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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

New Energy Policy is Necessary in Vermont

Author: [no author name found]

As drivers make their way north across the Massachusetts border towards Middlebury by way of I-91, a sign sits cheerfully by the highway. "Welcome to Vermont," it reads. But the area can also be defined by another geographical likeness, one that is not marked by any signs. For roughly 10 miles after crossing the border from Massachusetts, drivers make their way through the nuclear emergency evacuation zone of Vermont Yankee. Indeed, for these several miles, drivers unwittingly put themselves at risk both of exposure to routine radiation emissions and, in the event of an accident, something far worse.
As the new Republication-dominated government moves to pass an energy policy for the country — for the most part, seemingly unaware of new technologies for harnessing renewable sources such as from the wind and sun — the debate over nuclear energy has intensified. Here in Vermont, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, located just outside of Brattleboro in Vernon, is small compared to its counterparts in nuclear-rich New England. But it is plagued with many of the same problems associated with privately operated power plants from across the country.
No less than 80 percent of electricity produced in Vermont comes from Vermont Yankee, and according to Entergy Nuclear, which operates the plant, enough energy is produced to power 500,000 homes. Consequently, the state of Vermont bestows much trust in the plant's operators, and much of the opposition to Vermont Yankee has come from neighboring states, especially Massachusetts, thanks to its proximity to the plant.
And yet, Entergy Nuclear and Vermont Yankee have recently given the people of this state much to worry about. In the weeks and months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the operators of reactors were subject to increased pressure from the federal government to protect the plants against attack. Of the 105 commercial nuclear power plants in the United States, Vermont Yankee tied with one other plant for having the worst security rating. Fifteen months and eight million dollars later, the Associated Press reported, the picture has improved, though critics have continued to keep a particularly careful watch on the plant.
On Oct. 6, Entergy Nuclear suffered another great embarrassment, which has caused even greater doubt about the ability of the company, which purchased Vermont Yankee last summer, to run the reactor safely. On that date, employees reported a safety concern to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Apparently, there was a problem in the cooling system of the reactor core; specifically, a certain valve could not be fully closed. On Oct. 11, Entergy issued another correspondence to the regulator — this time to say that Yankee workers must have made some sort of mistake. Indeed, they wrote, the plant "does not have this aforementioned trip devise."
Public outcry immediately followed. The New England Coalition, whose principal focus is on the so-called nuclear pollution of Vermont Yankee, joined forces with the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists and demanded that the Yankee staff submit to an immediate review. Vermont residents deserve an assurance that those who are operating the power plant are intimately acquainted with the design of the reactor — most especially in what is perhaps the most important, and indeed dangerous, part of the reactor.
The Green Mountain State works hard to promote an image of environmentalism, and Vermont Yankee is a blemish on the state's admirable record on environmental issues. The debate over nuclear energy is ongoing; in the meantime, let us not wait for blunt signs to remind us that we must be asking questions.

Edith Honan '03