On Thursday February 24, I debated with Arnie Gundersen on the topic: Vermont Yankee: Keep It Running or Shut It Down? The debate took place at the Janus Forum held by the University of Vermont. You can link to the audio of the debate here and read my recent post about it here.
The debate was very well-organized, but like all debates, it was time-limited. Gundersen often said things that sounded completely wrong to me, but I didn't have time to answer each assertion. My policy during the debate was to speak about what I knew about. I made notes of other Gundersen statements and planned to look up the information later.
For example, during the debate, Gundersen claimed that there are only sixteen shad in the Connecticut River. I knew this had to be wrong. Arnie said that there used to be 70,000 shad in the Connecticut River, and now there are sixteen. He emphasizes the word sixteen: "Not sixteen thousand, sixteen." He claims we have to shut down Vermont Yankee to save the shad, because the waste heat from the plant has killed them off.
(If you move the audio slider of the debate to the 46 minute mark, you can listen to this section.)
I have no idea where Gundersen could have gotten the number "sixteen." The shad counts in the Connecticut River in recent years are between 150,000 and 225,000 fish per spawning season. (See my Geeky Shad Section below for references.) There are thousands of shad in the river, though fewer and fewer as you go upstream. Shad swim upstream to spawn, like salmon. They spend most of their lives in the ocean.
Sixteen Shad and Climate Change?
At the same time that Gundersen said we had only sixteen shad in the river, he also said that replacing Vermont Yankee with fossil fuel would only add one ten-thousandth of a degree to the temperature of the earth, but in return we would "get our river back."
So, there's another number. One ten-thousandth of a degree climate change. This is per year? Over twenty years? Due to how much carbon dioxide? In other words--huh??? One-ten-thousandth of a degree is another number flying in from somewhere unknown, like sixteen fish. However, this post is long enough and I cannot address Gundersen's climate-change assertions today. More later, perhaps.
(The climate statement is near the sixteen-fish statement on the audio.)
A final word. I don't know why the Gundersens are so fond of misstatements about fish. Last summer, fish in the Connecticut River were tested for radiation, and showed only background levels. This caused Maggie Gundersen to write that you shouldn't eat fish from the river, but rather "throw them back."
There's something going on here about the Gundersens and fish, but I don't know what it is.
Geeky Shad Section
There's a picture of an American Shad at the head of this post. Shad is a delicious but bony fish, much loved by Native Americans and early colonists. John McPhee wrote a book about it: The Founding Fish. Shad have a life-cycle similar to salmon, spending much of their lives in the ocean and returning to their native streams to spawn. The shad run on the East Coast starts in April and ends in June, reaching a peak when water temperatures in the rivers are about 67 degrees. A pretty native American shrub is nicknamed "shadbush" because it blooms when the shad runs.
The shad run over the years has been hurt by pollution and the building of dams. Doe shad are very heavy with roe, and can't climb fish ladders, according to Wikipedia. Therefore, shad disappeared years ago from the Merrimack River:
Even more important to the decline of the shad is the damming of the rivers and streams in which they spawn, as pregnant doe shad are quite heavy and do not jump even when hooked. As noted above, the number of shad caught in the Merrimack River declined from almost 900,000 in 1789 to 0 in 1888, due to the fishes' inability to reach their spawning ground.
Overfishing has also had an effect. The U S Fish and Wildlife Service has an interesting web page about shad and restoration efforts. Wikipedia notes that the commercial shad catch has varied from 860,000 tons in 1999 to 600,000 tons in 2005 and is generally falling. Meanwhile, U. S. Fish and Wildlife tracks the Connecticut River shad, with 228,000 fish observed at the Holyoke Dam in 2000 and only 163,000 observed in 2007. Another important point is that the shad run historically ended at Bellows Falls, which is the next dam north of Vernon Dam (Vermont Yankee is located near Vernon Dam). A fishing website, iFished, gives a good overview of recreational shad fishing and availability on the river, including that just below Vernon Dam is an excellent place to catch these fish.
The Connecticut is not a river with sixteen lonely shad in it!