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Activists roam state to shut down Vermont Yankee

By Christian Avard | Vermont Guardian

Posted March 29, 2007

BRATTLEBORO — In an effort they hope will make people aware of the need to shut down Vermont Yankee and put more renewable energy online, activists are walking across Vermont.

Their goal is tell Vermonters they have the power to determine their energy future and they can act to shut the plant down and move to a more sustainable energy future.

On March 24 the Citizens Awareness Network (CAN) of Shelburne Falls, MA, and the Buddhist order of Nipponzan Myohoji began their trek in Greenfield, MA and walked to the Vermont towns of Guilford, Brattleboro, and Putney where they held potlucks and informational discussions with Vermonters about the state’s lone nuclear power plant.

“This is the second time we’ve held the ‘Walk for a Nuclear Free Future,’” said Hattie Nestel of Athol, MA. Nestel worries about Vermont Yankee’s bid to extend its operating license beyond 2012, and wants Vermonters to understand why Vermont shouldn’t extend it.

“Nuclear power plants have been given uprates all over the country to put out more electricity which creates more fuel for bombs, plutonium, and tritium,” said Nestel, noting that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has yet to say no to an uprate or relicensure request.

“I think the reason that they are [being approved] is because the public is not really aware of how dangerous they are,” said Nestel.

The NRC is now reviewing Vermont Yankee’s application of re-licensure and their request to operate an additional 20 years. Currently the NRC is evaluating whether or not Vermont Yankee components can withstand operation until 2032, and if the plant has any adverse effects on the surrounding environment. However, the NRC is not taking into consideration whether or not the plant is vulnerable to terrorist attacks and nuclear waste storage that some CAN members take issue with that omission.

The Massachusetts Attorney General is taking the NRC to federal court over the issue of waste storage and vulnerability. An attempt by the attorney general to have these issues reviewed during the relicensure process was denied by the NRC and its advisory panel, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

The attorney general is also, along with nine other attorneys general, asking the NRC to reconsider how it examines the safety of spent fuel pools and long-term onsite waste storage at all nuclear power plants.

The issue of long-term, on site storage of nuclear waste is one that concerns many people who live near the Vernon reactor, whether they are in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, or Vermont.

And, activists believe people outside the immediate emergency planning area should also be concerned.

“I think that central and northern Vermonters really need to take into account the high-level radioactive waste and right at this point, Yucca Mountain is not open and it’s never going to open and it’s very unlikely we’re going to have a federal repository for the high-level nuclear waste and even if we did, it would take us 20 years to move it all,” said Claire Chang of Gill, MA. “So it’s not a situation where Vermont can just close it’s eyes and hope and wish and pray that’s it’s just not there and we’re not going to pay any attention to the pink elephant in the middle of the living room.”

Senate Pres. Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windam, told the Montpelier-Barre Times Argus earlier this month that legislators were “astounded” to learn in February that the NRC is not considering storage of high-level radioactive waste with respect to Vermont Yankee’s re-licensure efforts.

He has since urged for an independent safety assessment and removal of the high-level radioactive waste from Vermont Yankee’s Vernon site.

“Why should Windham County be the designated dump for the entire state of Vermont? Morally, how can the rest of Vermont say, ‘Oh well, we’re just going to write off Windham County,’” said Chang.

She noted the irony that Chittenden County, the most populous of all Vermont counties and a major user of electricity, has been unable to site a garbage dump, yet seems to be OK with allowing a nuclear waste site to be OK’d along the Connecticut River.

On March 25, more than a dozen participants walked from Guilford to Brattleboro with stops along away at the School for International Training where they met with students during lunch and proceeded to Vermont Yankee headquarters where they conducted Buddhist prayers.

On March 26, the group travelled by foot to Bennington where they held a potluck with concerned citizens and distributed literature in town to raise awareness. They will repeat that process all week.

“We want to alert the citizenry and they have the power, the right, and the responsibility to talk to their legislators about Vermont Yankee, the high-level radioactive waste and what they want done with it and also about their feelings about renewables. We really need to put in wind, and solar and it’s not negotiable. It’s not something we can wait to do in 10 years; we need to do it now,” said Chang. “So, part of it is that every person that sees us will hopefully have more motivation to go and talk to their legislator and to impress upon the Legislature that we’re serious, and they must stand up to the utilities and the monied interests and say that Vermont is going to lead the nation in renewable energy production,” said Chang.

Lawmakers have also been lobbied by pro-nuclear groups, including Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, who now tours the country talking about how nuclear power should be considered a fuel source that does not emit greenhouse gas emissions and better for the planet than many current fuel sources.

By law, the Legislature must vote on whether Vermont Yankee should have its license extended, but there is disagreement about whether its vote would have any impact on the NRC licensing process.

For more information
In the coming days, the walk will visit Rutland City, Middlebury, Montpelier, Johnson, and Burlington. For more information on the walk call (978) 790-3074 or go to