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Olga Peters/The Commons

More than 150 protesters showed up for Sunday’s rally at the gates of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.


Anti-nuclear activists begin ‘Countdown to Closure’

Rally kicks off campaign to make sure VY shuts down as scheduled in March 2012

VERNON—Neither a surprise nor’easter nor downed trees nor a bracing wind could keep anti-nuke protesters from the gates of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station on Sunday.

Approximately 150 people from all corners of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York gathered to remind the people at VY and its parent company Entergy Corp., based in Louisiana, that the plant’s state-issued Certificate of Public Good (CPG) expires in 141 days.

VY is not generating power, as the company refuels the reactor.

“By its decision to refuel the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, Entergy Corporation is making a bold and arrogant statement that they do not intend to abide by Vermont state law and the will of the people,” wrote SAGE Alliance, the rally’s sponsor, in a press release.

SAGE Alliance describes itself as an alliance of grassroots groups and individuals from the tri-state region “working together in a regional campaign to close [the] Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.”

According to activist Leslie Sullivan Sachs, the anti-nuclear groups working within the alliance include Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Awareness Network (CAN), the Clamshell Alliance, the Safe and Green Campaign, the Traprock Peace Center, the Upper Valley Sierra Club, and the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance.

“We are working together to make sure that Vermont Yankee shuts down on time, per Vermont law, by creating a campaign, supporting the formation of affinity groups, and providing training in nonviolent direct action,” wrote Sullivan Sachs in an email.

According to SAGE Alliance, the Vermont Senate’s 26-4 vote in 2010 to deny the 38-year old boiling water reactor a Public Service Board hearing represented the state “serving notice” on the power station.

Without a PSB hearing, the plant cannot obtain the CPG required under state law.

The plant’s current operating license and CPG expire March 21, 2012, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has renewed VY’s operating license to 2032.

Entergy has sued the state in federal court, claiming Vermont has overstepped its regulatory authority. During court proceedings earlier this year, Entergy attorneys told federal Judge J. Garvan Murtha that three Vermont laws attempt to regulate VY on the grounds of nuclear safety, forbidden under federal law that preempts state regulations on the topic.

The lawyers have asked Murtha to overturn Acts 74, 160, and 189 on the grounds that only the NRC can regulate radiological safety.

The state’s lawyers dispute Entergy’s pre-emption claim. They countered Entergy’s arguments saying the company agreed to the provisions in each act, reaped multiple benefits from working with the state, and that Murtha should not allow the company to beg out of commitments explicitly made when the company purchased the plant in 2002.

Murtha has yet to announce his ruling on the case.

A message

On Sunday, Erik Gillard stood by Governor Hunt Road holding a large cardboard sign. The Keene, N.H., native who now lives near Montpelier said he made the trek south to send Entergy a message.

He wanted to ensure Entergy respects the state senate’s decision to close the plant. This decision, said Gillard, reflected the will of Vermonters.

Gillard, opposed to the refuelling, also wanted to see Entergy put more money into the decommissioning fund required of all nuclear plants.

Keiko Kokubun, originally from Koriyama City, central Fukushima, and a resident of Vermont for six years, spoke about the failures of the Japanese government to care for its citizens in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March — the same month the NRC granted VY a 20-year license extension.

“They continue to walk on the road of illusion,” Kokubun said.

Kokubun said the Japanese government has expended billions in taxpayer money to clean up nuclear fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi plant following an earthquake and tsunami.

Yet, said Kokubun, after seven months of decontamination work, no one wants the contaminated materials like sludge and soil that have to go somewhere.

“[But] how do you decontaminate rice fields, forests?” asked Kokubun.

The debate over nuclear safety in Japan has divided communities, she said.

“Why do we fight over something like that?” she asked.

Still, Kokubun wondered how could she blame the people holding onto the “safety propaganda” in Japan. She asked the protesters if they could blame someone for wanting to hold onto the life they’ve always lived.

But Kokubun also told the story of people displaced from homes occupied by their family for 1,000 years.

She said one man displaced from his family home said that he’d go without electricity, or be poor. It was worse for him, Kokubun said, to not go home.

Chad Simmons of the Safe and Green Campaign gave the crowd props for venturing out after a heavy snowstorm.

Playing on Entergy’s marketing slogan of “safe, green, reliable” Simmons said he described the reactor as “reliably unreliable since before I was born.”

He gave the protesters credit.

“Because it’s your effort ... that by state law this reactor is closing in 141 days,” said Simmons.

But Simmons told the crowd to keep up the work and prepare for advocating for the best decommissioning process for the plant site after March 2012.

Entergy will “try everything” to “usurp” our power, he predicted.

“If the law fails us, we’re going to be here,” he said, referring to the Entergy v. Vermont court case.

Lawyers weigh in

This week, two lawyers following the Entergy v. Vermont case commented on the protesters’ claim that the plant will close March 2012 without the CPG.

“I think we have to wait and see what Murtha does, and then what the [U.S.] Second Circuit [Court of Appeals] does,” wrote Patrick Parenteau, a Vermont Law School professor, in an email.

“All the dominoes would have to fall in the state’s favor for the plant to actually cease operating on or before March 21, 2012,” said Parenteau, “The odds of that happening are probably less than 50-50. But I do think VY’s days are numbered; I just can’t guess at what the exact number might be.”

In addition to his professorship at the Vermont Law School, Parenteau serves as senior counsel to the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. He has stood across the courtroom from Entergy lawyers in the past.

Donald Kreis, an assistant professor at the Vermont Law School and an associate director at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, said that people can’t “take the protesters literally” that a countdown for shutting down VY has started.

But, he said, “this is an important juncture for them” because, the way the law is written at present, the state could shutter VY next March 21.

Ultimately, however, Murtha’s ruling and any subsequent appeals will decide the state’s authority, said Kreis.

“All paths lead to some judge somewhere,” he said.

If Murtha invalidates the state’s laws, said Kreis, the state will have no legal footing to close the plant in March.

If Murtha rules in favor of Vermont, Kreis said it is more than likely that Entergy will appeal and also file for an injunction to keep the plant operating until a final ruling.

‘Do it for the shareholders’

Chris Williams, a Vermont organizer for Citizens Awareness Network, called on Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard to obey Vermont’s laws, honor the terms of VY’s contracts with the state, and shut the plant down on time.

“Do it for the shareholders,” said Williams.

Leonard has made public statements to shareholders that VY does not generate money.

Williams said the protesters would help Leonard “calm down” and make the right decision. He also reminded Leonard that Entergy had plenty of problems at other plants, such as a tritium leak at its Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station in Massachusetts.

Marlboro resident Dan MacArthur said that evacuation plans for the plant were not adequate, especially if they include Route 9.

Emergency responders had closed Route 9 west because of adverse weather twice in the last month, and Tropical Storm Irene devastated area roads, stranding many households.

The rally ended with a chorus of “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

During the protest, the Safe and Green Campaign also announced the start of a “Countdown to Closure” vigil, and encouraged people sign up.

The vigil will serve as a daily reminder for Entergy that VY will close on schedule next March, according to the campaign’s countdown flyer.

Volunteers can sign up for one-hour shifts to stand at the VY gate holding a sign with the number of days remaining.

Safe and Green has also asked that the people standing vigil take a photo of themselves holding the sign to post on the organization’s website.

According to Sullivan Sachs, enough volunteers have signed up to fill the first two weeks in November. Others signed up for memorable dates like Christmas or their birthdays.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #125 (Wednesday, November 2, 2011).

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