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Organizations meet with NRC Commissioner on Vermont Yankee's future

BRATTLEBORO—Representatives from seven organizations voiced concerns about the safety and future of Vermont Yankee to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko in a public forum July 14.

Speakers representing the Citizens Awareness Network, Safe & Green Campaign, the New England Coalition, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, Nuclear Free Vermont by 2012, and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group had five minutes each to voice their concerns.

Their comments overlapped on issues of Entergy’s poor track record of telling the truth and safety concerns about the aging plant.

The representatives asked how the NRC would ensure the plant’s safety over the 21 months until the 2012 shutdown? They also asked for a plan from the NRC detailing the shut down and decommissioning process.

In his opening statement, Jaczko said, “We are a better agency because of the involvement of the public. This is an important opportunity to hear from people at the table and hear what are the concerns of the community.”

Chairs rimmed the half-full meeting room. Community members, legislators from as far away as Chittenden and Orange counties, and a large number of print and broadcast media observed the discussion.

Deb Katz of the Citizen Awareness Network said she was “confounded” Jaczko was in Brattleboro at this time considering the legislator’s vote to not renew VY’s certificate of public good.

“We’re here because we see systemic issues at VY,” she said.

Representatives drew correlations to the BP oil spill in the gulf. They also highlighted the cooler tower collapse, recent tritium leaks, and electrical cables submerged in water.

Sandy Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation said her organization has become “increasingly concerned” with the lack of oversight at VY and the NRC’s common response of “don’t worry, whatever Entergy is doing is fine.”

“We need a real cop on that beat,” said James Moore of VPIRG. He added that Entergy and the NRC have given Vermonters good reasons not to trust them.

“As far as we see, the NRC finds it [Entergy’s behavior] acceptable,” he said.

The representatives asked, given the fast-approaching 2012 shutdown, what incentive did Energy have to maintain the plant and prevent future leaks or other accidents?

Jaczko tried to build common ground and understanding by saying everything those gathered said, he and his staff were talking about at the NRC.

He called the lack of trust as “unfortunate” saying trust takes a long time to earn and a short time to lose.

He explained the NRC is bound by process and therefore moves slowly. He used the recent revelation of submerged electrical cables at VY as example. This had come to Entergy’s attention after a generic letter the NRC sent to all nuclear plants. He said this letter was a year in the writing after the NRC did its research and analysis.

His statements did not build a strong, glittering and happy bridge of understanding.

Katz said people’s experience of VY and Entergy is different from what Jaczko said in the meeting and that the NRC gives the impression of doing nothing.

“We gave up on you,” she said.

“It is a zero tolerance for error game here,” said Moore, adding that the NRC’s slow pace doesn’t “gel” for people.

Jaczko responded by saying the NRC is taking action in many ways but not communicating the actions well enough.

“The NRC is not lackadaisical,” he said.

After the meeting, Anne Manwaring — the state representative for Wilmington, Whitingham and Halifax — said she appreciated Jaczko making the effort to attend the meeting and hear the representatives’ comments.

She expressed concern, however, that they did not talk about covering the decommissioning costs. She is worried taxpayers will foot the bill.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #59 (Wednesday, July 21, 2010).

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