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Fact check for Bernie

Elsewhere in this section, we present words from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ fiery speech on the Brattleboro Common.

For many critics of Vermont Yankee and the nuclear plant’s owner, Entergy, the senator’s words were inspiring and a refreshing and satisfying change of pace from politics as usual.

It would be remiss not to note that Sanders is wrong on several fronts.

First, numerous state and local officials and activists have railed against the possibility of Entergy putting the plant in SAFSTOR, which would essentially leave it with minimal supervision for decades.

But under the best of conditions, even the decommissioning strategy that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission calls DECON is far from immediate. Vermont Yankee would likely have to cool down a few years before decommissioning could start.

Secondly, running a nuclear power plant and decommissioning one are two separate skill sets, and the concept that the VY workforce could transition to unbuilding the plant is facile.

Third, Vermont never had a 40-year “contract” with Vermont Yankee. The senator’s most unusual turns of phrase obviously reference the fact that renewal of the original 40-year state Certificate of Public Good was by no means a fait accomplis.

And finally, he probably should remove the phrase “Wall Street and the insurance companies are smart” from his quiver of rhetorical devices.

Is this criticism unwarranted? Maybe. Sanders rightly notes that public policy in the national arena is stacked in favor of the nuclear industry, from regulatory bias to corporate welfare. On all fronts, he is fighting the right fight.

But it would ultimately be in his best interest to speak on the issue with a far greater degree of precision and with arguments against Vermont Yankee, Entergy, and nuclear power that are rock-solid and unassailable.

Sadly, he has no lack of material to choose from.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #148 (Wednesday, April 18, 2012).

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