The Rally for Vermont Yankee: At the Plant Gates During the Refueling Outage

October 26, 2011, 6:00AMANS Nuclear CafeMeredith Angwin

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is undergoing a refueling outage. For most plants, the situation would be business as usual.  The state of Vermont, however, believes it has the power to shut down Vermont Yankee in March 2012, even though the plant has a 20-year license extension from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In order to continue operations at Vermont Yankee, Entergy (the plant's owner and operator) has sued the state.

In these uncertain circumstances, it was unclear whether or not Vermont Yankee would buy and load fuel in October. A decision to load fuel would mean that Entergy might lose tens of millions of dollars if the plant is actually shut down in March. Entergy's other choice was closing the plant in October, which would mean job losses, rising electricity prices, and increased air pollution in Vermont.

The company made a choice to keep the plant running, even amidst uncertainty. Entergy is loading fuel right now at Vermont Yankee, which is a true vote of confidence in nuclear power!

Motivation for the Rally

We decided to show our support for Entergy's decision and for all the workers at the refueling. Howard Shaffer and I planned a pro-nuclear rally that would take place right at the gates of the plant during shift change. We wanted the workers to see that people support them! Here's a quote from the press release about the rally:

"The people working the outage will appreciate our support," said co-organizer Howard Shaffer, coordinator of the Vermont Pilot Project of the American Nuclear Society. "We are grateful to Entergy for giving us permission to be at the Governor Hunt House for the rally."

(The Governor Hunt House is right outside the gates of the plant. The last lieutenant governor of the independent Republic of Vermont built the house in 1789. Vermont Yankee owns the house, and uses it for some meetings and press conferences.)

Planning and Hoping

Howard and I planned thoroughly, as usual. We sent a press release. We sent e-mails to lists of people, inviting them to come. I put the rally on my blog and on the Save Vermont Yankee Facebook page. Howard sent a practical e-mail with directions to the plant and recommendations for dressing for the weather. He stressed the importance of wearing sturdy-soled shoes for standing on damp grass. We did everything we could to make the rally a success.

We had held a rally before, early in the morning of the first day of the Entergy/Vermont trial. At that rally, we had 25 people, a good showing, and reporters noted that both opponents and supporters of the plant were present. (I blogged about this rally at ANS Nuclear Cafe). We hoped to have an equally successful rally this time.

Going Viral

Instead, this rally  "went viral." About 25 people had said they would come. Instead, there were about 60 people! People told their friends. People brought their kids. One man of 92 years came to support the plant.  (He is sitting on the bench in the photo.) One couple came down from Vermont's Champlain Islands. A man who owns the local tavern came with his son. Among all these people, I met some who I had previously met only on Facebook, and I met their kids, too! Two documentary filmmakers interviewed Howard, and one interviewed me. The people at the plant were very happy, honking, and waving at us. "Nuke Roadie" (look up his Facebook page) was there and posted pictures of the rally on his page. The plant posted great pictures of the rally on the Vermont Yankee Facebook page.  (I include some of those pictures here, by permission.)

The people holding signs at the rally were happy and inspired. The people working at the plant were happy and inspired by our presence. The whole thing was a great deal of fun! Even the weather was perfect.

An article that appeared in the Brattleboro Reformer newspaper was very positive about the event.  Since the supporters came and went during the rally, however, the article stated there were thirty people. Actually, there were about twice that many.

Lessons Learned

What are some of the lessons learned from this rally? Well, the rally was yesterday, and we haven't quite digested all the lessons yet, but here are some:

  • Organizations grow. Success at one rally helps build success at the next one. People tell their friends.
  • Afternoon rallies are better than rallies that start at 7:30 a.m., at least in terms of getting people to show up. (Yeah, this is obvious...)
  • Some rallies let people stand up for nuclear in a potentially confrontational situation (our first rally). On the other hand, sometimes it's great just to be among friends!

This pro-nuclear rally was a great evening amongst friends!

We are grateful to everyone who attended. We are grateful to the workers who honked and waved at us and gave us thumbs-up signals. We are grateful to Entergy for allowing us onto their property, and providing the Governor Hunt House with snacks and coffee.

As one woman said as she was leaving the Governor Hunt House, "This was a real nice clambake, and we all had a real good time!"

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents.

Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

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