Health Department Issues 2007 Vermont Yankee Surveillance Report

For Immediate Release, July 25, 2008

Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON – The Vermont Department of Health today issued its most recent and comprehensive report on public health surveillance of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station.

The report details higher direct gamma radiation measured at the site boundary during 2007 than in previous years — an anticipated result of Vermont Yankee’s first full year of extended power uprate. This was also the first full year that the Health Department applied a conversion factor to these measurements to more precisely calculate radiation dose — the amount of radiation that could be absorbed by a person who is exposed.

Although radiation levels were found to be higher than in previous years, they are still below the Health Department’s regulatory limit of 20 millirem per year, a limit that is more protective than that of any other state or federal agency. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission limits radiation doses to the general public to 100 millirem per year. The highest measurement recorded at Vermont Yankee during 2007 was less than 18 millirem.

“At no time has Vermont Yankee posed a measurable risk to public health,” said Health Commissioner Wendy Davis, MD. “However, we are keeping a constant and close watch on radiation measurements at the site boundary and elsewhere around the plant in Vernon.”

In preparation for the power uprate that began in March 2006, the Health Department significantly increased the number of dosimeters used to measure radiation at the site boundary, from six to 26. A total of 71 dosimeters are now in place, with 11 at the Vernon Elementary School and other locations near the plant, and 34 background dosimeters continuously measuring radiation in the six towns near Vermont Yankee.

The expected increase in radiation at the site boundary was the only change of significance in more than 1,300 separate measures of the air, water, milk, soil, vegetation, sediment and fish taken at the site boundary and in the six Vermont towns surrounding the plant.

The 2007 surveillance report is the first that incorporates guidance from an independent report released in January 2007 by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), which recommended the improved methodology to determine radiation dose. Using the new dose conversion factor methodology, the Health Department no longer applies a plus-or-minus 5 millirem allowance to its regulatory limit of 20 millirem per year.

Adoption of the new measurement standard recommended by ORAU was accepted by the Health Department as more accurate and technically sound, discussed at a public meeting held in Brattleboro in the fall of 2006, and presented for the first time in the 2006 Vermont Yankee surveillance report.

These changes are part of a comprehensive package of improvements in radiological surveillance that the Health Department has implemented in preparation for the power uprate at Vermont Yankee. The Department is now also better able to calculate background radiation, is increasing tritium measurements in Vernon groundwater, has positively characterized previously recognized natural radioactivity in water samples, and is collecting soil, vegetation, water and milk samples from throughout Vermont for comparison purposes.

Also included in the 2007 report is a thorough analysis of the health of people who live near Vermont Yankee with respect to radiation-related illness. The analysis concludes that there is no statistically significant difference between those who live in the six towns near Vermont Yankee and those who live elsewhere in Windham County, or elsewhere in Vermont.

The Health Department has been conducting radiological surveys of the environment around Vermont Yankee since it began operating in 1973.

The full report is available at the Vermont Department of Health’s website at healthvermont.gov, then select Public Health Preparedness — or go directly to: http://healthvermont.gov/enviro/rad/yankee/2007_surveillance.aspx.

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