Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chernobyl and the Montshire Museum

This blog is about my experiences with the local Sierra Club and other anti-VY organizations. I conclude the post with some notes about their tactics, and their vulnerabilities.

If you are interested in learning about Chernobyl, let me suggest a posting in the new blog, Nuclear Fissionary.

The Ad

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, a meeting "Voices of Chernobyl" was announced in the local paper, without a clue as to who was sponsoring it. The advertisement said "Should we relicense the (sic) Vermont Yankee" and then urged people to come to a playreading about Chernobyl at the Montshire Museum. The ad had a phone number, no name, no organization except the Montshire was mentioned. I called the phone number, but the person did not answer my question about who was sponsoring the show.

Earlier this year, there was an odd advertisement for a "debate" in Putney which was not a debate at all. I resolved to look into this Montshire meeting. Who was doing this? And how did they get it into the Montshire?

The Meeting

As soon as I got to the Montshire, I was greeted by Denis Rydjeski, the president of the local Sierra Club and recent organizer of an anti-Vermont Yankee letter writing bee. A Sierra Club banner hung from the table at the back of the room. As I walked in, Denis praised my blog and thanked me for coming to the meeting.

I asked why the meeting had not been announced as a Sierra Club meeting, and he answered that he had carelessly forgotten to mention it in the paper. There were two areas in the paper where the meeting was announced. A paid ad, and a "calendar of events" announcement. In both places, only the Montshire was named.

Actually, the meeting had a lot of sponsors and a list of sponsors was given to everyone who attended:

The play about Chernobyl was pretty much as you would expect, so I won't waste your time.

After the play various people spoke.
  • My friend (and occasional co-blogger) Howard Shaffer bravely and effectively explained the difference between Chernobyl and boiling water reactors. The moderator asked him to stop talking because he was taking up too much time.
  • Chris Williams of Vermont Citizen's Action Network stated that people who don't believe Chernobyl killed vast numbers of people are like Holocaust deniers, and these people have to be confronted.
  • Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear explained that the material in the core at Vermont Yankee isn't surrounded by graphite which can burn, but the core material could escape from containment and enter the air as an aerosol, doing just as much damage as Chernobyl. He didn't happen to mention what would turn the core into aerosols.
The back table at the Montshire was covered with brochures (single color and glossy), pamphlets, bumper stickers shut it down now!, anti-Yankee campaign buttons, and lists of legislators to contact. I have but one regret...that I didn't take a camera. The sponsor list and the table were anti-nuke dreams come true. All the literature was aimed at influencing the legislators to vote against the renewal of the Vermont Yankee license. This was a political meeting with a clear political agenda, two days before the Senate vote.

I wondered how the Montshire felt about this. Or do they know?

The Montshire

Some background. Last summer the Coalition for Energy Solutions gave a public talk at the Montshire, and I was one of the organizers. I went to the administrator in charge of scheduling, and told her the Coalition wanted to use a room at the Montshire. We wanted to talk about conservation, and about Vermont Yankee.

The woman in charge of scheduling was very clear that the second talk was not welcome...the Montshire did not host anything political. Anything political goes against their guidelines for hosting non-profits.
The Director, or his designee, has authority to decline or cancel any event that adversely affects the Montshire’s neutral stance on political, social, environmental or economic issues.

The Director

Since the "Director, or his designee" has the power to control the types of meetings that are held at the Montshire, I called the Director the day after the Chernobyl meeting.

I spoke to David Goudy, director of the Montshire museum. He was very thoughtful, and said that the person who told me that I couldn't speak about Vermont Yankee last summer was just plain wrong. He would welcome me holding a meeting about Vermont Yankee, and it would not violate the Montshire charter to discuss the political implications of an energy source. However, they don't host political meetings at the Montshire. No rallies for candidates or anything like that.

I mentioned (well, more than mentioned) that I thought the advertising reflected badly on the Montshire. It looked like the Montshire was not only hosting a political meeting, but sponsoring it. Goudy said that he and the staff had been concerned by the ads. The ads looked as if the meeting were a museum event. He said he had planned to take (or had taken, I'm not sure) some action about preventing this sort of thing in the future, even before I had called.

For the Future

In some ways, ths is old news. The early "don't talk about Vermont Yankee at the Montshire" was a mistake, and the Montshire director wasn't happy with the Sierra Club ads. It was all a mistake, it won't happen again, and it's all no-problemo.

For the future, though, we should keep track of these things. Misleading advertising (It's a debate! or At the Montshire!) appears to be a tactic of the anti-nuclear groups. With misleading ads, they can hold political meetings in venues where the tax status and charter might say that political meetings cannot be held. So, if we can prove it, we can politely bring this to the attention of the directors of the venues. "Are political meetings okay here? Because one was just held..."

In my opinion, the anti-s are putting some of our best institutions in a vulnerable position, and we have to defend those institutions. The government is loaded with debt, and looking eagerly for revenue sources. Don't let the new source be your local museum or library. Fight misleading ads whenever you encounter them.

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