Sunday, January 3, 2010

Prologue to a Fake Debate

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.


DV8 2XL said...

Cross-posted from Atomic Insights at Meredith's request

I generally do not comment on internal issues in other countries, however in this case the impact of shutting that reactor will have impacts on me. Shortfalls in power from the closing will have to be made up from other places, one of which undoubtedly will be Hydro-Québec who will then have an excuse to raise my rates, something that has happened before in response to rising demand for power from US markets.

What the forces aligned against VY are not taking into account is that Hydro-Québec is about to purchase Énergie NB Power (New Brunswick Power), a situation already causing concern in the US. The prospect of Hydro-Quebec becoming a regional powerhouse has stoked fears among politicians and business leaders in New England. The governor of Maine has already expressed his concerns with Quebec Premier Jean Charest over the deal at a private dinner on Dec. 21 at John Baldacci's official residence in Augusta, Maine. Hydro-Québec president and CEO Thierry Vandal was also present at the meeting, as were Baldacci's energy advisers. The loss of VY capacity does not leave this market with much leverage, a factor all those at the table were no doubt acutely aware.

Ironically, the closure may well give further impetus to plans to build a second merchant nuclear power plant at Point Lepreau, a project which was being considered before, thus the protesters will have only succeed in moving the reactor (as it were) a few hundred miles away. The Point Lepreau Generating Station will also be sold to Hydro-Québec when the refurbishment of of the existing CANDU-6 is completed. Of course Hydro-Québec also owns and operates the Gentilly nuclear generating station located near Bécancour, about 100km from Montreal.

Country Mouse said...

I can't wait! It's interesting seeing the machinations of an issue I'm not involved in. It makes me aware of my own partisanship in other matters, and how that affects my thinking. Once people agree on a set of premises, it's kinda all downhill from there, in terms of debating those premises. It was disingenuous of them to advertise an after dinner comic entertainment by partisans as a true debate. Too bad!

Country Mouse said...

(I mean not involved in directly - of course I'm involved in the general issue as are we all.)