Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why Vermont Yankee Still Matters: Guest Post by Guy Page

As the planned shutdown of Vermont Yankee approaches, it is tempting to consider Vermont Yankee “old news”. The Big Decision – closing the plant – has been made, so the rest is just housekeeping, right?

What I learned at two Oct. 23 public meetings held on opposite sides of the Connecticut River suggests otherwise. Decisions of great importance to our economy and public safety remain.

At the first meeting, the Vermont Economic Progress Council - assigned to allocate the $2 million in annual economic development aid provided in the Dec. 23, 2013 shutdown Master Settlement Agreement  - sat for seven hours in Brattleboro, listening to five minute sales pitches from schools, museums, hospitals, business groups, and businesses. One after another, the hopeful said virtually the same thing: ‘We provide (or will if you help us) an important cultural, social, and/or employment service to Windham County and beyond. With your help, we can help make our little corner of the world cleaner, safer, healthier, and happier. Help us help others.’

At the second meeting, held at night directly across the river from brightly-lit Vermont Yankee in the gym of the Hinsdale NH High School, about 70 Granite State residents learned what decommissioning will mean to them. Perhaps the most interesting topic was Vermont Yankee’s plan to move all spent fuel into “dry casks” within six years. Dry casks are the gold standard for used fuel storage. Vermont Yankee could have just opted to keep much of the fuel in a pool at the plant– as permitted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and commonly practiced nuclear plants. But Vermont Yankee is going the extra mile, and spending the extra dollar, to respond to the public wish for maximum safety measures.

According to one expert presenter, dry casks make their contents about as secure as humanly, physically possible. Consider this: in actual tests, they have been rammed by a speeding locomotive, impacted the ground at over 200 miles an hour after being dropped from thousands of feet, and loaded onto a flatbed truck that is then rammed into a concrete wall at 80 miles per hour – and in every case the casks remained intact and their contents unspilled. They have been designed to survive the practically untestable, such as an attack by F-16s and a collision with a 350 MPH airplane. The dry casks at the Fukushima plant – perhaps the greatest “real world” test of any nuclear power plant to date – were completely unharmed.

Guy Page
with ancestor
Urban Woodbury
The Vermont Public Service Board met Oct. 29 to discuss Vermont Yankee’s request for construction of another concrete pad for dry cask storage, a prerequisite if this safety-enhancing measure is to become a reality. The PSB’s eventual yea or nay is just one of those crucial decisions looming in the future. So is any decision by any stakeholder – state, corporate, or policy advocate - that threatens to unravel the Master Settlement Agreement, on which depends not only this year’s $2 million, but an additional $8 million over the next four years.

Vermont wants economic development. We want the safest spent fuel storage humanly possible. Whether we get these outcomes depends on many decisions yet unmade. Stay tuned, and stay involved.


Guy Page is the communications director of the Vermont Energy Partnership (VTEP), a coalition of about 90 Vermont not-for-profits, businesses, utilities, labor organizations, development agencies, and individuals committed to a clean, safe, affordable and reliable power policy for Vermont. Entergy – Vermont Yankee is a VTEP member.

Page writes frequent guest posts at this blog.   His most recent post describes A Civilized Meeting about Vermont Yankee. 

No comments: