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Protestors make their opinions known to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a public hearing about Vermont Yankee in 2012.

Voices / Viewpoint

Insults and lies from the anti-nukers

Once again, people came to a meeting to impugn Entergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with a skewed narrative

Dan Jeffries recently completed 20 years of employment at Vermont Yankee.

Brattleboro

I attended the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) meeting held March 22. The meeting brought together Entergy, NorthStar, the state of Vermont, and others interested in the decommissioning effort at Vermont Yankee.

Over the past several years, the anti-nuclear community has seized on meetings of this kind to impugn numerous professional organizations that didn’t agree with their philosophies on related matters.

Entergy asked its employees to always take the high road at the public meetings and to not reply in kind to participants slinging manure, interrupting meetings, or behaving like immature little kids seeking attention.

The anti-nuke community has been able to use a sympathetic media to publish their skewed narrative, largely unopposed.

The nuclear community has, for the most part, relied on legal processes to get to the truth of matters and has found that confidence to be valid, as Entergy, in particular, got favorable judgments, over and over.

* * *

This meeting provided people — once again — with an opportunity to impugn Entergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, so I want to address how wrong these anti-nukers are.

I have always been amazed at how patient, considerate, and professional Entergy personnel has been in accommodating the anti-nuke community. And I can extend that sentiment to include the NRC, and to some extent the state of Vermont regulatory entities.

However, in response, Entergy has been met with insults and lies from the state Legislature, former Governor Peter Shumlin, and the anti-nuke community.

The biggest lie was Vermont government telling Entergy that license renewal would be reviewed and judged by the the Public Service Board (now the Public Utility Commission).

The PSB’s function was to provide a non-political review of such matters based primarily on science, engineering, and financial considerations. But the PSB repeatedly found in Entergy’s favor in reviewing matters before them, e.g. the sale and power uprate.

So after telling Entergy that the PSB would judge on license renewal, and after Entergy spent hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading the plant, the Vermont Legislature, with the concurrence of Governor Shumlin, fearing that Entergy would likely prevail at the PSB based on the merits, contrary to political winds, decided to change the agreement by passing a law that would prevent the PSB from reviewing the license renewal application for a Certificate of Public Good.

The state of Vermont lied to Entergy — big time — when it said that it would allow the PSB to judge on license renewal and then prevented that from happening. So Entergy rightfully challenged the state in court and was winning, once again, as it was clear to the courts that Vermont had lied to Entergy.

* * *

On the subjects of integrity and transparency: Routinely, and with Entergy encouragement, Vermont Yankee employees document conditions deemed to be potentially adverse. Entergy informs the NRC of the identified condition and the NRC makes it public.

Sometimes as a matter of professional courtesy (or agreements), Entergy would inform the Vermont state nuclear engineer as well.

I think the nuclear power industry is possibly the most transparent entity in the United States. That may be because when an employee documents a condition, the statement can’t be deleted, and the NRC has access to and sees every one of those statements.

The anti’s have never themselves identified an adverse condition at Vermont Yankee, as far as I know. Every issue they have raised has been based on information that Entergy initially provided.

* * *

I have always been astonished, appalled, and supremely embarrassed by this community’s treatment of NRC personnel. The NRC staff who have come to Vermont are some of the most highly degreed, professional, and competent people of any government agency. They take their responsibility to protect the health and safety seriously and without compromise.

They don’t care about the nuclear industry’s bottom line — why should they? Do they personally need the nuclear power industry? Does anyone think that a person with a degree in nuclear engineering from MIT, or a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Missouri, can’t find a job outside the nuclear industry?

As a member of the engineering department at VY, I occasionally got calls from the NRC. And while they were courteous and professional, the calls were almost always adversarial — I did not like getting these calls. I would have to stop what I was doing, expeditiously research something, and get back to them in a timely manner. I felt an obligation to do so, because failing would likely subject me to questions from management.

The NRC makes rules that govern the industry. They are based on the best scientific and engineering research available. By issuing regulations that protect the public, they also inadvertently improve the performance of nuclear power plants in that way helping the nuclear power industry.

History shows that problems at any one of about 400 nuclear power plants worldwide makes things difficult for all of the others. Everyone in the industry wants every nuclear power plant operated well.

And finally, Congress passes laws and budgets controlling the NRC. The five commissioners are appointed by the president to five-year terms and are confirmed by the Senate. They run the NRC.

So if people have issues with the NRC, they need to take it up with their elected representatives — not the NRC staff.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #454 (Wednesday, April 11, 2018). This story appeared on page D1.

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