A Visit to Vermont Yankee
This week, I attended a tour of the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon hosted by Entergy. About 20 legislators attended the tour. Press and lobbyists were excluded.
All of us had been through security screening the week before the visit. Apparently my traffic violations were not cause for concern and I was permitted to enter the plant. I was issued a helmet, safety glasses and earplugs and was able to snap a picture outside the plant. Once inside, alas, my camera was confiscated.
As a result I cannot show you the dizzying number of buttons, lights and computer screens pouring out graphs. I cannot show you the repaired cooling towers, the dry cask storage, the spent fuel rods lying at the bottom of the hotel-size pool. I cannot show you the faces of the employees hoping to keep their jobs. I stood on top of a nuclear reactor. I followed directions not to touch anything in radioactive areas. I had lunch with employees. “I wouldn’t work here if it weren’t safe,” said a union rep. A conspicuously pregnant woman chatted with legislators.
By statute, the legislature grants approval for “continued operation” of the plant, however it is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that has jurisdiction over re-licensing. Many Shelburne residents have contacted me to vote against Vermont Yankee due to safety concerns. The legislature cannot and must not make decisions based on safety issues. Nuclear safety is federally regulated and falls to the NRC. In addition to NRC and legislative approval, Vermont Yankee must receive a “certificate of public good” from the Vermont Public Service Board.
So what is the role of the legislature once a license is issued? Within the frame of “continued operation,” the legislature can address economic and reliability factors. Will the prices the utilities negotiate be good for Vermont? Who bears responsibility if the decommissioning fund is inadequate? Economically, is Vermont better off with or without Vermont Yankee? The speed at which these and other questions are answered will determine whether the legislature addresses Vermont Yankee in 2009 or 2010. As a member of the Energy Committee explained, if the economics work, then we look at reliability.
Other Shelburne residents have expressed concern over closing Vermont Yankee and the impact on global warming. If we close Vermont Yankee in 2012, would this help speed our transition to renewable energy? If we close Vermont Yankee in 2012 and are not prepared, are we risking an increase in global warming? Are we failing our businesses like IBM?
I went back to the State House. All the lights were on.