southeast corner has been in the spotlight as Entergy Nuclear tries to win legislative approval for a 20-year extension on a license set to expire in 2012. Vermont is the only state that gives its Legislature a say on the license; other states leave it up to state utility regulators and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"The fact that they admitted they misled people, yeah, that's not going to help Yankee," said Rep. Patti Komline of Dorset, the House Republican leader. "And it just gives the politicians more fodder" to criticize the plant, she said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators descended Wednesday on the Statehouse to demand that Vermont Yankee be shut down. A handful of them marched 126 miles from the plant's corporate offices in Brattleboro.

The latest flare-up follows a plant announcement last week that elevated levels of radioactive tritium were found in a groundwater monitoring well on the plant site. Vermont Yankee spokesman Robert Williams confirmed this week that underground piping was among the possible sources of the contamination.

But last year, plant officials said repeatedly that there was little concern about the possibility of radioactive tritium leaking from underground piping at the plant because the reactor did not have much underground piping and those pipes did not carry irradiated water.

Williams said in an e-mail to The Associated Press the plant did not mean to leave the wrong impression.

"There was no intention to mislead, but certainly the response to the question should have been more thorough," Williams wrote. "It is important to note that Vermont Yankee provided a complete list of underground piping and our underground piping inspection program for the NSA team (the administration consultants) to review while they were here."

Williams acknowledged that the plant provided different answers about the extent of underground piping - one to a consultant hired by the state Department of Public Service, part of the administration of Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, which has generally been friendlier to Vermont Yankee, and another to a panel of experts brought in by Democratic legislative leaders, who have been more critical.

An e-mail sent last August from Vermont Yankee engineer David McElwee to Arnie Gundersen, one of the Legislature's consultants, said Vermont Yankee had no underground piping that could carry irradiated water and he could cross a question about it off a list provided by lawmakers.

"Other than piping carrying gaseous material ... we have none," McElwee wrote. He said the gases had "very low amounts of contamination" and no way to contaminate groundwater. "We consider this issue closed," he said.

Rep. Sarah Edwards, a Brattleboro Progressive and member of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said a Vermont Yankee official had given that panel answers similar to those given the legislative consultants about the extent of underground piping at the plant.

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