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Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, USA

Great success on the part of citizen activism has closed Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant… but now how will the decommissioning of the plant's nuclear waste unfold?


The Vermont Yankee (VY) nuclear power plant has been met with local resistance since its opening in 1972 by Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation, which increased significantly towards the end of its tenure. In 2012, VY’s 40-year license was set to expire. Just prior to this in August 2007, one of the towers that cooled non-radioactive water prior to releasing it into the Connecticut River collapsed due to rotting lumber and corroded bolts, spewing thousands of gallons of water from a pipe nearly 6 feet into the air. The event caused a public outcry about the reliability of the power station, and governor Jim Douglas appointed a panel to oversee independent review of the plant. Concurrently, activists engaged in direct action with legislators in order to pass Act 160, which would permit the legislature to determine whether Vermont Yankee should or should not be relicensed. Vermonters, in turn became galvanized behind a grassroots campaign to produce this shift in the legislature.  January 2009 and 2010, activists walked 126 miles from Brattleboro to Montpellier Vermont in an effort to support Vermont legislators in their vote to reject Vermont Yankee’s future operations. Also in 2009, Vermont’s oversight panel discovered radioactive contamination in underground pipes, a discovery that directly contradicted the statements of VY’s vice president about the same pipes, enhancing distrust amongst community members and the state government. In January 2010, tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen was discovered in the ground water at a concentration of 20,000 picocuries of tritium per liter, which is the Environmental Protection Agency’s stated limit for drinking water. In February 2010, a monitoring well on the plant’s reactor site was dug, finding 775,000 picocuries per liter or 37 times the federal limit, leaking from an off-steam pipe.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Vermont
Location of conflict:Vernon
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Nuclear waste storage
Nuclear power plants
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

On a cold winter day in Chicago during the middle of World War 2, scientists cracked open the nucleus of the uranium atom and turned nuclear mass into energy, producing the first nuclear reactor, which projected the world into the nuclear age. To redistribute the military program’s costs, the U.S. government’s Atomic Energy Act of 1954 developed civilian uses for radiation (cancer treatment) and nuclear fission and provided government-backed limits to liability from nuclear experimentation and accidents. May 26, 1958 marked the opening of the first commercial production of nuclear energy, and modern reactors can generate enough electricity from 1 kilogram of uranium fuel to power the average American household for nearly 34 years. Today there are 100 nuclear power reactors producing 100,350 megawatts or 19.50% of the total energy entering the U.S. grid. Yet, despite its promise for carbon-free energy production, nuclear power is on the decline (at 18% of the total U.S. energy grid in 1996 to 11% today) due to high construction and maintenance costs, the low cost of natural gas, swift expansion of renewable energy and public opposition to nuclear power. Health risks have shown higher rates of leukemia in communities living near to nuclear reactors (see MDPH study 1978-1986 at the Pilgrim nuclear power station in Plymouth, Massachusetts; Mangano 2006; Superfund site in Concord, MA). Yet, perhaps the greatest challenge for a nuclear reactor is the containment of decaying radioactive waste, some of which have a half-life of 24,000 years. The dangers associated with nuclear power production and waste ignited large-scale protests in the 1970s. At a proposed Seabrook Station nuclear plant site in a group of approximately 2,000 protesters from the Clamshell Alliance gathered nearly on the site of what was to become Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. This action, resulting in one of the largest mass arrests in the history of the United States produced a national backlash to the development of nuclear power throughout the United States, reducing the government’s plans for a utopian energy revolution.

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Project area:48
Level of Investment:1,240,000,000.00
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:35,000 - 1,500,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1971
Company names or state enterprises:Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation (VYNPC) from United States of America
Entergy Nuclear from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Nuclear Regulatory Commission
VT State Nuclear Advisory Panel
Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution
Citizens Awareness Network
Safe and Green Campaign
Vermont Yakee Decommissioning Alliance
Beyond Nuclear
SAGE Alliance, VPIRG, VNRC, Sierra Club of Vermont, Toxics Action Center, VT Workers’ Center, Occupy Central Vermont and ISO
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Air pollution, Fires, Genetic contamination, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsRadiation
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Withdrawal of company/investment
Development of alternatives:Organizations involved in the efforts to close Vermont Yankee are concurrently working towards lobbing for sustainable and renewable sources of energy.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Yes! Persistent efforts on behalf of the many citizens and activist groups in Vermont have contributed greatly to Entergy’s decision to close its operations. Moreover, the community continues to be engaged in the process of decommissioning, which is underway now.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

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References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

What are the challenges of nuclear power? - M. V. Ramana and Sajan Saini
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Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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In ‘Power Struggle,’ filmmaker explores efforts to shut down Vt. Yankee
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Six Western Massachusetts activists convicted of trespassing for protest at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant
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Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant Begins Slow Process of Closing
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93-year-old woman among 130 arrested in Vermont Yankee protest
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Two radioactive waste seminars being held Saturday
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County activists hit the road to close Vermont Yankee
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Vermont Yankee–the other side speaks
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A Judge Rules Vermont Can’t Shut Nuclear Plant
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The Boston Globe

Vt. Yankee reports on collapse in tower

Tries to reassure state regulators
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Can Nuclear Energy Compete In Today's Energy Markets?
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Vermont Yankee: Expert says faster reuse unrealistic amid national waste dilemma
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Legacy of Seabrook nuclear protest debated
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Meta information
Contributor:Julie L. Snorek, [email protected]
Last update22/05/2017
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