By Howard Shaffer
With Vermont’s governor-elect, Peter Shumlin (D.)—the self-described number one opponent of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant—picking his cabinet and maintaining a high profile, the struggle continues unabated by the plant’s proponents who want to keep it from being shut down.
Vermont Energy and the Climate Action Conference
On Saturday, December 4, Meredith Angwin—with whom I share the enjoyable task of writing these “View from Vermont” columns—and I attended the third Vermont Energy and Climate Action conference, at Lake Morey, Vt. We wore our “VY4VT” pins. At lunch, the person next to me, an opponent of the plant, asked how we liked working for Entergy. We get asked this question a lot. Opponents assume that because we advocate for the plant and nuclear energy, we are being paid to do so. But we don’t work for Entergy and we’re not being paid, by anyone. Perhaps the opponents can’t fathom that someone could be just as passionate a volunteer as they are, but hold the opposite viewpoint. But it is true, and Meredith and I are two examples of it.
During the conference, Gov.-elect Shumlin spoke about his energy plan. The first item he mentioned was shutting down the Vermont Yankee plant, which drew an ovation from the audience. The local newspaper on its Sunday edition’s front page had an article on the conference, but in its Tuesday editorial the newspaper characterized Shumlin as “preaching to the choir,” with his “green energy evangelism.”
All the rest of the conference was about conserving energy and being more efficient. Much is being done in this regard through town and regional committees of volunteers. Several committees reported during the conference about street light surveys that have ultimately resulted in local governments removing excess lights and converting the rest to LEDs. In addition, much money has been saved by weatherizing old municipal buildings.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) called in to the conference and said that if the rest of the country were half as successful in the next 10 years as Vermont has been in trimming electric power use, then building 190 medium-sized coal plants across the United States would not be needed.
The Senator never mentioned nuclear energy. Afterward, when I pointed this out in an e-mail to a reporter of the local newspaper, she called me back a day later, after the editorial about the state’s energy and the conference had already appeared on Tuesday. I closed our cordial call by saying that Vermont Yankee opponents want to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
Community Access TV debate
A few days before the conference was held, Meredith and I were in a recorded debate on December 1 for a Community Access TV (CATV) program called “Walking Through Life.”
State Senator Dick McCormack (D.), along with Jim Moore of Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), represented the opposition to Vermont Yankee. McCormack at one time had been on the VPIRG board, so it was no surprise during the debate to hear him push the group’s talking point: “A deal is a deal—40 years.” He added that the plant must make its case to operate beyond 40 years. The question is, make the case to whom? This question is bound to come up in the state’s new legislature.
Afterward, Meredith and I were invited back to appear on more CATV shows, because the network is anxious to get more of our viewpoint. That’s because CATV has had many anti-VY speakers appear, but not so many of us from the pro side of the argument.
As I see it
Vermonters say that they live in the “greenest state in the union.” The state gets over half of its electric energy from Hydro Quebec and in-state renewables, and a third from Vermont Yankee. Shutting down VY makes no sense from a climate change perspective.
It has never been about that, however. The New England Coalition, originally The New England Coalition Against Nuclear Pollution, was founded to intervene in Vermont Yankee’s original licensing, and it has continued on to this day. It has also intervened in proceedings for other plants in the region. As new issues involving nuclear plants have arisen, it has seized upon them. It’s all about the great international Greenpeace campaign against nuclear energy. Greenpeace believes that the world must do away with nuclear weapons—and do away with nuclear energy to prevent weapons.
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 in 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.