Will Fukushima Pull a Vermont Nuclear Plant Off the Rails?

Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:20am EDT

by Timothy Hurst

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has long been a bone of contention for many Vermonters. And when the plant, which supplies one-third of Vermont's electricity, began showing its age in 2010 by leaking small amounts of radioactive tritium, the Vermont legislature grappled with the plant, voting against a twenty-year license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The NRC has never turned down a plant relicensing, however, granting 61 straight extensions to the nation's aging fleet. And on March 10, coincidentally, only hours before the earthquake and tsunami rocked northeastern Japan and set off the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the NRC voted 4-0 to approve Vermont Yankee for another twenty years, putting the streak at 62 straight extensions.

But the reactor problems in Japan actually forced the NRC to delay issuing the license for ten ten days because, according to officials, the staff was "otherwise occupied and can't complete the paperwork."

Vermont Yankee opponents then seized the opportunity to pile on.

"The irony of this can't be overestimated," executive director of the anti-nuclear Citizens Awareness Network, Deborah Katz told the Daily Hampshire Gazette, noting that the delay was caused by NRC helping Japanese nuclear officials with the problems at Fukushima Daiichi. That plant, which uses the same General Electric boiling water reactors with Mark-1 containment vessels and above-ground spent waste storage pools as those at Vermont Yankee, contains more spent fuel than all four of the pools at Fukushima combined, Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, told energyNOW! in a piece about the implications of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi for nuclear power in the U.S. (below).

The fate of Vermont Yankee for the next twenty years is not sealed quite yet. The State of Vermont is still not on board with the hot-off-the-press NRC extension. And because the Vermont legislature must also approve the license extension, the only U.S. state where that is the case, the state decision and the NRC decision will stand in opposition to each other - and that has never happened in a relicensing before.

Reprinted with permission from Ecopolitology

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Comments (3)
jburt56 wrote:
Are these plants insurable?

Mar 31, 2011 2:04pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Tritium release is a non event, it almost instantly disperses into the atmosphere and is not even detectable against the amount normally present in our atmosphere. How about we look at the carcinogens released by the natural gas plants Vermont would be switching over to instead if they shut down Vermont Yankee? As a matter of normal functioning, natural gas and coal plants release toxic poisonous gases directly into the atmosphere! It’s quite shocking!

And don’t tell me we can switch to wind or solar, because we can’t, because they are not baseload power sources. The wind is not dependable enough to deliver power 24/7, so shutting down Vermont Yankee means increasing our reliance on natural gas and coal power, two sources proven to contribute to global warming and massive health problems. Indeed, coal power plants release a plume of uranium directly into our atmosphere, but they do so every day, so it’s not news.

I wonder, do Vermont legislators hate the environment, or do they simply like giving people cancer? It must be one or the other. They ought to be ashamed.

Mar 31, 2011 5:00pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Insurable? Absolutely, they are. They are required to be insured up the maximum that private industry will pay, and ontop of that they pay into a collective fund to pay for any accident. With the most modern reactors, even an accident on the scale of Fukushima Daichi is basically impossible, but none the less just the private insurance that plants carry could easily cover the costs of a Fukushima type problem.

Mar 31, 2011 9:39pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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