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A post-VY economy: Boom or bust?

BRATTLEBORO—Robert “Jake” Stewart, one of the charter members of the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution (NEC), believes that the economic impact of Vermont Yankee’s closure cannot outweigh the consequences of a disaster at the plant. He also reminds people that the decommissioning process will require skilled employees.

But he said that, ultimately, people need to conserve energy.

“We need to stop the increase of energy use,” said Stewart, who worked with solar power in the 1970s, and remembers the Arab oil embargo and the gasoline shortages that ensued.

Stewart said new technologies exist that can help with conservation. People should also develop more “energy efficient systems,” and governments could provide more incentives to people developing alternative energy and technologies.

Raymond Shadis, staff technical advisor to the NEC, believes that Vernon will feel the economic pain of the plant’s closing, but that the economic impact will decrease the further away one gets from the host community.

Shadis became an NEC trustee in 1981 and an employee in 1997.

He did a study of the economic aftermath at Maine Yankee in Wiscasset, Maine, which closed in the late 1990s. He said that Wiscasset received donations and support from Maine Yankee similar to those that Vernon receives from Vermont Yankee.

He studied the countywide effects of Maine Yankee’s closing five years after the fact. In areas like loan defaults, home sales, and sales tax revenues, Shadis said that he didn’t find much of an impact from the loss of Maine Yankee.

Wiscasset also fared well because, “as any responsible company would,” Maine Yankee worked out an economic step-down plan, gradually reducing donations and tax breaks to the community over a number of years.

Granted, said Shadis, the town has 900 tons of nuclear waste stored in it, but it receives $700,000 a year for storing the waste.

Vernon receives $1 million a year for an operating plant, said Shadis. He thinks that Vernon is getting a bad deal already.

The host community becomes “addicted to a cash cow” and takes the biggest hit, said Shadis, but the area surrounding Wiscasset has done fine.

“The host town is not the representation of the larger community,” said Shadis.

When it comes to the fate of the Vermont Yankee employees, Shadis believes that most of them will weather the winds of change just fine. There will be other jobs in their industry if they want them. The employees who don’t want to remain in the nuclear industry still possess valuable skills that can transfer to another industry.

The after-effects of Vermont Yankee’s closing will “be nothing to sneeze at, but are not insurmountable, and can be cured as fast as the damage occurs,” said Shadis.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #96 (Wednesday, April 13, 2011).

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