• Anti-nuclear community celebrates Vermont Yankee closing
     | September 02,2013

    In this June 14, 1986, photo, protesters stand at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon. Vermont’s only nuclear power plant will shut down by the end of 2014, Entergy Corp. announced last week.

    GREENFIELD, Mass. — There were voices of celebration last week from those who have fought for the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant for decades — particularly those who have fought the plant under the recent decade of ownership by Louisiana-based Entergy Corp.

    “We did it! This is a win for the people of the tri-state community,” said Deb Katz, executive director of the Rowe-based Citizens Awareness Network. “We had said this was a sinking ship, and it had the potential to take us all down because the conflict between profit and safety would undermine the ability for that nuke to run.”

    But there was also concern expressed by everyone involved as they looked past the announced 2014 shutdown.

    “There are at least 530 tons of high-level (radioactive) waste, which we’ve said still needs to come out of that spent fuel pool,” said Katz. “This isn’t over. The struggle is now about cleanup.”

    The anti-nuclear movement, which began in the region within a few years of startup of the reactor 5 miles over the Vermont line, shifted gears as Vermont Yankee’s ownership moved from New England to New Orleans, with the emphasis turning from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the state over the issue of states’ rights, Katz said.

    “This is a lesson for the people in terms of states’ rights,” she said. “It’s states’ rights that win out in this, that pushed this corporation to the point where it said, ‘Enough.’ This is fantastic.”

    Katz said she doubted that Entergy, which has already spent more than $4.5 million on lawsuits against the state, was likely to get a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board to continue operating the plant. But she also predicted that trying to compete with natural gas and hydropower to produce electricity will “ripple through everything,” and that Entergy will wind up closing down other small nuclear plants, like the FitzPatrick nuclear reactor in western New York and Pilgrim Station in Plymouth.

    In her official written statement issued Tuesday, Katz said, “We applaud Entergy’s decision to shut down an aging nuclear power plant, rather than to push it past its limits. ... We will remain vigilant to ensure that the decommissioning is done responsibly and in the safest way possible. Today, we celebrate this milestone ...”

    Hattie Nestel of Athol, who has been arrested more than 30 times for protests at the plant, called Tuesday’s announcement “great,” but quickly added, “It’s not over ‘til it’s over. We’re at greater risk at this moment than we have been until now, because they’re going to cut corners. They’re going to bleed every penny out of that place.”

    Nestel said that Entergy, which has only about $480 million in the decommissioning fund for the plant, toward more than $875 million in costs, said, “That’s going to be a battle. Entergy never put a penny in it since they bought the plant because they expected the market values were going to go up. They’ve gone way down, and it’s not sufficient.”

    Andrew Fisk, executive director of the Greenfield-based Connecticut River Watershed Council, said, “This is not something we expected. We’ve been working to stop thermal pollution of the river (from the plant’s cooling water) for more than a decade, and this means it eventually will stop. We’re pleased that will help the habitat for the residents and for migrating fish. Entergy has been fighting incredibly hard against the Public Service Board,” which Fisk said was to decide on whether a discharge permit for the cooling water was needed as a condition of granting the plant a certificate to operate.

    Claire Chang of Gill, who was active in the Safe and Green Campaign that worked to call for the plant to be shut down, called the decision “pretty fantastic ... It always does come down to economics.” But she added, “The banks of the river, within a 500-year flood plain, is not the best place to store high-level radioactive waste for even a short period of time. Unfortunately, there is no long-term storage in the U.S., and we’re probably stuck with it there, just like at Yankee Rowe.”

    Randy Kehler of Colrain, who also has been active in the Safe and Green Campaign, said that he is also concerned that Entergy will defer cleaning up the Vernon, Vt., site for decades under a “safe-store” option that eventually could end up leaving Vermont to foot the bill.

    “Now until the fall of 2014 will without a doubt be the most dangerous year of their operation for the plant,” Kehler said, “because the plant will be older than ever, parts will be more brittle than ever, they will be more reluctant than ever to repair and replace parts ... and workers who have already been let go are going to be leaving in much larger numbers. To expect that (Entergy is) going to be taking every single precaution to keep the plant as safe as it possibly can be is unfortunately unrealistic. So I cross my fingers for the next 12 months.”

    The Brattleboro, Vt., based New England Coalition, which began fighting the Vermont Yankee plant before it was built and operating, said through its technical adviser, Raymond Shadis, “Environmental and public safety advocates and regulators must stay on their toes at this most crucial time. ... One fundamental purpose of our advocacy has always been to try to protect the public and the environment from nuclear waste - waste in the fuel, in the reactor, in the pool, out-in-the-yard, soon to be released in the next reactor or fuel handling accident, and out on the wind. Soon, Entergy Vermont Yankee, a nuclear waste pile that generated electricity will stop generating electricity - and it will either be mothballed or promptly torn apart, but it will be, absent electricity generation, just a nuclear waste pile. ... from which the public and the environment need to be protected.”

    He added, “Our work is just beginning.”

    You can reach Richie Davis atrdavis@recorder.com

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