Friday, September 12, 2014

Decommissioning Panel and Appointments: Good, Bad and Ugly

Appointments Thick and Fast

With Vermont Yankee shutdown coming soon, the state government is getting busy appointing people to advise about, supervise, and generally harass the decommissioning project.  Okay, okay, maybe that's too strong a way to describe it.  Instead, perhaps I can just borrow the headline from a recent article in the Greenfield, MA, Recorder. Anti-nukers on Vt. Yankee Advisory Panel. 

Well, that was a short blog post.  I guess I can quit now...

No, wait!  I still have things to talk about.  There are good things, there are bad things, and there are...ugly things.

Smiley from Wikipedia
The Good

The New Panel: The old Vermont Nuclear Safety Advisory Panel (VSNAP) is being replaced by the newly-mandated  Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel.  Howard Shaffer describes the new panel in his blog post at ANS Nuclear Cafe: The Latest Sop to Nuclear Opponents.

(Gosh, the titles of the links aren't getting any better, are they?)

In his post, Shaffer notes that the old panel was pretty much a straight Vermont-Yankee-bashing experience.  The new panel may be better. The panel is larger, and includes representatives from Entergy and from the Vermont Yankee union (IBEW). Also, there will be representatives from neighboring states. Hopefully, the presence of these panel members will keep the panel from being a complete anti-nuclear attack-dog,  the way VSNAP was in the past.   As Shaffer describes it in his post, in the days of the VSNAP panel: The plant was in the position of being a witness to be cross-examined. There was no appeal to the panel’s findings. The meetings were covered in detail by the regional press. The panel, in effect, became a vehicle for anti-nuclear publicity.

With an expanded membership, hopefully the new decommissioning panel will be more than a kangaroo court.

The New Engineer: Vermont has always had a state nuclear engineer to advise the legislator.  In my opinion, Vermont didn't always pick the most qualified person, but that is just my opinion.  To my surprise, the newly-appointed state nuclear engineer is actually a qualified nuclear engineer. Oops, I forgot. The "nuclear engineer" job title has been changed to "decommissioning coordinator."

In the Rutland Herald (reprinted in The Recorder), Susan Smallheer reports about the new hire: Get to know Vt's decommissioning coordinator.  Anthony Leshinskie is a nuclear engineer, who used to work at Palo Verde.  In the article, Leshinskie is quoted as saying that Vermont Yankee appears to be a well-run plant, and he does not see the work force as demoralized. He notes that Entergy is not scrimping on continuous training (which makes the workers more attractive to new employers). Leshinskie said he was concerned that his role would be "anti-nuclear" but is now reassured that his job is technical, not political.

Ray Shadis, a long-time nuclear opponent, doesn't seem completely happy with this appointment. A quote from the Smallheer article:  What Vermont or any ‘reactor-occupied community’ does not need is a bureaucratic pussycat,” said Shadis. (Shadis did not actually accuse Leshinskie of being a pussy-cat, but Shadis is obviously worried about something here.) Shadis emphasized that he believes that  a state nuclear engineer should be a critic.

from Wikipedia
The Bad

Governor Shumlin, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House appointed the six citizen panelists, all of whom are serving three or four-year terms. Vermont Business Magazine names the panelists in the article Shumlin, Campbell, Smith announce appointments to the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel. As far as I can tell, a major qualification for these appointments was that the panelist was opposed to Vermont Yankee.

One of the panelists is David Deen, a legislator with a long history of opposing Vermont Yankee. He claims that the plant overheats the Connecticut River. In this article Deen describes Vermont Yankee as operating under a "zombie" water permit. He claims it has a fifty-five mile thermal plume that extends way downstream, keeping its thermal integrity of heating the river...all the way past the Vernon dam.

A second panelist, Derrik Jordan, is described as "a musician and social activist" by the Speaker of the House, who appointed him.

I don't know everyone on the panel, but I fear that the ones I don't know are probably of the same opinions as the ones I do know. For today, however, enough is enough.

The Ugly

Gargoyle, Wikipedia
Back in the days when the chairman of VSNAP was appointed by  Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican, the VSNAP meetings were a complete zoo.

At one meeting, people came in costume. A costumed man and woman pretended to have sex while pro-nuclear people were speaking, distracting the crowd.  At other meetings, members of the panel paced around and shouted "I am tired of being lied to!" They shouted down  the chairman, who was attempting to keep the panel moving by Robert's Rules of Order.  In another case, a panel member physically wrestled the microphone away from the chairman.

I was pretty naive then, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  But I saw it.

The meetings calmed down when the chairman of VSNAP was appointed by Governor Shumlin. There was no longer a reason to intimidate him or her. When the chairman was appointed by Shumlin, it meant that the agenda could be followed, with minimum interruptions.

My fear of the ugly. Now we have Entergy members and union members on the panel. That could be great or not-great. Great: maybe the new members can contribute.  Not-great: once again, the panel includes people worth intimidating

Will the bad old days come again?  I hope not, but I fear that they may.


Anonymous said...

The purpose of decommissioning panels as constituted by the industry generally is serve as an information conduit to the public. A transcript of the most recent NRC Meeting on decommissioning (with a focus on these public panels) is available on the NRC website and features reports from San Onfre and Vermont as well as commentary from Maine Yankee. The range of panel and public stakeholder influence on the course of decommissioning ranges from zero(San Onofre) to substantial (Maine Yankee). The charter for the Vermont State decommissioning panel, like the foregoing industry panel examples, conveys NO adjudicatory, regulatory, or investigative powers. What it lacks is the social contract to openness and candor implicit in the industry invitations to stakeholders to meaningful participation in their advisory or information panels.
About State Nuclear Engineers : It is tough to be neutral and more difficult still to be a tough, but fair, observer (Vermont State Nuclear Engineers are more observer/reporters than regulators). The path of least resistance is to accept the licensee's representations at face value and report all is well. That way if the report proves incorrect and a problem emerges, the engineer can simply point a finger at the licensee and say, " They misled me" If on the other hand, the engineer finds fault, he must be prepared to defend his finding (before his employers and occasionally in legal venues)against the onslaught of more highly-trained, more highly credentialed industry folk. The political ramifications are obvious; so "pussycats" thrive while inquisitive, critically thinking ferrets do not.

The panel member who wrestled with DPS/VSNAP Chair David O'Brien over the microphone was then State Representative Sarah Edwards. Somewhere, I have a video of that episode and though it's hard tell, it looks like when O'Brien had finished speaking, Edwards reached over in front of O'Brien to take the shared microphone; O'Brien
attempted to snatch it back; but Edwards hung on. If you would like a still to post on your site just let me know and I will e-mail it to you.
Raymond Shadis
New England Coalition

Meredith Angwin said...


I suspect that if a nuclear engineer doesn't accuse the plant of malfeasance at every turn, that engineer is a pussycat in your book. I notice that you file contention after contention with the NRC, and the vast majority of those contentions (all of them, I don't keep track) get thrown out for lack of substance. I suspect it is a perpetual sorrow to you that state nuclear engineers don't behave the same way that you behave.

Well, yes, the microphone snatcher was Sarah Edwards. You may have noted that, except when I quote someone pretty directly, I don't name many names on the blog. In general, it is about how "people behave at those meetings," not pointing fingers at specific people.

But back to Edwards, since you named her. In general, at a meeting, the person speaking finishes speaking, then the other person signals that they want the microphone, and the first person hands it over without wrestling matches. I was there, and if Ms. Edwards was politely waiting for O'Brien to finish..well, HAH! No way she was waiting! She had started by accusations about O'Brien, kept them up steadily, and was not giving him much of a chance to answer them! If he had the microphone briefly, it was too long for her taste!

I could tell you why Edwards was accusing O'Brien. She was completely incorrect in her shouted accusations. He was also accusing her of something she actually did, which was tell reporters her accusations before she told him. But this is really WAY too down in the weeds. I do not want to go there. I also don't want to post a picture of her snatching the microphone.

I do not publicize bad behavior per se, though I do refer to it to make a point about how these meetings go.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, but the state's engineer appointee may not see his job as anti-nuclear, but it sure looks like it to this old-timer engineer. Almost everyone I have known in the engineering profession has the mindset and desire of wanting to build things, not tear them down. I'm not sure there is any way to rationalize away the fact that your job will be to tear down and bury what others have spent a career lifetime building up. I guess as long as there is a finite lifetime to things there will be a need for people to bury them, demolition experts, morticians, etc. But this is a case of premature burial. Other than political enemies, there is nothing really wrong with this plant that cannot be dealt with and managed in a reasonable way that would allow it to operate for decades more.