Well, today is the day. About a hundred people will be laid off from Vermont Yankee, leaving a small staff of about 140 until such time as the fuel is moved into dry casks. (See the Mike Faber article in Vermont Digger for a history of the layoffs.) This will take place several years from now, around 2020, I believe. I think the fuel moving will be done by contractors, some of whom may be former Vermont Yankee employees. For now, however, the plant will be close to its shut-down goal of Cold and Dark.
A Fine Little Plant
My Facebook feed includes many Vermont Yankee employees. Oddly, I see more happiness than sorrow in the posts on FB. I realize that FB can be misleading, but still. I see pride in the excellent little plant. I see gratitude for the good work and the good companions. I see Cinco de Bye-O parties. I see humor. A bit of gallows humor, but still humor. The comment: "Tomorrow is the last day my husband will be getting up at 5:30 to go to the plant" is followed by: "Hey, maybe I'll go in late. What are they gonna do? Get rid of me?"
As I said, I know Facebook can be misleading. Still, I think the mood is basically far more upbeat than depressed. There is so much pride in the plant, and in work well done, and so much love for the co-workers. It's amazing to me. The mood is so different from the mood two years ago, when the "lists were up." The "lists" defined who would have one more year at Vermont Yankee, and who would have two years. I called the post about that day: Paint It Black. The day the "lists were up" was not covered in any local paper. They weren't interested in the pain of the Vermont Yankee workers.
In contrast, no doubt, there will be stories and op-eds galore about today. I'm not looking forward to some of the op-eds that will be published, though I think I could write some of them myself. I suspect Governor Shumlin (he who recently tried to destroy emails that may show some serious issues) will make a statement. Once again, Shumlin will look forward to the bright renewable future that is just around the corner for Vermont. As he has looked forward to it, so many times in the past.
(Enough about our current governor. With any luck, Vermont will get a special prosecutor about those emails. What goes around may yet come around. )
You Done Good
|Governor Salmon making a statement in favor of VY|
PSB hearing, November 2012
Many don't have such jobs. Some are being moved into retirement, whether they like it or not. Still, overall the mood is good.
Why is the mood good? It's because Vermont Yankee was a great plant, with great people. People who worked there had reason to be proud of their work! That makes a difference, even when the work ends.
As Governor Salmon wrote in December 2014: Governor Salmon praises 42 year of Vermont Yankee. As George Clain, Past President of IBEW at Vermont Yankee wrote: Vermont Yankee Union President: You Done Good. December 2014 is when Vermont Yankee went offline forever.
And I say:
Vermont Yankee, you done good for Vermont. Thank you.
You finished strong.
May everyone in the Vermont Yankee family go from strength to strength in their lives.
You finished strong and you will be strong.
I hope your futures will be filled with happiness.
I don't know about these people, but it has been my experience that losing one's livelihood through no fault of your own is not a source of joy or humor. Rather, it is a source of apprehension, fear for the future and the welfare of loved ones, and outright despair if you have few or no options (which is generally the case for older workers). How do you mitigate the financial disaster of selling a home for less that what you owe on it? What do you tell children in school who have built relationships and valued friends over the years, especially in high school, when those things assume a larger role in a child's worldview? How do you deal with family that you may leave behind, especially if they need your assistance and care? Can you really replace the value of members of the community who support it, who provide volunteer services, who work with youth groups, sports teams, and other service agencies? Can you ease the pain of a child's shattered dreams when they learn their parents can no longer afford to send them to college because they have lost their jobs? Finally, what becomes of an older worker who is too old to get another job offer, but too young or unable to retire because of financial and/or family circumstances? Where do they turn for happiness and hope for the future?
These are the real human costs of the decisions to prematurely shut down places like VY. And it will happen again, at Pilgrim, and yet again, at Fitzpatrick. The same tragedies of ruined lives and lost hope will be played out in those places, and it will be ignored, or shrugged off as "just suck it up and get over it". And that no number of parties or jokes or happy talk will ever make right.
There is a huge amount of pain with the VY closing. I hope I did not make light of it in any way. Still, compared to the situation on the day the Lists Were Up, I feel that many people have re-arranged their futures in ways that work.
Others will be forced into unwanted retirement. I didn't mean to underestimate the sadness.
I am putting my time, and money, too! into writing a book on how to be a nuclear advocate. I expect the book to be out this summer. Campaigning for Clean Air: Strategies for Pro-Nuclear Advocacy I deeply believe we need to KEEP our nuclear plants, and we need to FIGHT for them. I am self-publishing (putting my money where my mouth is) this summer.
Starting in 1972, for about 3 years, as a Public Health scientist and air pollution control specialist I was responsible for upgrading and reviewing the Radiological Environmental Monitoring Program data from VY (and other Yankee plants) and generating periodic summary reports to the NRC. In 1975, I was responsible for getting approval for a multi-million $ centrally located state-of-the-art, greatly enhanced environmental lab (vs. any then current commercial contractors) which was established as the Yankee Atomic Electric Co. Environmental Lab in Westboro, MA. VY management were willing to share in the substantial expense of setting up this advanced facility. This lab analyzed radiological environmental samples from VY, as well as Maine Yankee, Yankee-Rowe, and Seabrook (and misc. other plant samples) and performed personnel dosimetry services for these nuclear plants for over 25 years.
To its credit when I proposed upgrading the meteorological monitoring program at all Yankee plants in 1974, including VY, VY willingly, despite the cost, supported installation of a 300' met tower (vs. 120') with more advanced met instrumentation, and a computerized data acquisition system to digitize wind speed, wind direction, and temperature at 3 elevations so it could be reviewed from a central facility on a routine basis, and make met parameters available remotely in the event of an emergency to assist in emergency planning. VY recognized the value of having good met and environmental radiological data and willingly shared in the costs this required. The sponsor companies and staff at VY deserve substantial credit.
A comment follows on the variability of environmental radioactivity of nuclear fission isotopes as a cautionary note on jumping to conclusions about environmental radioactivity based on limited sampling, something which VT politicians with an agenda often used against VY to negatively influence public opinion and advance their short-sighted agenda.
In 1990 I took a sample of wood ash from burning hardwoods in my fireplace at a vacation home I had in Warren, VT (130 miles distant from VY in Vernon, VT) and had it analyzed for radioactivity level by sensitive gamma spectroscopy at the Yankee lab. Wood ash is the end product of burning roughly 100 to 300 pounds of wood to yield 1 pound of ash, so ash concentrates what minerals are in the wood to yield a sample that can serve as a very sensitive indicator of natural environmental radioactivity and potential contamination from man-made isotopes . This sample from Warren, VT as would be expected contained very high levels of the natural isotope K-40 (half life= 1.2 billion years), multiple isotopes of the U-238 (half life 4.5 billion years) decay chain, and multiple isotopes of the Th-232 (half life= 14 billion years) decay series--primordial isotopes present in the environment which are residual from the Big Bang. In addition, this sample contained very high, and quite surprising, levels of the nuclear fission product Cs-137 residual from atmospheric nuclear bomb testing by the US and USSR which ended in 1963. This initial sample of wood ash from Warren, VT contained 15,000 pCi/kg ash of Cs-137 --the highest level of Cs-137 the Yankee Lab had ever seen in any background environmental sample analysis. I asked VY staff (and other nuclear facilities across the US) to submit a wood ash sample gamma spec analysis after the initial measurement in Warren was so surprisingly high. The wood ash sample from trees grown near VY was analyzed showing a Cs-137 level of about 1,500 pCi/kg ash --10% of the level of fallout Cs-137 seen 130 miles distant!!!! This demonstrated how variable man-made nuclear isotope fallout can be in the environment having NOTHING to do with a nuclear plant which releases essentially zero levels of Cs-137 and Sr-90 in airborne releases.
Many years later after 2011, anti-nuclear politicians like Gov. Shumlin in VT set out with their agenda to make VY look bad because slight differences in Sr-90 (present throughout the environment residual from open air bomb testing) were seen in a few fish near the plant and upriver from VY. A few isolated environmental measurements mean very little. As was seen with the wood ash measurements mentioned above, the Cs-137 level in wood ash near VY in 1990 was 1/10th the level measured 130 miles away in Warren. This difference was not likely due to major differences in fallout from past bomb testing in Central vs. Southern VT but due to soil chemistry factors between the two locations. Can you imagine what some environmental activist charlatans might do and demand if Cs-137 levels in trees was 10 times higher near VY vs. 130 miles away, rather than the other way around as is actually the case?
To confirm Stewart's comment, I worked with a graduate student who sampled wood ash from trees in New England using high resolution gamma spectroscopy. He found very significant amounts of 137Cs uptake which were all a result of atmospheric weapons testing. One of the results showed preferential uptake depending on tree species. IIRC the ash tree samples seemed to be consistently higher than the other trees in the immediate vicinity. There were also seasonal variations as transport through the biosphere from rainwater percolation and flora dormancy during winter affected uptake rates.
Ironic in some ways because those who advocate wood burning for home heating may be generating sources of 137Cs in their homes that have nothing to do with nuclear plant effluents, which as we all know are small to non-existent.
Yes, Meredith, the C137 and Sr90 are from bomb testing fallout. In fact, the big Los Alamos 2000 fire caused a huge pulse of Sr90 to come onsite, then go offsite triggering alarms and concern, even though it did not come from the lab.
Thank you, Meredith, for shining light on the darkness coming at Vermont. I do not feel you made light of the day. I was a victim of a hospital layoff that left me stranded without "my" high paying job. Thankfully at first you are stunned, in denial and ptsd depending on your disposition. At the final day there is a relief, a lightness, never having to go down that road to the plant again, or the hospital. Later, I came to realize the ones suffered more who stayed, chained to that place I loved. I learned I can survive great adversity. Later I heard the Chief nurse, not from here, said laying off all of us nurses was as easy as leading lambs to slaughter (she owned a sheep farm) It is a relief, as you finally take the next step, and joy is deserved. A well managed misunderstood power source we will miss. I am blogging forward your article. In Addison County, Vermont, we are feeling the reverberations as the PSB has allowed monopoly ownership of GMP et al. Now Solar, windmills popping up everywhere. A gaz pipeline and railroad fracked gas from the North, a gigundo extension cord in our 6th great lake from Quebec hydropower to points south. All of this going straight past our rural home. This is to replace Yankee. The Governor has done his damage. I am sad for you all, and myself. I was unable to make a dent in this process. In 10 years Vermont will find itself uglier, obsolete solar collectors, vibrating windmills littering the countryside like the first home satellite dishes. A friend turned theirs into a goldfish pond. Meg
I feel bad for those former workers who must remain in VT. Not only have they lost a good income, but now they face the uncertain and pricier future of green energy in a state will little sun and inconsistent winds. Or, they can rely on nuclear power from Canada. That's likely fine with their NIMBY approach. Or, they can go back to wood stoves and higher exposure levels!!!!
I'd love to get a copy of that book and agree with the assertions both in the article as well as those of various commenters. The nuclear power industry has been pummeled over time and not just in Vermont or merely New England either. Those who speak the loudest against Nuclear Power tend to be the least informed on the details of the subject and most in tune with the general mistrust of the industry due to lack of transparency as well as lack of education on the technology of this resource. I'm an advocate for the use of this resource, and also for the need to educate the general public about it. Sadly, there have been any circumstances that have led us in this direction, including 9-11, on-site accidents/losses that weren't Nuclear in nature (and one or two that were), and unfortunately a few "non-conservative" owner operator decisions as well. The net result is that we have an industry and resource that remains largely mysterious to John Q. Public and thus easily villianized.
Trouble is, there is no "nuclear industry" as such. There are generating companies that own and operate nuclear plants, but also do a lot of other things and some of those are fossil-fueled. They aren't going to speak out against fossil fuels, or seem to favor one of these energy sources over another. Same with vendors. GE makes all sorts of power generating equipment, some of which uses fossil fuels. They aren't going to organize any publicity effort against fossil fuels or in favor of nuclear at the expense of their fossil fuels business. So nuclear becomes the red-haired stepchild that nobody really wants to have in the sense of strongly advocating or protecting from bullying. Look at how the fossil fuel industry responds to negative events. They pour on the cash because they are a more or less unified industry. Today if you ask people about Deepwater Horizon most would hem and haw and say they never heard of it, even though it killed 11 people and spilled almost 5 million barrels of crude into the environment. And almost certainly the average person never heard of Ixtoc 1 (3 million barrels spilled). Or the San Juan Ixhuatepec LNG disaster, which incinerated over 500 people and left another 7000 with terrible burns and other injuries. Yet everyone remembers Three Mile Island, which harmed no one and occurred over 37 freaking years ago. The nuclear "industry", aside from grassroots efforts like this, has only two voices, ANS and NEI. But ANS cries poor and NEI says publicity isn't their job, lobbying is (NEI has maybe a few dozen people actively lobbying on behalf of the industry, compared to the pharmaceutical industry, which has in the range of 3,000 lobbyists working on their behalf).
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