Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Secrecy Yes and Secrecy No

In recent days, Entergy and the NRC (separately) have attempted to control information. In the first case, I believe Entergy was justified in its actions. In the second case, I believe the NRC should rethink their plans.

(I'm a blogger. I have opinions. I share them.)

The Legal Probe Report: Secrecy Yes

In February, Entergy hired a law firm (Morgan Lewis and Bockius LLP) to conduct an internal probe of the misstatements and miscommunications about the buried piping. On February 24, Entergy issued a press release stating that the law firm had found Entergy employees did not intentionally mislead people. The press release also stated that the entire report of the probe had been turned over to the Vermont Attorney General. The same report was also provided to the Public Service Board.

This month, Entergy asked that the Public Service Board seal (not release to the public) any parts of the report that did NOT have to do with underground piping. Information related to underground piping would be released.

This seems reasonable to me. There are some generally accepted reasons why certain types of information and deliberations are kept private by public groups such as selectboards, school boards, public service commissions and so forth. I am not a lawyer, but I have noticed how public boards behave:
  • At the whiff that a lawsuit is pending, the board usually goes into closed session. If you have attended a town selectboard meeting (or school board or zoning board meeting), you know that closed sessions are sometimes held right after the public meeting. Visitors are asked to leave, lawyers show up, and the board holds a closed meeting. (In most cases, this occurs when the board itself is being sued, but can also happen when the board is party to a lawsuit in some other manner.)
  • When personnel matters are involved, the meeting is closed. The board can get itself sued big time for making personnel issues public. School principals are fired in closed session. Policemen are reprimanded in closed session. And so forth.
In the case of the Entergy internal legal report, both factors come into play. Entergy is being sued, and personnel matters are almost certainly involved in the report. Entergy asked that information about the underground piping be revealed to the public, and other information be sealed. That is the appropriate thing to do. Hopefully, the Public Service Board will be aware of how it must treat confidential information, and it will honor Entergy's request.

Aside: Of course, Entergy's request led to predictable outcries from the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), which would love to see everything, since CLF is suing Entergy. Basically, CLF wants VY shut down so their natural gas plant can make more money. End Aside.

NRC Excludes Press: Secrecy No

The NRC recently issued an invitation to a meeting for legislators to ask questions about Vermont Yankee. The meeting is to take place in New Hampshire. Neither the public nor the press is invited. According to the NRC, they hold meetings of this type for stakeholders regularly, and such meetings allow legislators to ask questions and receive answers without fear of being quoted or misquoted in the press.

As far as I can tell, an informational meeting is probably not in violation of sunshine laws, though the line between legislators-gathering-information and legislators-deliberating seems way too fuzzy to me. These meetings could be in violation of sunshine laws. Anti-nuclear activists definitely think the sunshine laws are being violated.

I can understand why the NRC would choose to hold a closed meeting. The public meetings are not just contentious, they can be dangerous. In spring 2009, local activist Sally Shaw attended an open meeting with NRC and Entergy. She walked up to the table and spread manure on papers and into water glasses. Letters-to-the-editor applauded her actions. In a separate incident about Vermont Yankee, the PSB building was attacked with deer-urine. Most of the open meetings turn into complete circuses, with people shouting, pretending to have loud intercourse, singing and drowning out the speakers. You get the picture.

Despite all of this, the NRC will hold a seven-hour-long open meeting on the same topics on April 12. This meeting is described in the article about the closed meeting.

What is my conclusion about this? The closed meeting may or may not violate the sunshine laws. A separate open meeting will be held. The open meetings often turn into circuses. All sorts of reasons to hold a closed meeting, I guess.

My conclusion: I object to the NRC holding a closed meeting.

It's simple. If you want people to trust the NRC and trust the plant, you have to be open. You answer questions for everyone, with the press in attendance. That's almost the definition of "open."

This does not mean you have to put up with disruptions, deer urine, manure, people shouting and singing and drowning out the speakers. Such actions violate laws (from disorderly conduct through assault). Security measures at the meeting are the correct answer to these problems. Secret meetings are the wrong answer.

This Just In

The Rutland Herald reports that the NRC is canceling the closed meeting.

The illustration shows the building at Westminster which was the home of the infamous British Star Chamber court. Its deliberations were secret and its judgments could not be appealed.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Summing It Up

Excellent information in two recent summaries, posted in the last three days.

Vermont Yankee for Beginners

Dr. Robert Hargraves, a friend of mine, gave a twenty minute talk on Vermont Yankee last week, speaking to the Rotary Club in Hanover, New Hampshire. Bob covered a quick history of Vermont Yankee, put the tritium issue in perspective, pointed out funding sources of the VY opponents, and demolished the simplistic arguments for replacing VY with renewables. All in less than twenty minutes! Here's a link to his slides with a voice-over.

Piping for Experts

My most recent post includes a video clip of the Entergy briefing that explained how they found and fixed the leak of tritiated water. In that briefing, Mr. Savoff of Entergy used a video animation to show the pipes, their position, the drain, the wells, the geology showing that the test wells are separated from potable groundwater by a layer of bedrock. The link below will bring you to the animation he used, which is somewhat self-explanatory.

However, there is no audio portion to this animation. For the full explanation, you would have to watch the press briefing clip on my previous post. But that briefing runs for an hour, while you can move through the animation video below in a much shorter time. (You don't really have to be an expert to watch this animation, but without a voice-over, it is definitely more an advanced-course event than Bob's video.)

Television set graphic Wikimedia, GNU Lesser License

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Leak Over, Remediation Begins

At a press conference today, Vermont Yankee announced that all sources of the leak have been found, and remediation will begin. Water will be pumped from the ground to be re-used at the plant, and some soil will be disposed of as radioactive waste off-site. Here's the press release. I have updated this post with a link to the video of the press conference which announced the end of the tritium leak.

I knew the leak was over when I read a comment from Peter Alexander yesterday on my David O'Brien and Nuclear post. Mr. Alexander wrote:
I don't think many people were in a panic about the tritium itself. The real issue with Vermont Yankee, in addition to Entergy's really bad record of preventive maintenance, is the company's breakdown in credibility. Finding and fixing a tritium leak "quickly" is small potatoes.

Gee, Mr. Alexander, thanks for telling us! As I pointed out in my answer, the anti-s sure seemed to be in a state of panic:

Where on earth have you been? What about the new docket, "shut the plant down NOW because of the tritium leak," that the PSB opened at the request of the Conservation Law Foundation? It's costing me money, because I live in this state, and opening new dockets isn't free.

(By the way, I predicted in an earlier post that they would have the leak fixed before these docket hearings got underway. Maybe I should hang out my shingle as a fortune-teller.)

Maggie Gundersen (see the video in an earlier post) predicted that the tritium would end sport fishing in the Connecticut River because it bioaccumluates in fish. Senator McDonald rolled his eyes and repeated his question to Bill Irwin (of the Department of Health) over and mean tritium is going to the river? It will be in the river?

Alexander wouldn't have written the equivalent of No-problem if the leak weren't fixed. His remarks are proof positive that the leak is truly a non-issue at this point.

Mark Savoff, V P of Entergy, did an excellent job of explaining the technical issues while respecting people's concerns about radioactivity. He was asked several times about the dangers of tritium. He was very politic. He explained the low-level radioactivity of tritium, while re-iterating that Entergy took it seriously and he was NOT dismissing people's concerns. When people asked about how much contaminated soil was present, he used both dimensions and analogy (two pick-up truck loads) to make the amount clear. A very classy show.

Entergy is to be congratulated both on stopping the leak so quickly, and on the communication clarity of this conference.

Watch live streaming video from bfp_news at

Moving on

Of course, the antis are moving on to new topics. The latest...the new NRC inspector used to work for Entergy! Perhaps it is all a conspiracy? Here's a tweet about it from a few hours ago. The leak is over, and the antis are searching for new ground.

Shocker! New NRC inspector at #VT Yankee is former #Entergy employee (via Rutland Herald): #btv #vty

Vermont and Renewables

Vermont PSB Commissioner O'Brien spoke about Vermont Yankee at a meeting this past Saturday. In other words, the meeting took place just a few days after Shumlin said that Germany got 30% of its juice from solar. O'Brien also discussed renewables. He believes we should encourage renewables in a measured fashion. He was concerned that constantly expanding the feed-in tariffs for renewables will have a bad effect on Vermont's economy.

A "Feed In Tariff" is a government mandate that utilities must buy renewable power at a certain price, whether or not that price is in accordance with the market price of other forms of power. For example, Vermont currently has Feed In Tariffs for 50 MW of renewable power at 12 cents per kWh (landfill gas) to 30 cents per kWh (solar). The market price for electricity is around 6 or 7 cents, but Vermont utilities must buy renewable power at the feed-in tariff prices.

O'Brien urged the people at the meeting to Google "Feed In Tariffs and Spain." Spain got rather carried away with such tariffs. This New York Times article describes the problems of excessive use of Feed In Tariffs in that country.

O'Brien also brought copies of a December 2009 study done by the Vermont Department of Public Service: The Economic Impacts of Vermont Feed In Tariffs. This study shows that above-market costs of electricity due to tariffs will affect the Vermont economy until 2026, and cause a net job loss after the facilities are built. Higher electricity rates will suck money from other potential endeavors. Except for the period during construction, the new renewable facilities will not provide enough jobs to offset the effect of the higher electricity prices.

Vermont Tiger notes that solar orchards are beginning to sprout in Vermont. Wind turbines are as big as airplane wings, and they grow in wind farms. Solar panels grow in orchards. Therefore, our state will stay rural, with (wind) farms and (solar) orchards, despite the land use effects of distributed generation.

Actually, I am in favor of renewables, even if they give the facilities cutesy names. I started out in geothermal energy. I was a project manager in geothermal (renewable) at EPRI before I switched to nuclear. I want renewables to succeed. But I have to agree that just mandating them, no matter the cost, is not the way to do it.

We need some feed-in tariffs and some renewables, because if we don't build renewables, they won't improve. O'Brien is right however. Let's not go the way of Spain here and encourage as many renewables as possible. This will lead to gold rush for the high feed-in tariffs, economic stagnation and taxpayer revolt. We've already seen some of this in Vermont. The highest feed-inn tariff in the last round was solar at 30 cents kWh. As expected, the solar offering was oversubscribed with people trying to get in on the deal. Vermont held a lottery to decide who would actually be allowed to build the solar and make good money at ratepayers expense.

Shumlin may think that Germany gets 30% of its electricity from solar, but we shouldn't try this at home.

Related Notes:

Eventually, Shumlin was forced to realize that Germany got only 1% of its electricity from solar. I need to do a completely different post on the follow-up to that incident. For example, this was the first time that I was described as "biting a junkyard dog." Probably the only time anyone will describe me that way. Thanks, Dan!!

In his talk, O'Brien also noted that Vermont's carbon footprint is mainly due to transportation and home heating, not electricity. The day before he spoke, David Bradish of the Nuclear Energy Institute, analyzed Vermont's data from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Bradish is a blogger and economist, or maybe I should say an economist who blogs. Bradish notes that Vermont is so far below its RGGI allowances that if Vermont Yankee closed, we could actually replace much of the power with a gas plant and still be "in spec" with RGGI. Bradish writes: Thus, conveniently, a gas plant and a little bit of renewables should allow Vermont to satisfy its RGGI requirements. It’s almost like the people involved in the RGGI deal-making for Vermont knew that VY can’t be replaced without fossil-fuels, a fact that all of us in the nuclear community are well aware of.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

David O'Brien and Nuclear

On Saturday, Commissioner David O'Brien spoke to a Republican breakfast meeting in Rutland, Vermont. In his speech, reported in the Rutland Herald, he expressed his support of Vermont Yankee, saying: "Vermont Yankee, as a unit, which you won't read about anymore, is one of the best-performing nuclear units in the country," he said, adding that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has told him it has no problem with the plant.

He also pointed out that two factors have given Vermont Yankee bad press: missteps and miscommunications by the plant management, and a poisonous atmosphere promoted by Senator Shumlin among others. Specifically, O'Brien noted that the tritium leak had been blown completely out of proportion, that over twenty nuclear plants had such leaks, and Vermont Yankee had taken the correct steps to address it. At that remark, I could hardly stop myself from standing up and shouting "Yes, Yes, YOU TELL THEM!" (Actually, I'm kind of a quiet person, and this was a Republican breakfast meeting, so I didn't say anything.)

Aside: In a recent post, I noted that VY found the leak very quickly, and leak was less than 0.5 curie of tritium (Rod Adam's calculation). Adams also noted that a well-run CanDu reactor releases 5400 curies of tritium per year. The NRC notes that American reactors also release tritium in liquid effluent. From the NRC website: In 2003, the average PWR released about 700 curies of tritium in liquid effluents and the average BWR released about 30 curies of tritium in liquid effluents. (Vermont Yankee is a BWR).

In contrast, Vermont Yankee is a zero-liquid-discharge reactor which had a minor spill. Half a curie of tritium. This amount of tritium would look pretty good to most of the reactors in this country. End Aside.

O'Brien refused to panic over this incident, despite the endless chorus of "tritium will get into the Connecticut River and incredibly bad things will surely happen!" Well, no they won't. It was good to see that O'Brien paid attention to the facts and not the hype.

But enough about tritium for a while. Have a banana, sit back, and relax. I realize that I have posted videos featuring Gundersen and Shumlin. So let's have some air time for the good guys for a change. Here's a video of the president of Areva North America, Jacques Besnainou, talking about America and nuclear.

Note: I received an email that someone could not see the video. If you cannot see it, you can link to it here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Vermont Health Department on Tritium

WCAX interviewed Bill Irwin, head of the Radiological Health area of the Vermont Department of Health. The heading for this interview was: Expert: Vermont Yankee May Have Other Vulnerable Areas.
The content was:
  • We found the source of the leak
  • It has stopped leaking.
But the tone was quite negative. More could go wrong! Yes. More could always go wrong.

It reminds me of getting a test result from a yearly mammo. I get a letter that says something like: your mammogram is clear. However, there could be cancer somewhere else in your body, and some cancers are not detected by mammos, etc etc etc. In other words, a long warning that translates:

Your test is okay. But something else could go wrong. We're not making any promises.

Life is always uncertain. Still, these warnings generally mean: We are doing some serious CYA here. (CYA is shorthand for "Cover Your Donkey")

Let's take the main result instead, okay guys?

VY found this tritium leak. They fixed it. Cause for celebration!

Also, Rod Adams has an excellent post on the total amount of tritium that leaked, top to bottom, all the tritium in the famous plume of tritiated water under the plant. Spoiling the suspense of reading his post: less than half a curie of tritium leaked, total, at Vermont Yankee. In contrast, a well-operated CanDu reactor in Ontario releases 5,000 curies of tritium a year into the environment, or 14 curies per day. These releases are well within the legal limits in Canada, limits designed to expose the public to far less radiation from tritium than they receive from background.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hydro Quebec De-Mystified

A Win-Win Deal?

The recent Hydro Quebec deal was announced in a air of hoopla and celebration. On Friday, March 12, the Burlington Free Press quoted James Moore of VPIRG and various members of the legislature, congratulating Vermont for the deal. In this article, President Pro Tem Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith, and House Natural Resources Committee chair Tony Klein all described the purchase as a positive development. For once, Governor Douglas was in agreement with his legislature. “Reaching a new long-term agreement with Hydro-Quebec is a good deal for ratepayers and strengthens the state’s economic future,” Douglas said.

There was happiness on the Canadian side, also. The Montreal Gazette was pleased that HydroQuebec had landed a $1.5 billion dollar deal with the Vermont utilties. While the U.S. stories avoided talking about money, the Canadian article was more direct. The Montreal Gazette article was published on Thursday, March 11, and it was delighted with the revenue that would be coming to Canada.

Worth $1.5 billion over 26 years, and starting in 2012, the contracts call for the purchase of 225 megawatts of power from Hydro-Québec at “market prices,” Premier Jean Charest said. The contract renewals, with Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power, account for a third of the electricity consumed in the state. And Charest said Hydro-Québec could win an equally large new contract with Vermont if plans to close Vermont Yankee, the state’s only nuclear reactor, go ahead.

(emphasis added by blogger)

Vermont utilies also gave HQ something they dearly wanted: declaring Quebec Hydro power as Green Energy. As the Montreal Gazette noted:
But in addition, Charest said, the Vermont legislature is considering a bill to recognize electricity produced by large hydro dams as green. At present, several U.S. states consider electricity produced by large dams as non-renewable energy.......If Vermont becomes the first state to recognize Hydro-Québec as a green energy producer, others could follow, increasing the provincial utility’s potential export sales to the U.S., Charest said. “It opens the door to agreements that could multiply across the United States,” the premier said.

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, March 11, Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont was given the highest honor that the Quebec government can award, the National Order of Quebec. He was the first American politician to receive this award. It was a great, busy day for Quebec-Vermont relationships.

A Puzzle?

Premier Charest and Governor Douglas described the situation as win-win. I described it to myself as puzzling. How much power were we buying? What were we paying for it? It seemed to have something to do with Vermont Yankee, but what? I began my investigations.

My hard work was interrupted when I discovered that Peter Shumlin thinks 30% of German electricity comes from solar. (Solar provides 1% of German electricity.) So I had a little comic relief. But a blogger's life cannot be all fun and games. I had to figure out this HQ deal. I called David Lamont of the Department of Public Service, and ask him a few questions. He was very helpful.

For a while, Mr. Lamont was TOO helpful. Vermont utilities have five separate contracts with HydroQuebec, with different rates and end dates. The new contracts extend this power purchase past 2016. The existing contracts buy capacity and electricity separately somehow. Dollars do not follow the electrons. For example, Vermont could buy electricity that gets delivered to Boston, and some other electricity would get delivered to Vermont from near Boston. And to top it off, the dollar amounts in new HQ contracts are not finalized.

Well, at least I know why I was confused.

Hydro Quebec Deal Demystified

I think I finally got it, though. The basics of the Hydro Quebec deal.

Our current situation:

Vermont buys 300 MW (installed) at 75% of hours (capacity) from HQ each year. Vermont pays approximately 6.6 cents per kWh for this power. The five contracts begin to run out in 2012, and all finish by 2016. The AC line into Vermont near Highgate is adequate to carry most of this amount of power. Some is currently carried by a DC line into Boston.

The new situation:

Vermont will have new contracts to buy power from HQ for 26 years, starting in 2012. The contracts cover 225 MW (installed) and 66.7% hours (16 out of 24 hours).

Looking at the odd unit of MWyears (one megawatt times one year's worth of time)
  • We used to buy 300 MW times 0.75 or 225 MW years
  • Now we will buy 225 MW times 0.67 or 150 MWyears.
Therefore, this deal is for 2/3 of the power we used to buy from HQ.

The price is not known, but it will be some variation of market price. Negotiations are not yet finished. I think the price is unlikely to be less than the 6.6 cents per kWh we are currently paying HQ. If it were less, Douglas and the Legislature would be trumpeting this from the housetops. Right now, the Canadians are the only ones shouting with glee about money.

Future Purchases

Both the newspaper articles and Mr. Lamont stressed that more power can be bought from HQ at a moment's notice. Mr. Lamont wanted me to realize that Vermont could buy more power (if it wanted to) than the Highgate AC line can carry. The DC line to the Boston area could carry power that Vermont buys: it already carries some Vermont power. This power is delivered to Boston, but some Boston-area power is delivered to us at the price we had arranged with HQ. Electrons and dollars do not have to move in tandem. Since the line can carry more power, we could buy more power from HQ if Vermont Yankee closes.

Some Thoughts

I don't mean to be a spoilsport. But why is everybody in Montpelier so happy about this? Locking in out-of state power at "market price" when VY was willing to sell at 6.1 cents? And VY pays taxes here. Apparently some price fluctuations will be smoothed in the new contracts, just like a mortgage that will only raise your rate half a percent per six months. (Not the best kind of mortgage.) But the deal is still about market rates.

I am not the only one to notice that this is not the deal-of-the-century. Vermont Digger shows Douglas being asked some difficult questions at his March 15 press conference. Three particularly good questions:
  1. How can you evaluate a deal without a price?
  2. Is it right for public utilities to agree to a contract without a specified price structure?
  3. There is language in the agreement that ties a contract to legislative action. Isn't that unusual?
Unfortunately, the Governor's answers weren't quite as good as the questions. His answers were along the line of "It's all going to be all right. We have a feeling about it." I urge you to read the transcript of the conference referenced above, or perhaps watch the video.

Another point is a little more subtle. There's language in the contract that ties this contract to legislative action...that is, I believe the Vermont legislature has to declare HQ power "renewable" for the contract to take effect. Haven't we been here before? Haven't we had the legislature in the middle of a power purchase agreement before? Can't the legislature decide later that HQ power isn't renewable after all?

Indeed. Why does anybody in Quebec think it's going to work out well to have our legislature in the middle of their power agreement?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Shumlin Overstates Himself

Peter Shumlin usually overstates himself. He is President Pro Tempore of the Vermont Senate, and he forced the vote on Vermont Yankee, despite misgivings by many of his colleagues. Most of the time, I think of him as dedicated (to his own election as Governor) and dangerous (to the state of Vermont). Today, though, I gotta giggle.

A few days ago, he went on Fox News to justify his vote. And boy, did he justify it. Vermont Yankee may provide 30% of Vermont's power, but....Germany gets 30% of its power from solar! Yes, my friends, he said this howler on national TV. To quote ABC news on the subject
"Germany right now is producing 30% of their juice from solar," said Shumlin during the FOX Business interview.
The host of the show later pointed out Germany gets 1%, not 30%, of its power from solar. Our call to Shumlin for comment was not returned.

The local blog Vermont Tiger had a very funny post on this, including a shot from Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart explains himself to Claude Rains: "I was misinformed."

The link in the Vermont Tiger post seems to be broken, so I decided to include some links on German electricity. The best diagram I have found is here. It is IEA/OECD data at a website (GENI) devoted to renewable energy. Similarly, the European Nuclear Society website has the same data presented in a slightly different format. Despite different philosophies, the two websites agree on the facts. Shumlin should have checked.

Rod Adams checked Germany's solar figures today, and did a careful explanation in his post. We're all citing our sources because during the video clip, Shumlin is informed that Wikipedia says that Germany gets one percent of its electricity from solar. He dismisses it as "well, that's Wikipedia." Mr. Shumlin, Wikipedia was right.

Sadly, I think Shumlin actually believed what he was saying. He has no idea about where electricity comes from. He believed that Germany gets lots and lots of electricity from solar, and Vermont can do the same, no problem.

It's been several days since this incident, and Shumlin still hasn't explained how he thought Germany got 30% of its electricity from solar when it gets less than 1%. I think it would hurt his bid for governor to own up to a mistake, and he won't do it.

Prove me wrong, Mr. Shumlin. Explain yourself.

Image of a solar panel on the Autobahn, from Wikimedia.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hydro Quebec Deal

Vermont utilities have just signed a major deal with Hydro Quebec, for 225 MW, 16 hours a day, starting in 2012. They are not telling the price of this power.

The utilities are probably paying more than VY was going to charge, which was 6.1 cents/kWh. The HydroQuebec deal seems to have power prices that depend on the market ("ties prices to the wholesale energy market") but with the market swings modified a bit. Are the utilities being fiscally responsible to their ratepayers? You can always buy power, if you are willing to pay whatever-it-takes.

Wikimedia commons graphic of the spillway at Robert-Bourassa generating station. According to Wikipedia, this spillway can deal with a water flow twice the size of the St. Lawrence River.

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.