MONTPELIER — Dozens of Vermonters from all over the state told the Vermont Public Service Board Monday night that Entergy Nuclear doesn’t deserve a state permit to keep operating its Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
More than 80 people had signed up at 13 video locations statewide for the hearing. While most people — by nearly a 2-to-1 margin — spoke out against Entergy and Yankee, the Vernon nuclear plant definitely had its supporters, from Brattleboro to St. Albans.
One woman in Montpelier sang a song she composed, urging the three-member board to deny Entergy a permit and “be brave,” as she put it.
The Public Service Board needs to decide whether to grant Entergy a certificate of public good to operate for another 20 years. Vermont Yankee’s original certificate expired in March.
At times, both sides seemed to be reading from a script, with many people voicing identical concerns, depending on which side they were on.
PSB Chairman James Volz kept the three-hour-plus hearing moving along, with each speaker at Vermont Interactive Television studios across the state limited to two minutes.
In alphabetical order, Volz heard from people in Bennington, Brattleboro, Johnson, Lyndonville, Middlebury, Newport, Montpelier, Randolph, Rutland, St. Albans, Springfield, White River Junction and Williston.
Supporters of Entergy and Vermont Yankee’s continued operation got to the sites early to sign up, and their comments dominated the first hour of the hearing. But in the second and third rounds of testimony from the different sites, Volz and board members David Coen and John Burke heard repeated statements that Entergy Nuclear couldn’t be trusted and Yankee’s continued operation was not in the public good.
Supporters countered the argument by saying it made no sense to shut down a source of relatively low-cost electricity, even if none of Yankee’s 640 megawatts was sold to Vermont’s utilities. They spoke strongly in support of saving the 600-plus well-paying jobs at the plant. They said Entergy and its employees support local organizations with their time and money.
The Public Service Board held a hearing in Vernon on Nov. 7, and Entergy employees turned out in force to support their employer.
John McClaughry, of Kirby, said anti-nuclear activists had “waged unremitting war” on the Vernon plant with arguments that were “inadequate to ridiculous.”
He warned that if the PSB doesn’t grant Entergy another certificate to operate, southeastern Vermont would “take a serious economic beating” and cost the area a total of 1,000 jobs.
“Why would anyone want to close down” a source of 600 jobs, asked Bill Day, of Barre. Millions of dollars in Vermont taxes would also be lost, he said.
Day said the issue of storage of high-level radioactive waste at the Vernon plant could trace its roots to a decision by then-President Jimmy Carter, who stopped the reprocessing of nuclear fuel.
Up in Newport, Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, said it would be a “travesty” to shut down Yankee.
“Why would the state go out and chase jobs away?” said Starr, who was one of only four state senators who voted in 2010 in favor of Yankee’s continued operation.
Starr was one of 25 people who spoke in favor of Entergy and Vermont Yankee.
But there were more than 65 on the other side of the argument, reiterating complaints that Entergy Nuclear executives had lied to state officials and the Legislature and that the plant leaked radioactive tritium into the groundwater, discharged millions of gallons of hot water daily into the Connecticut River and wasn’t a good neighbor, Vermont-style.
Dr. Paul Manganiello, of Norwich, a reproductive endocrinologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Entergy did not deserve a new certificate because it didn’t know how to maintain Yankee.
A failure of the cooling towers was a result of lack of maintenance, he said, as were the massive leaks of radioactive tritium from underground pipes.
Kevin Dunwoody, a small business owner from Brookfield, said that as a businessman, he always had to weigh “loss and profit, risk versus reward.”
“Yankee does not offer enough reward against the risks,” he said. The risk of a “catastrophic event far, far, far outweighs the benefit.”
His son, Sean Dunwoody, testified later, agreeing with his father.
He asked the board members to take the long view — and what they would think of their decision 20 years from now.
“My generation is eventually going to have to deal with it,” he said, referring to the high-level waste. “We do not want to inherit more nuclear waste.”
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