Vermont Yankee runs out of time

The nuclear power plant, Vermont Yankee has fueled protests across the state as people rally to have the station shut down. Research Professor Richard Watts held a book signing Wednesday for his Vermont Yankee novel following a heated discussion March 13 with students and local Vermonters focusing on why the plant should be shut down. Watts discussed his new book, Public Meltdown: The Story of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, March 21 to a packed Billings lecture hall the day the plant’s 40-year contract expired. Vermont Yankee has been a core part of the state for 40 years and tonight, the plant will no longer provide its power to Vermont, Watts said “For most of the time it has quietly been providing one third of our energy – until 12 o’clock tonight, contractually,” he said. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said there was a 26-4 bi-partisan vote against relicensing Vermont Yankee. “The book ends waiting to see if we are going to file an appeal,” Sorrell said. “This is a really, really important case of a real significance nationally.” Earlier in the week, Vermont Student Environmental Program (VSTEP) hosted a teach-in about Vermont Yankee in the North Lounge in Billings Center, according to the Office of Sustainability. “Tonight is meant to be an inclusive night, and we want to make sure everyone is comfortable – not just the activists,” secretary of VSTEP Cate Elliot said. Vermont Yankee is owned and operated by Entergy Corporation in Vernon, VtEntergy purchased the power station in 2002, according to the Vermont Yankee website. The three panel speakers discussed the social, environmental and legal implications of the nuclear power plant. The first speaker, Maggie Gundersen, is founder and president of Fairewinds Associates in Burlington, which focuses on the environment and nuclear safety related to legal issues, according to the Fairewinds Associates website. Gundersen discussed Vermont Yankee from a scientific viewpoint and explained the environmental hazards, including what would happen if the nuclear power plant was damaged by a natural disaster. “When the tsunami hit [in Fukushimi, Japan], it flooded all the containment cabinets,” Gundersen said. “That would be like if we had the Connecticut River flooding.” Vermont Yankee uses a closed cooling system that takes water from the Connecticut River to cool the reactor. This can cause a lot of destruction to the Connecticut River, she said. The nuclear power station also has a small containment system for its radiation, so there is a higher chance of hydrogen explosions, which was also the problem in Japan, Gundersen said.  Another panelist, Jared Margolis, attorney for the New England Coalition, has been trying to shut down the plant since 2008 and spoke of the legal implications with the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. A Vermont statute states that because Vermont Yankee’s license is about to expire, then their existing license continues to be in effect while the application for a new license is reviewed, Margolis said. “Entergy has claimed this gives them the basis for continued operation after March 21 while their new license is being reviewed,” Margolis said. The statute was amended to state that Entergy could only own and operate Vermont Yankee after March 21 for deconditioning purposes, he said. In response to recent protests against Vermont Yankee, chairman and CEO of Entergy Corporation J. Wayne Leonard said the company has pledged to take further steps in ensuring safety equipment is protected. “We greatly appreciate the backing of our supporters and respect the rights of opponents to peacefully protest,” Leonard said. Vermont Yankee is the second largest nuclear generating company in the U.S. and provides one third of Vermont’s electricity, according to the Vermont Yankee website. “Entergy-owned nuclear plants are rated among the safest and best performing facilities in the United States,” the website stated. Students passionate about the controversy as well as students just wanting to learn more about Vermont Yankee attended the teach-in. “If you are going to oppose someone on something, you should be knowledgeable about it,” VSTEP member Avery Lavoie said. Locals also attended the event and showed their support for the cause. Local Vermonter Steve Ekberg carried a sign reading “SHUT IT DOWN.” “What happened in Japan is a clear indication of why Vermont Yankee should be shut down,” Ekberg said. Elliot said the VSTEP sponsored event was an important night of solidarity and working together on a shared goal. “We are glad to get any support we can and to just spread the word,” Elliot said.