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It cant happen here! It will happen here!

Pro-, anti-nukers testify at Public Service Board hearing

BRATTLEBORO—At a Public Service Board hearing July 8, area residents overwhelmingly opposed the continued operation of Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee in light of a recent tritium leak found at the plant.

“Not all things get better with age,” said Nate Hausman, adding that if the plant — which opened in 1972 — were a car, it would be considered an antique.

“As a Vermont power consumer, I don’t want to be complacent in the risks,” Hausman said, calling the plant “a nuclear facility on life support.”

Vermont Public Service Board Commissioner David Coen, Chair James Volz and Board member John Burke listened to testimony from Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire residents regarding the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

The PSB launched the investigation, Docket 7600, in response to January filings by the Conservation Law Foundation and the New England Coalition requesting that the board shut down VY; consider revoking the Certificate of Public Good; and fine the company for the tritium leaks.

Both the CLF and NEC requested that “the board take further steps” regarding the discovery of underground pipes on the plant site, which the company had previously denied existed, and the presence of tritium in the VY monitoring wells.

The PSB agreed. It ruled against Entergy’s assertion that only the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could order the plant closed while employees repaired any leaking pipes.

The board members maintain they have the authority to regulate land-use and economic issues. For example, VY’s recent leaks could impact Vermont economically by increasing the costs of future decontamination and use of the site.

Speaking up

The public hearing took place in the Brattleboro Union High School auditorium, and speakers had two minutes to make their case.

For many individuals testifying, a massive and devastating accident at VY was a question of when, not if.

Haley Peterson of Williston said VY’s failings were not acceptable. Many speakers compared the ongoing British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with what could go wrong at the aging nuclear plant.

A large number of Massachusetts residents from as far away as Athol and Orange also testified, even though their statements will carry little weight with the Vermont board. One Massachusetts resident said: “The [day] before the BP oil spill, it was possible to believe everything was fine.”

John Ward, a selectboard chairman from Gill, Mass., said he had testified at previous public hearings and expressed frustration that he did not have “much of a voice” with the Vermont Public Service Board, even though his town was within the plant’s 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone.

“If this were a citizen referendum, this plant would be shut down,” he said.

Not all speakers shared these views.

“[Public Service] Boards don’t shut down things in compliance. I think it’s safe enough,” said Meredith Angwin, the founder of Carnot Communications in Wilder, a long-time nuclear energy supporter and an administrator of the Save Vermont Yankee Facebook page. Angwin also writes a blog, “Yes Vermont Yankee” (yesvy.blogspot.com).

Angwin had heard others say they don’t care if their electric bills go up, as long as VY is shut down. In her view, some people don’t have this financial luxury.

“It does matter to some of us if electric bills go up,” she said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission fines employees at nuclear plants if they do not maintain proper standards or do their jobs correctly, according to John Dunn, an operator at VY and creator of the Save Vermont Yankee page.

“The employees [of VY] do care,” Dunn said. “I feel very responsible for how the plant operates.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #58 (Wednesday, July 14, 2010).

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