The more things change, the more they stay the same

April 12, 2011, 6:00AMANS Nuclear CafeHoward Shaffer

The View from Vermont

Since the last post by Meredith on February 21, our nuclear world has been changed forever by the tragedy in Japan and the events at Fukushima.  Many of us in the ANS devoted untold hours to following events and communicating with the media, including local media here in Vermont.  Still, some in Vermont seemed unaffected by the crisis.

Still the Same

On March 29 Meredith participated in a debate at a central Vermont high school.  I accompanied to assist.  Her opponent was James Moore of VPIRG.  The debate was the end of a high school class project, and students, faculty, parents, and community members attended.  In her opening statements, Meredith spent some time on Fukushima.  In his opening statements, Mr. Moore tried to link Fukushima to Vermont Yankee and last years Tritium leaks.  In the question period, not only were there no questions on Japan, but one adult commented to Meredith afterward that too much time had been spent on Japan:  "It's not here."  I spoke to two women where concerned about the functioning of Vermont Yankee's containment.

On April 4, I spoke at a mid state Rotary club, prepared to talk about issues affecting Vermont and Fukushima.  There were no questions on it.  There was interest in state events.  There was interest in Vermont Yankee.  In addition, there was a question about high-level waste, which the local opponents have been harping on for years.

The opponents have always looked for opportunities to organize an event, and seized on Fukushima.  On Sunday, March 20, several anti organizations held a "vigil" in sympathy for Japan outside the Vermont Yankee gate.  It was publicized as silent, dress in black.  Caven Stone, a Dartmouth graduate student, and I attended.  About 600 from several states came to the vigil.  Many were in costume, some wearing death masks.

We were directed to line up silently on the sidewalk, extending from the gate.  After an hour, the vigil was ended and the crowd crossed the road to the Elementary School parking lot, to gather around for a few speeches and statements.  All the speeches and statements were about Vermont Yankee and the Fukushima plants.  There was not one word about the devastating loss of life due to the earthquake and tsunami.

The flurry of local media interest has died down.  The opponents are keeping up their drumbeat of letters and op-eds.


On March 10, the NRC Commissioners voted to extend Vermont Yankee's license for 20 years, after a five year review.  The next day the tsunami hit Japan and the plants at Fukushima.  Of course, the plant opponents immediately said the license extension should be delayed.  (Did we expect anything less?)  The license letter was received after a few days delay due to NRC staff involvement with the Fukushima.

The Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel held its first meeting under the new administration, chaired by the new Department of Public Service Commissioner, appointed by the new Governor, Peter Shumlin.  They met February 22 in Vernon, across the road from the plant.  It was a highly disciplined meeting, unlike some past circuses.  The two Legislative members of the panel that had disrupted past meetings had been reappointed.  They did not disrupt the meeting of Shumlin's new appointee the way they had disrupted meetings chaired by the previous governor's appointee.

Entergy announced a tentative contract for 20 MW with the Vermont Electric cooperative.

There is now discussion in the media about how VY may be able to operate on its renewed license without State approval, through court action, or otherwise.

Now the Governor is in favor of a natural gas pipeline into the state!

Stay tuned for more policy based on political expediency!


Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 34 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS commitees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in Nuclear Public Outreach. He is coordinator for the Vermot Pilot Project.

Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

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