The View from Vermont

We fight on!

By Howard Shaffer

It is the day before Veterans Day as I start to write this column. The political situation here, specifically concerning the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, is war. The Yes Vermont Yankee blog wrote after the November 2 election that although Vermont’s new governor, Peter Shumlin, declared himself the number one enemy of the plant, and the new legislature will have most of the incumbents, not all is lost. Many in the state support the plant, if judged by the closeness of the gubernatorial election.


Still, the election results give many that sinking feeling, perhaps like the feeling that many had after the attack on Pearl Harbor so many decades ago. We know it might not have happened if we had not made so many errors. Yet, the opponents of Vermont Yankee have their intentions and would have been working to carry them out, even if we had done everything perfectly, even if there had been no hardware problems at the Vermont Yankee plant, and even if everything in every inspection had been perfect.

In Washington, DC after the attacks of 9-11, a friend who was old enough to remember the Pearl Harbor attack related that the feeling then was just like the feeling after 9-11. Sinking, apprehension, but full of the determination to fight back to victory. The supporters of Vermont Yankee feel that same way, and are acting on it.

But what of the opponents? They are not resting on February’s victory in the state senate, or on the results of the November 2 election. They are still on the attack! Even before the election, on October 26, there was the first public forum on Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning. The opponents’ strategy is just what any political campaign would plan. They are acting as if the decommissioning, set to begin in 2012, is a foregone conclusion.

The forum was held in Brattleboro, Vt., at the Marlborough College Graduate Center. Put on by the New England Coalition and the Citizens Awareness Network, the crowd of 50+ was “the usual suspects.” There was a panel of three, two of whom had PowerPoint presentations of the Maine Yankee and Yankee decommissionings. The last panelist was the lobbyist for the Vermont Citizens Action Network, who was late arriving to the meeting, having gone instead first to the Marlborough College in Marlborough, Vt.

The discussion detailed their intervention in those decommissionings, and telegraphed their same intentions for Vermont Yankee. They demanded a “Citizens Oversight Panel” to allow them to dig in to the process, and in the words of one of the panelists, Ray Shadis, to “advocate.” It turns out that this means agitate for unrealistically low post cleanup exposure standards. They achieved this in the past by getting state standards to be lower than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission standard. This has had the effect of making decommissionings much more expensive. They boasted that, regarding the decommissionings of Maine Yankee and Yankee, the owners had to go back to the ratepayers for more money, which will be in the ratepayers’ bills for years. Can’t you see it coming–new plants will be charged with being too expensive to decommission, as well as being too expensive to build!

Next, on November 4, there was a petition presented by “Safe and Green” to the city council in Keene, N.H., asking the council to get involved in Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning. The petition asserted that the Keene city government has the responsibility to protect its citizens, and because Keene is within 20 miles of the plant, the city council should be concerned. (The NRC planning zone for evacuation is 10 miles). The petition was referred to the Committee on Municipal Services, Facilities and Infrastructure. At the committee’s meeting on November 10, several Vermont Yankee senior staff members (who live in Keene) and I got the petition referred to the city manager for a 90-day review. He approached me afterward to assist with the facts, as I spoke at the meeting and am a Professional Engineer in New Hampshire. The meeting was reported by the Brattlesboro Reporter newspaper.

This is not the beginning of the end (as the opponents would like), but just the end of the beginning! We fight on!


Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 34 years.  He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS commitees, national meeting staffs, and his local section; and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults as Nuclear Public Outreach. He is coordinator for the Vermot Pilot Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT.  He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

9 responses to “The View from Vermont

  1. Hi Howard,

    I suggest you reconsider some of the rhetoric in your post by the ANS Code of Ethics, Practices of Professional Conduct, no. 5, which requires ANS members to issue public statements (which I think applies to this blog) in an objective and truthful manner.

    If your claims are objective and truthful that this is “war,” then is violence against those who wish to shut VT Yankee down permissible, given the harm to Vermont you contend they are trying to advance? How about vice versa, given the opponents think VT Yankee poses an unacceptable threat to health and safety in Vermont?

    The opponents do not claim to be professionals, nor are they bound by rules of professional conduct in their claims. We do and are. And we have “feet of clay” ethically as the ANS code of ethics is so much eyewash in implementation, as the rhetoric in your post evidences.

  2. I apologize to all who think the “war” rhetoric is out of place. I was writing in the context of the political struggle for public opinion and the resulting favorable action by the Vermont State Government. Remembering Tip O’Neill’s dictum that “All politics is local” those of us here recognize the boundaries of actions vs. words. How many times have you heard commentators refer to an emotional political issue as “a real battle?” When one of the antis took some action by sprinkling compost on the papers and in the water glasses of NRC officials at a public meeting, she was roundly condemned in the press. See today’s Brattleboro Reformer (not Reporter).

  3. It seems that Carson’s knowledge is long on ethics, but short on rhetoric.

    Might I suggest that, instead of pouring over the society’s code of conduct, he consult a dictionary and look up the word metaphor.

  4. Hello Howard,
    I regret that I may have left you with the impression that environmental and safety enhancements we advocated at Maine Yankee drove up big costs. That was not the case. Maine Yankee came in substantially on budget, though some additional funds were needed to deal with spent fuel. Maine Yankee had to go to FERC and the Ratepayers for a rate adjustment because the plant was shutdown 16 years in advance of the end of its license and so the decommissioning fund wasn’t full. At Conn.Yankee, they tore up the site, removed equipment, etc. before a complete radiological characterization was done and so crapped things up necessitaing that radiolog ical surveys and analyses had to be done over. They managed to almost double initial decommissioning cost estimates. Yankee Rowe had some peculiar contamination issues and a trial and error approach that cost them extra. I think the website is still up w/ an EPRI Report and a Community Advisory Panel report on the decommissioning.

    • Mr. Shadis comment will be referred to the DD&R division for review. If Connecticut Yankee and Yankee were special, bad cases, what is the average? What would be expected of a good case.

      Of course the pamphlet the antis use showed the Connecticut Yankee and Yankee as a means for projecting that Vermont Yankee would cost even more.

  5. hi Howard,
    I think the bigger issue involves how can a nuclear professional appropriately advocate for a nuclear power plant by the ANS code of ethics? If you worked for NRC could you make that post, even with caveats it was only your opinion?

    What if you worked for Vermont Yankee, should you have to reveal that?

    You want our professional opinion to be respected – i.e. influential – but you are not a disinterested professional about Vt yankee – you are a strong advocate. I think ANS would do well to give its members guidance in being advocates consistent with the ANS code of ethics.

  6. Mr. Carson,

    Apparently, I overestimated your knowledge of ethics. You have asked the following question:

    I think the bigger issue involves how can a nuclear professional appropriately advocate for a nuclear power plant by the ANS code of ethics?

    Please explain where you think the ANS Code of Ethics precludes advocacy, because I don’t see it. In fact, the ANS actually encourages advocacy from its members.

    I can only conclude that you are a very confused man, who simply wants to stir up trouble with silly arguments about nothing.

  7. Mr. Carson

    I blog at Yes Vermont Yankee. Like Howard, and like many other pro-nuclear bloggers, I am a member of ANS. I believe ANS members should blog and should be activists.

    Nuclear opponents constantly make assertions about the myriad dangers of nuclear power; these assertions are not true. However, an assertion that is not answered is an assertion that will be believed. Nuclear professionals are the best people to reply to groundless fear-mongering stories.

    Howard is a member of the ANS Public Information PI committee, and has been chairman of that committee. The existence of the PI committee and the existence of the various pro-nuclear blogs…does NOT violate any code of ethics!

    There is a community of people who are doing their best to advocate for the safe, clean energy of nuclear power. I am proud to be in that community, and proud to associate with Howard Shaffer, a leader of that community. I would like to see every nuclear plant in the country have a pro-nuclear blogger, either paid by the plant or independent. (Howard and I are independent.) I would like to see pro-nuclear bloggers having regional conferences. I would like to see pro-nuclear activists giving public meetings and private potlucks. I would like to see a lot of things that haven’t happened yet. (I’m starting some of these events locally.)

    None of the things I want are unethical, and all are good for the future of this country!

    Meredith Angwin

  8. Pingback: The View from Vermont | ANS Nuclear Cafe

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