The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will be coming to Brattleboro on April 30 for its annual assessment of the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor’s performance.
Over the years, many of us have prepared statements for these meetings with great attention to the many issues attendant to hosting a dangerous, aging nuclear reactor in our community.
We have shared our years of self-education about the grave risks of nuclear disasters; the overfilled spent-fuel pool; the daily radioactive emissions from the reactor in our air, water, and soil; thermal pollution into our river; and the impossible task of evacuating the area in the case of a melt-down or other radiological failure at the plant.
We have done so because the NRC is supposed to represent our interests in keeping our community safe.
We have not found a listening ear, to say the least.
In hearing after hearing, NRC representatives have listened more or less politely, and then they have shown disdain for the testimony of those living in reactor communities, those whose safety is most at risk.
Our testimony has created no protection of our region and, in fact, things have gotten worse over time.
Decisions made by the NRC time and again reveal the agency’s close connections with those who own and profit from the reactors. The mission of the NRC is not to police the industry, but to promote it.
The ongoing tragedy at the Fukushima reactors in Japan should have been a wake-up call for the NRC and the other federal regulatory agencies.
Vermont Yankee is the twin of the Fukushima GE boiling-water reactor that failed in spectacular explosions in the meltdowns in Japan. Yet, while we had yet to even learn the full scope of the environmental disaster there, the NRC issued the federal license for 20 more years of operation at Vermont Yankee.
More than two years later, Fukushima is still leaking huge amounts of radioactivity into the air, into the ground, and into the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese people are guinea pigs, again, for the effects of nuclear pollution on health and the environment.
The optimistic estimate of the time to clean up this disaster is 40 years, accompanied by incomprehensible economic dislocation as well as completely unnecessary deaths from cancer.
Instead of incorporating lessons learned, our federal agencies are going ahead with business as usual, even increasing the levels of radioactivity in our environment, which they say is “safe.”
The chair of the NRC at that time, Gregory Jaczko, came to Brattleboro and spoke personally with representatives from many of the groups working to close VY safely and at the end of its license. He listened attentively and claimed to understand our concerns, and later he even tried to make some mandatory changes to the operation of nuclear reactors in the wake of Fukushima.
After the initial Fukushima meltdowns, Jaczko stated that all Americans should evacuate a 50-mile radius around the reactors. This in spite of the fact that the NRC only requires a 10-mile radius around American nuclear plants.
Rather than reading the writing on the wall — that radiation plumes in Japan did not know about the 10-mile radius and went where the winds took them — the powers-that-be relieved Dr. Jaczko of his job.
He has since publicly stated that all 104 nuclear reactors currently operating in the United States should be closed because they have safety problems that cannot be fixed.
Our own Vermont Red Cross director, Larry Crist, is also speaking out in favor of a 50-mile radius for a safe evacuation should there be a catastrophe at Vermont Yankee. Predictably, Entergy, the owner of Vermont Yankee, does not want to pay to plan safely for nuclear disaster, measures that will cost $770,000 in the first two years.
Although this is a drop in the financial bucket for Entergy, it is unlikely that the toothless NRC will back up the state of Vermont and the Red Cross in their desires to upgrade evacuation planning in the light of lessons learned from Fukushima.
There, people were moved and moved again because they unwittingly remained under the plume of radioactive gasses as they left their homes, many of them likely forever.
We think that the NRC has shown its contempt for the majority of us who want to power our homes safely and without producing the most toxic substance on earth using aging nuclear reactors.
The NRC is not our voice, and we are not spending great effort at this time to create a dialogue with an agency that has shown nothing but contempt for those most in danger from nuclear reactors.