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.