Monday, January 11, 2010

Where Were the Experts?

Howard Shaffer, a nuclear engineer and former congressional fellow, is our guest blogger today. Howard met with the Anti-VY walkers at Vermont Law School. The official walk website lists this event as Potluck followed by discussion including presentations by experts.Vermont Law School, program with discussion group Here is Howard's report.

The Anti-VY walkers began their walk on January 2. On the day I met them in Royalton, they had covered five miles in temperatures in the teens. They were hanging out in the Yates common room at Vermont Law School, during school vacation, when I got there at 5:30. Potluck was at 6. I have been to the Law School many times since I returned to this area in 2002. I have an essay in their Journal of Environmental Law. The school is known as the leading school in the country for environmental law.

There were about 40 people there, not all Walkers. I asked about how they were faring. They said they were OK, and they thanked me for asking. The organizer from Citizens Awareness Network (CAN) asked why I was there. I told him that I had been doing Public Outreach for nuclear for over 30 years. A student from Keene State College talked to me. One of her relatives works at Sikorsky, as does one of my sons. She talked about the replacement life of helicopter parts, and extended this to not relicensing Vermont Yankee. She was the typical “fire hose” talker, hardly letting a word in edgewise, and raising every issue, from corporate salary, indigenous peoples rights, and waste, to cost and how shutting down VY will promote renewables.

The website advertised a presentation by experts, but there were none. Everyone sat in circle and introduced themselves. There were a few students from the Law School, including one who came to study Environmental Law and shut down VY. I said I was a PE in nuclear engineering in Vermont. I had come to VY 40 years ago this coming summer as a Startup Engineer after submarine service. I have been doing Outreach for 30 years. After introductions the floor was opened to statements, moderated by one of the organizers.

Concerns were the usual: fear of radiation, the waste, and the VY plant somehow blocking alternative energy supplies. There was the usual quoting of the regulations that “No amount of radiation is safe.” Hattie Nestel said that uranium starts emitting when it is dug up and above ground. An emotional man said that the plant routinely emits radiation and if VY is shut down, then since Yankee at Rowe, MA, Connecticut Yankee, and Maine Yankee have been shut, there would be a 100 mile area in which an organic farm could be located. One person said the plant doesn’t make any money, which is why Entergy wants to puts its merchant plants into a company called Enexus that would only own six merchant nukes. Another said that VY is a cash cow. (No one mentioned the contradiction.) One law student asked where the power would come from if the plant is shut down.

The meeting ended at around 8:00 so that the Walkers could get their house assignments for overnight. One walker from Massachusetts works with special needs children. Her uncle was a physicist and her brothers are engineers. She hugged me. Another thanked me for coming. Others told me how brave I was for coming to the meeting. I replied that I knew they didn't hit people.

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