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I want to believe them

NorthStar wants to clean up the toxic VY site sooner and less expensively than Entergy. We need to let the state know we must have safeguards to ensure that happens.

Leslie Sullivan Sachs, a longtime antinuclear activist, is a member of the Safe & Green Campaign. The Public Service Board will hold its public hearing at the Vernon Elementary School on Thursday, April 6. The state will hold an information session at 6 p.m. and will begin hearing public comments at 7 p.m.


Our corner of the state could be at the start of the biggest industrial project in Vermont’s history: the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.

Someday, right across the street from the Vernon Elementary School, cranes and bulldozers will be taking down radiated buildings and digging up acres of toxic dirt at the nuclear power station.

The complex was built in the late 1960s and early ’70s, before the laws regulating toxic and hazardous materials were enacted. No one knows for sure what is in the ground.

Environmentalists were relieved when Entergy, VY’s owner, announced it would close the plant. We hoped Entergy would clean up the site promptly but, citing lack of funds and expertise, it opted to put decommissioning off for up to 60 years.

Now Entergy wants to sell the plant, its radioactive waste, and the Decommissioning Trust Fund to a private company, NorthStar Group Services LLC. Vermont Yankee will be its first big job.

NorthStar representatives say they have a new business model that will get the job done by 2030 and cost less than what Entergy had estimated.

I want to believe them.

Prompt decommissioning gives local citizens, workers, and the state regulators the opportunity to keep our informed eyes on the project.

We could act as the stewards of the mess created at Vermont Yankee in our lifetimes, rather than passing the financial, environmental, and public health burdens on to our children and grandchildren.

Ethically, this is the right time. Is NorthStar the right company?

* * *

This Thursday, April 6, the state’s regulators, the Public Service Board, will come to Vernon Elementary School to hear from local citizens about the proposed sale by Entergy to NorthStar.

You don’t have to be an expert to know enough to speak; you do have to imagine what the goal should be and how to reach it. I think the goal should be a clean, green site without radiation and toxic materials hidden underground, left for future generations to deal with.

The goal should be achieved without Vermont taxpayers holding the bag if NorthStar ends up having underestimated how much it cost to clean the site properly.

The health and safety of the workers, schoolchildren, and neighbors should be paramount while the radioactive pieces and parts are being torn down, “rubblized,” and shipped out. The state should keep an eagle eye on everything and have a guarantee of the resources to do so.

We would be foolish to trust that new owners will be any more accountable, honest, or transparent than Entergy was.

NorthStar wants to make a profit on decommissioning. It wants to set itself as the new decommissioning industry leader. Cleanup is where the money is in nuclear power now.

More than a dozen nuclear reactors are closed or will be closing by 2020, so I say to NorthStar: be a true leader. Set the highest standards possible, achieve them, and leave behind the greenest possible site.

The state of Vermont should demand the same.

You don’t have to know all the details of this deal. Simply ask the officials from Montpelier to do everything in their power to keep this beautiful river valley we call home safe and green.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #402 (Wednesday, April 5, 2017).

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