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One year later, a resolve to keep up the fight

Anti-nuclear activists say they will prevail in effort to shut down VY

BRATTLEBORO—It’s been a year since the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant began continuing to operate past the expiration of its original Certificate of Public Good (CPG) from the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB).

While multiple lawsuits are being litigated, and the future of the Vernon plant remains in legal and regulatory limbo, anti-nuclear activists marked the anniversary on Saturday afternoon with a parade down Main Street and a rally at the Latchis Theatre.

The dominant theme of the “Lawyers, Leaks & Lies” march and rally was about something that activists admitted seemed remote just a decade ago — that Entergy is going to shut down Vermont Yankee sooner, rather than later.

Nearly 500 people participated in the march, which included two brass bands, oversized puppets from Bread & Puppet Theater, and a plethora of signs, banners, and placards decrying VY’s continued operation.

After the march, about half the crowd assembled in the main theater at the Latchis to get an update about where things stand legally, and legislatively, in the VY case.

The plant, now offline for refueling, received a 20-year license renewal from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2011. But the PSB did not renew the plant’s CPG, which under Vermont law, Entergy requires to legally operate VY.

Chris Williams, a lobbyist for the Vermont Citizen Action Network, said that he attended about half of the 16 days of CPG hearings that the PSB held earlier this year in Montpelier.

After watching Entergy’s legal team in action, Williams said he believes that the PSB ”will not bet on the company’s redemption” and will reject Entergy’s request for a new CPG.

“We have to be patient and support [the PSB],” he said, adding that he expects the PSB will make its decision by October.

Williams also reminded the protesters “to not forget that we’re winning and that [Entergy] is losing and stumbling everywhere.”

State Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, was the author of Act 160, the state law that requires Entergy to seek a new CPG from the state if it wanted continue to operation after March 21, 2012, and gave the Vermont Legislature a say in renewing the CPG. This is the law that is now at the center of a federal lawsuit, as Entergy claims Act 160 infringes on the NRC’s status as the sole arbiter of nuclear energy.

White said she didn’t think Entergy “really meant to lie” when it said in 2006 that it wouldn’t keep the plant open past 2012 if it did not get a new CPG.

“That’s because no one in their right mind expected anyone to say no,” said White. “Except for [all of] you.”

The Douglas administration, the Legislature, and Entergy all supported Act 160 when it was enacted in 2006. It was the first instance where a state had legislatively carved out a role for itself in the relicensing of a nuclear plant.

“Lots of states, and lots of countries, are watching Vermont,” White said, adding that if a little state such as Vermont can take on a corporate goliath like Entergy and prevail, other states will follow.

There is other legislation that will affect VY making its way through the Legislature. White said that one bill seeks to have Entergy pay for the cost of setting up emergency shelters within the plant’s 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone, something that the Red Cross estimates would cost about $720,000.

The final speaker, Deb Katz of the Citizens Action Network, reinforced Williams and White’s message that the tide was turning on Vermont Yankee.

“This is a sinking ship,” Katz said of Entergy. She cited a recent report by the investment bank UBS that stated that VY and other aging nuclear plants operated by Entergy are dragging down the company’s profits.

“The reactor is worth less now than it was when [Entergy] bought it,” Katz said.

She said this economic calculus can be seen elsewhere around the country as utility companies are closing coal and nuclear power plants because they are too expensive to operate.

“We’re at a tipping point,” said Katz to the protesters. “Our job is make Entergy abide by their agreements and to pile on the legislation to make them accountable. We need to make their stay in Vermont as miserable as possible.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #197 (Wednesday, April 3, 2013).

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