When discussing Vermont Yankee, it is always hard to know where to start, and how much to assume that people know. I will begin with some basics. The Vermont Yankee plant was owned by a consortium of utilities, and in 2002 it was sold to Entergy. At that point, various agreements were set up in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which is worth a couple of blog posts on its own.
When Vermont Yankee's original license runs out in 2012, it requires the approval of the Vermont Legislature before the Public Service Board can issue a Certificate of Public Good for a renewed operating permit. This legislative involvement is highly unusual. License extension usually requires an NRC ruling and approval by the state PUC or Public Service Board, but legislatures don't get involved. To meet the 2012 license expiration date, the legislature must vote this year or next to approve or not approve the license extension.
The fact that the legislature has to approve a license extension is seen by many as a referendum on nuclear. Anti-s from all over the country have flooded into Vermont. I met a man from the Citizen's Awareness Network who had been dispatched here from the Great Plains. He was fighting a coal plant for them. Greenpeace has opened an office in Vermont, specifically targeting Vermont Yankee. And don't get me wrong, these people are well-funded. I don't know where they get their funding, but their funding sources are clearly national, and right now, they have focused their attention on Vermont.
And now, on with our story.
Currently there is a walk from Brattleboro to Montpelier to shut down Vermont Yankee. The protesters plan to arrive in Montpelier with a petition to the legislature, etc. As part of the walk, there was supposed to be a potluck and debate about the plant in Putney on Saturday night. A "debate" means that someone was defending Yankee, so I was very interested in attending and supporting that person. According to the web announcement at the time, a man named William Newcomb, of NUCORPAC (Nuclear Corporation PAC) was supposed to be the pro-nuclear debater. He was to debate Deb Katz, of Citizens Awareness Network. When I looked at the anti-VY walk site, however, it claimed that Ms. Katz was debating "Will Nukem".
I couldn't figure this out. Who was William Newcomb? Nobody I knew had ever heard of him. And were the organizers making fun of the poor man's name by calling him "Will Nukem"? Also, Nucor is a steel company: there is no nuclear NUCORPAC.
I emailed the organizers, and they emailed back quickly and politely. They explained that "Will Nukem," is a comic role played by our actor friend Court Dorsey. (taken from one of the emails I received.) They assured me that it would still be an interesting and informative debate. I suggested that announcing it as a debate was misleading, since the pro-nuclear debater was a comic actor, but nothing was changed. The "debate" was widely announced and open to the public.
I resolved to go and hear this. Howard Shaffer and I decided to drive down to Putney together.
A word about Howard Shaffer III. He was a Submarine Engineer Officer, is a P.E. in Vermont and New Hampshire, was Startup Engineer at Vermont Yankee, and was a Congressional Fellow in 2001. He is in NEI's third party expert program and is a nuclear power advocate. Howard wrote an excellent commentary on nuclear energy for the Vermont Law School Journal. Howard and I often go to hearings and other VY-related events together.
It was a dark and stormy night (well, snow was threatening) when Howard and I got into the car to drive to Putney and hear the debate with Will Nukem. Tune into the next post to read about the debate.