Category Archives: View from Vermont

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.

How to win a debate: A chance to practice what I preached

By Meredith Angwin

In my previous post for the ANS Nuclear Cafe, I described what I had learned from debating nuclear opponents.

Recently, I had a sudden and unwelcome opportunity to practice what I preached.  On February 24, Howard Shaffer was due to debate Arnie Gundersen on the topic Vermont Yankee: Keep It Running or Shut It Down? This Janus Forum debate at the University of Vermont would have hundreds in attendance, press coverage, and so forth.

On the morning of the debate, however, Howard was rushed to the hospital with a life-threatening condition. (He had emergency surgery and is recovering well.)  It was up to me to debate Gundersen. Time to practice what I preached!

What is winning a debate?

At the end of a debate, nobody raises your hand and says “you won.” Nobody gives out a first place and second place ribbon.  So I have to start by defining “winning the debate.”

I have won if I have persuaded people in the audience to think more highly of my position. Since there are many people in the audience, some may be persuaded for one side, and others persuaded for the other side. In other words, both debaters can win. I realize that this is an unusual way to look at a debate—everybody wins? But a debate is not a boxing match or a court of law. It is a public forum, and the point is to persuade the audience.

In this case, there is no doubt that I won. An older woman came up to me after the debate and said, “I was convinced we had to shut down Vermont Yankee. After listening to you, I realized it is an important asset, and shutting it down isn’t so simple.” She now thought that we should probably keep the plant operating. Now, I would love to say that she had been convinced that we should keep it running, but I don’t think I can change someone’s mind completely by showing them a couple of slides in 45 minutes of airtime. I certainly influenced her opinion, however.

Another person I influenced was a man who asked a question. When I first saw him, his long-haired appearance seemed to announce his political persuasion. As a matter of fact, when he stepped up to the microphone in the question period, my internal reaction was “Brace yourself, Meredith, here it comes.”

Instead, this man addressed Arnie. He asked if it was correct that grinding up an exit sign and putting it in the ground and pouring water over it would lead to more tritium in the environment than Vermont Yankee had spilled? (This exchange begins at about the 1 hour, 24 minute mark on the audio, right after Gundersen boasts of firing 47 percent of a group of managers when he was in the nuclear industry.)

Posted using Mobypicture.com

The Janus forum debate (Posted using Mobypicture.com)

Arnie is a good debater, and he slid from the tritium question without answering it. Arnie started with a comment about not eating yellow snow and not drinking water that glowed. Then, he said that tritium is a marker, and really bad things like bone-seeking strontium follow the tritium into the environment. The man who asked the question was not particularly impressed with this answer, and responded “But the tritium itself isn’t going to hurt us?” That man talked to me at the reception afterward, thanking me for putting tritium into perspective.

Several young women came up to me after the debate. They said that they were very happy to see a woman up on the platform, and they thought that both debaters had done well and they didn’t know what to believe. Since they were students at University of Vermont, I suspect they started out with generic anti-Vermont Yankee beliefs and the debate modified their view. (Greenpeace engages in major outreach activities targeting the University of Vermont, specifically because of Vermont Yankee.)

At the reception, I was surrounded by people who had liked my talk. There were some men who said they were engineers, some women, some students, some older people, especially several older women. I looked over at Arnie, and he was also surrounded by people, presumably people who had liked his talk. As far as I could tell, however, many of the people around Arnie were serious anti-nuclear people, a group that show up at so many meetings. I recognized several of them.  Probably, however, Gundersen also “won” and persuaded some new people.

So, how did I win?

I feel that I won (persuaded people) by doing two things:

  • Putting facts in perspective (where electricity comes from, the overstated dangers of tritium)
  • Contradicting only some of the most egregious statements that Arnie made. Fighting him non-stop would have let him control the topics.

Mostly, I concentrated on my message, and found that Arnie couldn’t counter it directly. Oh, he could slide away into strontium, but open-minded questioners saw through that device.

And it all means?

It all may mean very little. My words changed a few minds. When the video of the debate is out, it may change a few more. Gundersen slid away from tritium questions, because my presentation had made it hard for him to answer them with the usual set of scare stories. And yet, it was just some people, in one room, at one time. Who knows?

At this point, I go back to what Howard Shaffer said about the pro-nuclear cause. This quote is from the February interview in Nuclear News magazine:

For energy solutions and environmental solutions, there is no silver bullet—it’s silver buckshot. …. We do everything we can all over the map in this big free-for-all called politics.

Additional information: The debate itself

If you want to know more about the debate, you can read about it on my Yes Vermont Yankee blog, and listen to it on Vermont Public Radio streaming or downloadable):

_________________________________

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents. Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.

Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Talking about my (nuclear) generation

By Meredith Angwin

I was not born a geek, but by the time I was a 10-year-old buying books at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, my path was set. Some considered this as an unfortunate background, so I had to learn the hard way how to handle myself in debates  and how to answer aggressive questions. Below, I share what I have learned in defending my position, in the hope that it will help others.

Get asked a question, give a long repetitive answer

I am a scientist, which means that if you ask me a technical question, I try to give an accurate and concise answer. When I do this in debate, the opposition usually runs right over me. Anti-nuclear activists are very willing to fill airtime with their own voices. They are often paid professionals, trained in debate. Sometimes a strong moderator can help keep things fair, but not always.

I once watched a videotape of myself debating, and I was astounded at how little speaking time I had. (For what it is worth, this problem is not just mine. When NRC Chairman Jaczko came to Brattleboro, many people noted that he spoke for less than two minutes at a time before getting interrupted.)

Advice: When you get the floor, hold it. Say everything at least two  different waysDo your best to prevent people from interrupting by pointing out that they ARE interrupting.

You deserve equal time, but you won’t be given equal time. You will have to take it assertively.

Learn to get your message across with blocks and bridges

Your opponents will rarely answer the question they were asked. Instead, they block the question, and bridge themselves back to whatever point they were planning to make anyway. In a recent debate in Vermont, State Senator Dick McCormack was a master at this. His main point was “a deal is a deal, and the Vermont Yankee deal [to close the plant down] was for 40 years.”

Almost everything led him back to his point. If you talked about economic impact of Vermont Yankee closing, he was quick to say that “Everybody knew the deal, so why are people surprised at the job loss?” No discussion of economic consequences for him: everything leads back to “a deal is a deal.”

You can’t make the opponents answer the questions, but you can block and bridge yourself as necessary.

(I know that it goes against the grain). You should learn to do this,  and keep this method in your arsenal of responses. It’s about getting your message verbalized and out there, not about convincing your opponents of anything by logical argument simply because they really won’t be listening. They will hear your words, but not digest them.

The audience may be convinced by your steady, repeated message. The opponents won’t be convinced by anything you can say.

Be ready for the shotgun questions

There is one situation in which you must block and bridge. If someone asks a reasonable question, you may well choose to answer that questions. When someone approaches with a loaded shotgun, you must block and bridge.

For example, on a radio talk show, some people called with single questions.  The question might not have been exactly flattering: “Doesn’t that cooling tower collapse prove Vermont Yankee is falling apart?” I usually answer single questions directly, however.

Other questioners loaded up their shotguns and asked multiple questions. They want to know about tritium, the fuel pool, the cooling towers, the Price Anderson act, etc. I have counted up to eight questions in a string. If you try to answer all of them, you will take up the rest of the show with their laundry list of concerns. Or, if you answer the first three, for example, you may be accused of ducking the later questions. So, what to do?

Don’t even begin to respond to a shotgun question. When you meet a shotgun, block and bridge.

“Thank you for your questions. It is clear that you are concerned with nuclear safety, and I am happy to tell you that nuclear is the safest form of energy production…” etc.

A shotgun question is an opportunity to get your own point across.

My final advice: Forgive yourself

My last advice is to forgive yourself. You go out there, and you do better than you think you do. Yes, you should have blocked that one…you will do it next time. Yes, the opponent interrupted and said something outrageous and you couldn’t stop him. Yes, it wasn’t perfect.

Face it. You are usually up against paid professional activists who have training in debate. You are up there as a geek, and you are saying what needs to be said and saying it to the best of your ability.

By being in the public forum and telling the truth, you are doing a service for the future of the world. Forgive  yourself for not doing it perfectly.

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents. Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.

Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Vermont Yankee support picking up steam

The View from Vermont

By Howard Shaffer

A well-known slogan from the 1970s was “Think Globally, Act Locally.” We who are supporting the Vermont Yankee (VY) nuclear power plant are “acting locally.”

The plant is running a TV and press campaign to illustrate how important VY is for generating a good amount of the state’s electric power. The campaign’s slogan is “VY for VT,” and it uses plant employees to tell its story. The campaign also highlights business owners who support the plant. Many of the businesses use large amounts of electric power—$1-million worth or more per year.

The plant also contributes to local charities, and many VY employees volunteer their time to charitable projects. In addition, some employees attend public meetings of regulatory bodies, to balance out the opponents who want to shut down the plant.

Vermont Yankee

Recently, VY managers and employees, including the site vice president and his spouse, for two weeks in a row attended selectboard meetings in their town of West Chesterfield, N.H.  They were there to oppose a petition by a new anti VY group that was seeking support for its concerns about VY’s eventual decommissioning.  The real agenda behind the petition was to put pressure on the three states—Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts—in VY’s emergency planning zone in order to form a tri-state Citizens Advisory Board to oversee the decommissioning. The petition was voted down. Also, managers and employees from VY who live in Keene, N.H., attended that town’s city council committee meeting regarding the same petition. The result of the meeting was that the petition was sent to the city manager for review.

In addition, last week Entergy’s regional vice president for External Affairs sent a letter in response to an individual who had contacted him with concerns about the plant. The letter details VY’s good performance, and was made available to the public:

Vermont Yankee letter

One of VY’s biggest supporters is the Vermont Energy Partnership, an organization of business members that is campaigning for reasonable electric power prices. This week, the group sent a letter to Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin, expressing support for the plant.

In other news, the Ethan Allen Institute, a long established, independent, nonpartisan, free-market-oriented think tank, instituted an Energy Education Project (see ANS Nuclear Cafe, September 27th). Meredith Angwin, an American Nuclear Society member, is the project’s director, and I am on its advisory board representing ANS’s Vermont Pilot Project.

As far as my own involvement, a scheduler often arranges  speaking engagements for Meredith and me so that we can talk about the benefits of keeping VY operating. For example, one time a community access TV debate was arranged, and we were there along with our debate opponents—a state senator and the Clean Energy director from the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Meredith and I often form a “tag team,” to publicize both of our projects (the Vermont Pilot Project and the Energy Education Project). In addition to debates, we have been on talk radio, recorded TV interviews, and met with a newspaper’s editorial board. Meredith’s Yes Vermont Yankee blog is known in the state; at a politically sponsored Super Bowl party, Meredith had a long interview with Vermont’s lieutenant governor, Phil Scott.

The Save Vermont Yankee Facebook page has many friends, and the VY plant itself has Web sites.

In addition, former state representative Patty O’Donnell of Vernon (where VY is located) is speaking throughout the state on behalf of the plant. Author Gwyneth Cravens was in Vermont (see ANS Nuclear Cafe, January 25th) on behalf of VY and nuclear power in general.

The ANS Public Information Committee sponsors the Vermont Pilot Project, which has as its objective to provide resources to ANS members to assist them in sharing a scientific perspective on nuclear energy. As noted, the Vermont Pilot Project and the Energy Education Project have been cooperating and supporting each other, meeting with plant members, and assisting all who share our objectives.

All of this effort is inspiring grassroots support and a stream of pro VY letters to state newspaper editors.

Supporters of Vermont Yankee are having an impact!

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.

Gwyneth Cravens talks about nuclear energy in Vermont

View from Vermont

by Meredith Angwin

Gwyneth Cravens came to Vermont last week for a full plate of speaking engagements and media interviews. Howard Shaffer, myself, and John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute had planned for weeks her visit to Vermont. I was tired of seeing the constant parade of anti-nuclear people like Helen Caldicott, Paul Gunther of Beyond Nuclear, and others come up to Vermont.

It was about time we dispelled some of the gloom of ignorance with a solid pro-nuclear talk!

The action

Craven’s media appearances started before her trip started, with two radio interviews while she was still in California. One was on WDEV, the Mark Johnson show, and you can hear it here:

Part 1
Part 2

Her other interview was on Vermont Public Radio’s morning edition, but I have been unable to find a link. VPR may not yet have archived Cravens’ appearance.

On Thursday in Vermont, Cravens

  • had breakfast with supporters at the Burlington Sheraton
  • gave a rushed talk to legislators in the State House in Montpelier
  • spoke to students and faculty at the University of Vermont in the afternoon (sponsored by the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics)
  • addressed the Ethan Allen Institute’s Sheraton Economic Series at the Burlington Sheraton in the evening (click here for video of her presentation).

The next day, she gave a long interview with True North Reports, a start-up Web magazine. Then she flew home.

Cravens

By the end of the day on Thursday, Cravens had given three one-hour talks in three separate venues in two cities. An immense and successful effort! The talks were recorded by cable companies and a documentary film maker. All the seats were filled in the State House Committee room and the Sheraton Economic
Series. At  the University of Vermont, we still had seats available, but the faculty sponsor looked at the 30 students and said that this was a “good crowd” for the type of event we were holding.

The results

What worked? What didn’t?

Mostly, everything worked. The talk to the legislators was rushed because we basically had the committee room for only 45 minutes during the lunch hour, and there was time only for one question. We were handing out free copies of her book, Power to Save the World, and 20 legislators took copies. As a courtesy, John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute also brought a copy of the book to the offices of Vermont Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Sometimes, victories are smiles and sometimes they are scowls. I saw some scowls on the faces of a few plant opponents in the State House hallways. I always love it when one particular senator scowls at me. He is an ardent plant opponent, and when he gives me a dirty look, it means I have done something right!

University of Vermont

Because we had more time, the UVM talk went more smoothly. At the university, as in her book, Cravens talked about her journey from someone who was automatically anti-nuclear to someone who became a nuclear proponent. This story of increased knowledge and changed views definitely resonated with the students. Most of the student questions were thoughtful, and the question period ended on an unexpected high note. The last question was a statement by one grad student, who had become convinced that nuclear was the future. I talked with the student afterward. He is an engineering student and working on wind turbines. He has become quite certain that wind turbines will have limited utility, and so he has been looking at other methods of making power. Of course, he likes nuclear.

The crowd at the Ethan Allen Institute talk in the evening was older and more conservative than the students at University of Vermont. The good news was that they were already mostly nuclear supporters. The bad news was that several of them objected to Cravens’ description of global warming. Cravens handled their questions very well, and one person told me that she thought the question period had been the best part of the presentation. I consider that a true compliment to Cravens.

Exit sign containing tritium

Another great part of the evening talk was Howard Shaffer’s show-and-tell. Shaffer bought (on Amazon.com) a tritium-containing exit sign with seven curies of tritium. Pointing out that he held, in his hand, about seven times the entire amount of tritium that had leaked from Vermont Yankee definitely had an impact.

The bottom line

We supported our friends in the legislature, who left the meeting with big smiles. We at least partially discomfited the plant opponents there. Students were receptive to Cravens’ talk, and conservatives were also won over by her knowledge during the question period.

This event was unique in the recent history of Vermont, which has had several visits from Helen Caldicott, but no visits (before this one) from out-of-state nuclear experts. We had some media coverage, but I wish there were more. I also wish that we had more legislators in the room, and maybe even a few Democrats in attendance. (Knowledgeable people said that all the legislators present were Republicans.)

The bottom line is that it was a start. It was a beginning. We were a presence. One swallow does not make a summer, and one set of appearances does not make a victory. But they help.

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents. Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.

Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

What Vermont’s new administration faces

By Howard Shaffer

Vermont’s new governor, Peter Shumlin, was inaugurated on January 6, 2011. He ran as the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant’s number one enemy, as he stated.

In his inaugural speech, Shumlin spoke of economic insecurity as the major problem facing the citizens of the state, which has a projected budget shortfall of $150 million. His administration’s areas of focus are:

  • Broadband communication state wide
  • Single payer health care
  • Providing education for jobs
  • Aiding emerging businesses such as alternative energies
  • Cultivating an agricultural renaissance

Shumlin

Shumlin spoke of climate change as a reality, and the green jobs that result from confronting it, but he did not mention energy or the Vermont Yankee plant.

Everything he said about the economy, taxes, and jobs justifies keeping Vermont Yankee in operation and pursuing alternative electric power supplies, along with vigorous conservation and efficiency measures.

Vermont Yankee’s economic effect

Last March, the report, “Consensus Economic and Fiscal Impact Analyses Associated with the Future of the Vermont Yankee Power Plant,” was completed by the Vermont legislature’s consultants.

The report was posted on the legislature’s Web site, but was not reviewed at any hearing. There was minimal media coverage. Small wonder. The answer it produced is not what many people wanted, including the president pro tem of Vermont’s senate, who is now the governor.

Four scenarios were analyzed in the report. The scenarios and the results are:

  • Vermont Yankee operates to 2032. This is the baseline scenario. (The report does not say what happens with renewable energy and efficiency. It is logical that the analysis assumed—because of the last scenario—that their development continues, as in the next scenario.)
  • Vermont Yankee shuts down in 2012 at the end of its current operating license. Renewable energy and efficiency continue at a pace per the present law. Eleven hundred fewer jobs per year, real disposable income down $60 million per year, state government net present value cumulative loss by 2040 of -$108 million (from the graph on page 11 of the report).

Click to Enlarge

  • Vermont Yankee shuts down in 2012. Renewable energy and efficiency are very aggressively supported by the state, and implemented. By 2040, 2600 more jobs are created per year. Many years of state losses exceeding $2 million per year. State net present value cumulative gain by 2040 of $11 million.

Click to Enlarge

  • Vermont Yankee operates to 2032. Renewable energy and efficiency are aggressively supported by the state, and implemented. By 2040, more than 2600 jobs per year are created, nearly $400 million gross state product per year (2012 dollars) than the Vermont Yankee relicense case. State gains exceed $2 million every year. State net present value cumulative gain by 2040 of $112 million.

Click to Enlarge

These analyses clearly show that the best economic decision for the state is to keep Vermont Yankee running until 2032 and aggressively pursue renewable energy supplies and efficiency.

How this will enter into the political decisions of this two-year legislative session remains to be seen.

Stay tuned!

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.

Looking backward, looking forward

The View from Vermont

By Meredith Angwin

It’s an odd time now, between the old year and the new. A time to look backward and assess, and a time to look forward and plan. That’s why the pagan god of January was Janus, who looks forward and backward at the same time. In honor of Janus, I’ll do the same.

Looking backward

On January 1, 2010, I started blogging at Yes Vermont Yankee. I was already in the Coalition for Energy Solutions and we were analyzing a report from the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) on replacing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

But mostly, I was writing long e-mails to my friends and short letters to the editor. It didn’t seem like enough.

It wasn’t. About two weeks after I started blogging, a tritium leak was found at Vermont Yankee. Opponents were exuberant because “Vermont Yankee had lied about tritium.” They saw an inaccurate statement about underground pipes as a big stick, and they used it.

Within a short time, blogging wouldn’t seem like enough, either.

Crisis and allies

The wonderful thing about crisis is that your allies will also come forward. In this case, there were three groups that made further progress possible.

The first is the American Nuclear Society, which started its Vermont Pilot Project, with Howard Shaffer as liaison. ANS has knowledge and members. They shared their knowledge with us, and ANS has provided lists of experts when we need support. ANS has also provided phone coaching on media relations. It’s all been low cost and low key, but we have allies now.

The second group was friends who introduced me to John McClaughry of  Ethan Allen Institute, a free-market think tank in Vermont. McClaughry is a well-respected former Vermont state senator. He is also a nuclear engineer. We hit it off immediately, and the Energy Education Project was born. Through this project, we have memberships, raise money for outside speakers on energy issues, and even print a few flyers without dipping into our own personal pockets. It has made a huge difference.

The third group was Areva and its outreach to bloggers. When Areva invited me to see the recycling facilities in France, it was a huge boost to my morale. Not only did I see fuel recycling with my own eyes, but I met fellow pro-nuclear bloggers. We chatted on long train trips and over excellent meals. It was the perfect way to make friends. Once again, I knew I was not alone.

Looking forward

The Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute and the Vermont Pilot Project of ANS  are changing the dialog about energy in Vermont. We are making support for nuclear energy acceptable!

Some recent and near-term events include:

  • I have been interviewed on a radio show that is usually anti-nuclear, Equal Time Radio.
  • Howard Shaffer and I have debated the VPIRG “clean energy” guru and an anti-VY senator on Public Access TV.
  • My blog and the ANS blog were the first to feature Dr. Robert Hargraves’ six-minute cartoon:  Vermont Yankee Explained. I have also arranged for the cartoon to appear on local cable TV
  • Howard and I are scheduled for at least six more appearances in January, including local groups, newspapers, and radio talk shows.

One of the reasons we have so many events scheduled is that we actually have a volunteer helping to schedule them! This is a real change for the better.

We’re bringing in the experts, also. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World will come to Vermont on January 20.

Click to Enlarge

Cravens will speak to a Legislative Round Table at noon, and she will also speak at the Sheraton in Burlington in the evening. At the Round Table, her books will be available to legislators free of charge. The Ethan Allen Institute has arranged significant media coverage for her visit.

In February, we will have Dr. Kathryn McCarthy of Idaho National Laboratory coming to Montpelier and Burlington. She will talk about Gen IV reactors. February 17 is the tentative date.

It’s hard to predict the future

There is no doubt that Peter Shumlin is the governor-elect of Vermont. Since he campaigned as “Vermont Yankee’s worst enemy” it didn’t feel like good news. Two recent blog posts have discussed this issue. Howard Shaffer’s blog, Vermont’s Nuclear Debate, continued, was named the “Best of the Blogs” by Nuclear Townhall.

Shumlin

Shaffer’s blog gives an important overview of the situation in Vermont. I also recommend Dan Yurman’s excellent post,  Why Peter Shumlin Will Save Vermont Yankee. As Yurman describes it, if Peter Shumlin saves Vermont Yankee, he will do  so in order to assure that Peter Shumlin is elected again.

We can’t predict the future, but we can influence it. Our job is to show everyone, including Shumlin, that nuclear and Vermont Yankee are best for Vermont. I do predict that we will be communicating our message through the ANS Vermont Pilot Project and the Ethan Allen Institute Energy Education Project. We will communicate effectively, with the help of our allies. We will continue to change and influence the debate!

Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to all!

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents. Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.

Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.