Friday, November 11, 2005

Speaking truth about power

Speaking truth about power

posted November 11, 2005

We are down to the wire on Vermont Yankee. On Nov. 15-16, a meeting of a key federal subcommittee in Brattleboro is expected to be the last public hearing in Vermont before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission makes its decision early next year on Entergy?s proposal to increase power at the aging Vernon reactor. The meeting also marks a unique confluence of state and federal regulatory interests, since the last real remaining state hurdle ? a certificate from the Public Service Board ? could hinge on this subcommittee?s recommendation to the full NRC.

The hearing is important, because Entergy?s application is not just about a 20 percent ?uprate.? The subtext of the uprate application is Entergy?s intention to run VY for 20 years beyond its initial license period, which ends in 2012, and run it hotter than it was designed for. The Louisiana-based corporation has hinted that without the ability to generate and sell additional power, Vermont Yankee would cease to be profitable and thus could close even before its current license expires.

Mindful of the significant share of Vermont?s total power that comes from VY, state officials have reacted to this threat not by devising new and forward-thinking power options, but with capitulation. From the Republican Douglas administration to the Democrat-controlled Legislature, officials have caved on demands for serious environmental and financial protections for the spent fuel that will likely be stored on the banks of the Connecticut River ? storage that gives the company the latitude to generate more power and create more waste.

In response to Entergy?s fear-mongering, the state has backed away from stringent terrorism and radiation shields. What?s more, Entergy gets off the hook for storage costs a mere 30 years after the company leaves town, leaving generations of Vermonters left to pay with their health and their taxes.

Residents who live within the 10-radial-mile VY emergency planning zone are regularly reminded of the risks posed by this reactor. They listen to the shriek of the monthly siren tests, tape potassium iodide pills to the inside of their medicine chests, keep an ear out for tone-alert radio broadcasts, post calendars that instruct them what to do in case of a radiation release, and make schoolchildren practice evacuations. Yet many Vermonters outside the area remain oblivious to the brunt born by south-state residents on behalf of their monthly electric bills, at best paying little attention to the VY question, and at worst parroting Entergy?s company line about clean, low-cost power.

It is worth reminding these folks of a few salient points:

? Nuclear power it not a solution to global warming. When the full cycle ? from uranium mining to the disposal of high- and low-level nuclear waste ? is taken into account, nuclear power produces tons of CO2.

? Tens cents of investment will buy 1 kilowatt of nuclear electricity, 1.2-1.7 kilowatts of wind power, 2.2-6.5 kilowatts of small-scale cogeneration, or up to 10 kilowatts of energy efficiency, according to a recent paper by physicist Amory Lovins.

? Nuclear power fails the free-market test. A new nuclear power plant has not been ordered or built in this country for more than three decades, and the only way the industry can even consider expansion is through billions of dollars in government subsidies and a congressionally mandated pass on insurance liability. The U.S. nuclear industry has received 33 times as much government subsidy as wind power, while at the same time enjoying ?a regulatory system of its own design,? notes Lovins.

Many of the people and some of the elected officials of the tri-state region around Vermont Yankee have, through a handful of under-funded and overworked citizens? organizations, waged an unprecedented fight against the uprate. VY?s uprate application, filed more than two years ago, marks the first time that outside organizations have been granted intervenor status by the NRC, a bureaucracy that has routinely rubber-stamped more than 100 uprates in an average of one year or less. The NRC has exceeded by more than 5,000 hours the time it expected to devote to the VY application, reflecting a level of citizen-driven participation that will not go unnoticed in an industry accustomed to kid-glove regulatory treatment. It signals to people throughout the country that their time and energy can make a difference, that they do have a voice in an energy future that does not have to include a heavily subsidized, risk-laden, nonrenewable energy source.

Nuclear power makes no sense for a state like Vermont, which has emerged as one of the few places on the planet where this message is being sent. This is the home stretch ? a critical time to speak the truth about power to the powers that be.


Post a Comment

<< Home