The more things change, the more they stay the same

The View from Vermont

By Howard Shaffer

Since the last The View From Vermont post by Meredith Angwin on February 21, our nuclear world has been changed forever by the tragedy in Japan and the events at Fukushima. Many of us who are members of the American Nuclear Society have devoted untold hours to following the events and communicating with the media, including the local media here in Vermont. Still, some in Vermont seemed unaffected by the crisis.

Still the same

On March 29, Meredith participated in a debate at a central Vermont high school. I accompanied her to assist. Her opponent was James Moore, of Vermont Public Interest Research Group. The debate was scheduled at the conclusion of a high school class project, and students, faculty, parents, and community members attended. In their opening statements, Meredith spent time talking about what had happened at Fukushima, while Mr. Moore tried to link Fukushima to Vermont Yankee’s tritium leaks that occurred last year. Later, during the question-and-answer period, there were no questions on Japan. Afterward, one adult commented to Meredith that she had spent too much time talking about Fukushima:  “It’s not here,” he had said. I, too, had spoken with two audience members, who were concerned only about the functioning of Vermont Yankee’s reactor containment.

Days later, on April 4, I spoke at a mid-state Rotary club about issues affecting Vermont Yankee and Fukushima. There were no questions about them. Instead, there was interest in state events and about high-level waste, which the local nuclear opponents have been harping about for years.

The opponents have always looked for opportunities to organize an event, and they have seized on what happened at Fukushima. For example, on Sunday, March 20, several anti-nuclear organizations held a “vigil” outside the Vermont Yankee gate, in sympathy for Japan. It was publicized as a silent vigil, with “mourners” to be dressed in black. Caven Stone, a Dartmouth graduate student, and I attended the vigil. About 600 people from several states were there, many in costume,  and some wearing death masks.

We were directed to line up silently on the sidewalk, extending from Vermont Yankee’s gate. After an hour, the vigil was ended and the crowd crossed over to an elementary school parking lot, to gather around for a few speeches and statements. All of the speeches and statements were about Vermont Yankee and the Fukushima plants. There was not one word about the devastating loss of life in Japan due to the earthquake and tsunami.

While the flurry of local media interest in Japan’s event has died down, nuclear opponents are keeping up their drumbeat of letters and op-eds.

Changes

On March 10, commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted, after a five year review by the NRC, to extend Vermont Yankee’s operating license for 20 years. The next day is when the tsunami hit Japan and the plants at Fukushima. Of course, Vermont Yankee’s opponents immediately declared that the license extension should be delayed. (Did we expect anything less?) But the good news is that the NRC delivered the license letter to Vermont Yankee, after only a few days’ delay, due to the NRC staff’s involvement with the Fukushima event.

A few months ago, the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel held its first meeting under the new administration, chaired by the new Department of Public Service commissioner, appointed by the new governor, Peter Shumlin. The panel met on February 22 in Vernon, across the road from Vermont Yankee. It was a highly disciplined meeting, unlike some past circuses. The two legislative members of the panel who had disrupted past meetings had been reappointed. They did not disrupt the meeting of Shumlin’s new appointee the way they had disrupted meetings chaired by the previous governor’s appointee.

In other news, Entergy, which owns and operates Vermont Yankee, announced a tentative contract for 20 MW with the Vermont Electric cooperative. There also is now discussion in the media about how Vermont Yankee may be able to operate on its renewed license without state approval, through court action or otherwise.

The governor, however, is in favor of a natural gas pipeline into the state!

Stay tuned for more policy based on political expediency.

Shaffer

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.

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