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Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, USA


Description:

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.

   The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) must make the decision as to whether or not a reactor is safe to operate. Yet, the state of Vermont has the right to reject its operation based on economic, environmental, and public choice issues. The Vermont state legislature voted down the renewal of VY’s 40-year contract. Despite the state’s decision, the NRC extended license for 20 more years, a ruling made one day following the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March 2011. In August 2011, six women ranging from 60 to 90 years old chained themselves to the entrance of VT Yankee in protest of the extension of the plant’s contract, prior to being arrested and fined by the judge for their acts.  Activism continued on the part of Vermont community members, but in January 19, 2012, Entergy won a court case invalidating the state’s legal authority over plant operations.  Judge Garvan Murtha of the United States District Court in Brattleboro ruled that the state could not force VY to close its operations based on the safety concerns that were exclusively the jurisdiction of the NRC. This effectively struck down the Act 160.

  Vermont appealed the decision to the 2nd Circuit Appellate Court, where it was determined that the State did indeed hold the power to reject VY’s request through the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB). When Entergy bought the Vermont plant in 2002, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the state agreeing that it would need a ‘certificate of public good’ (CPB) from the PSB as well as the federal license in order to operate after the license expired in March 21, 2012. In March 2012, over a thousand protesters descended upon the Vermont Yankee corporate headquarters in Brattleboro, Vermont, where more than 130 were arrested, including a 93-year-old woman. In November 2012, numerous organizations held a march in Montpelier, VT insisting that the state refuse to grant VY the certificate of public good, the last attempt at using the state-designed legislation to protect the common good. The state’s PSB was given a deadline of June 11th 2013 to issue the CPB. However, on August 8, 2013 Entergy announced that it would cease operation due to economic factors including the competitive price of natural gas. While the company refused to admit that political forces were an impetus for its decision, many commentators stated otherwise. According to safeenergy.org, “Entergy could have tried to keep VY running, but it would have faced continual and expensive challenges in the courts, the legislature and the streets. Add those pains to the reality that the reactor couldn’t generate electricity competitively in the present marketplace, and Entergy’s decision was easy.” On December 29, 2014 VY ceased operations.

 What remains to be decided is the how the plant will go about decommissioning, a process that was schedule to take place over the course of a decade and cost approximately $1.2 billion. On November 8, 2016, Entergy announced an agreement to sell Vermont Yankee and transfer the NRC licenses to subsidiaries of NorthStar Group Services, Inc. stated as a method to accelerate the processes of decommissioning and site restoration including the transfer of all spent nuclear fuel to dry cask storage at the VY site from 2020 to 2018. Since the waste is going nowhere quickly, the executive director of NukeBusters stated that it would be important to harden the casks to protect the community and deter acts of malice. Waste Control Specialists would be one contractor for the proposed accelerated decommissioning project. This company owns a nuclear waste dump and manages another state-owned dump in what has been called the ‘nuclear corridor,’ along the Texas New Mexico border. Another site proposed by the US government is Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, a site that has potential for seismic activity, but due to low levels of population weaker political will to stop the transport of nuclear waste from the East to Western United States. Action has already begun to expedite the removal process including the U.S. Department of Energy have surveyed rail lines in Vermont for suitability of nuclear waste transport.   The Vermont-run Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel is concurrently discussing the process of storing VT Yankees spent nuclear fuel, which the Vermont Digger (May 12, 2017) reported will be stored in sealed casks by the end of 2018, a $143 million project. Yet, a debate has begun; locals in the community are split about whether fuel should remain in the current facility onsite or be transported to a yet-to-be-determined storage facility. “It looks attractive to a lot of people who just want to get the waste out of their community. The problem is, it’s going to go someplace,” said Chris Williams of the Massachusetts-based Citizens Awareness Network. Deb Katz, stated that, “a scientifically sound and environmentally just solution is needed; reactor and targeted waste communities need to work together to advocate for a just transition for this toxic waste” (personal communication 19 May 2017). The Trump Administration’s congressional budget request from March 2017 includes ‘$120 million to restart licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and initiate a robust interim storage program." (Brattleboro Reformer, May 5, 2017). Two radioactive waste seminars were held for the public in Brattleboro, VT on Sat. May 13th, 2017.

 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, USA
Country:translation missing: en.countries.united_states_of_america
State or province:Vermont
(municipality or city/town)Vernon
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Nuclear power plants
Nuclear waste storage
Specific commodities:Electricity
Uranium

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.

Tucked into the Connecticut River valley, the town of Vernon, Vermont is a boiling water nuclear reactor built by General Electric in 1972. Originally owned by Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation (VYNPC), which coined the power plant’s name ‘Vermont Yankee’, operations were taken over by Entergy in 2002 when they purchased the plant for $180 million. In 2008, the power plant produced 620 Megawatts at full power, which equates to 71.8% of all electric power production in Vermont and 35% of its energy consumption. The plant concurrently employed 600 people including within its corporate offices, located in nearby Brattleboro, VT. Since making the decision to decommission the plant, Entergy will spend approximately $1.2 billion over the course of a decade. This timeline and budget may be altered if their plans to sell the decommissioned plant move forward.

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 http://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/document/2018/62/Date

Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (http://publicservice.vermont.gov/electric/ndcap)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution http://necnp.org/

Citizens Awareness Network http://www.nukebusters.org/

Safe and Green Campaign http://www.safeandgreencampaign.org/action-center

Vermont Yakee Decommissioning Alliance

Beyond Nuclear http://www.beyondnuclear.org/

SAGE Alliance, VPIRG, VNRC, Sierra Club of Vermont, Toxics Action Center, VT Workers’ Center, Occupy Central Vermont and ISO

Conflict and 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
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Women
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

Impacts of the project

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

Outcome

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 and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

AN ACT RELATING TO A CERTIFICATE OF PUBLIC GOOD FOR EXTENDING THE OPERATING LICENSE OF A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT.
http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/legdoc.cfm?URL=/docs/2006/acts/ACT160.htm

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

What are the challenges of nuclear power? - M. V. Ramana and Sajan Saini
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7WPEYGr1Vs

A SHORT LATENCY BETWEEN RADIATION EXPOSURE FROM NUCLEAR PLANTS AND CANCER IN YOUNG CHILDREN
https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0475/40929e600791d18ce60a8d0337c7f8628cd3.pdf

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

93-year-old woman among 130 arrested in Vermont Yankee protest
http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/93-year-old_woman_among_130_ar.html

ACTIVISTS RAIL AGAINST VERMONT YANKEE WASTE PLANS
https://vtdigger.org/2017/05/12/activists-rail-vermont-yankee-waste-plans/

In ‘Power Struggle,’ filmmaker explores efforts to shut down Vt. Yankee
http://www.recorder.com/Wendell-filmmaker-chronicles-Vt-Yankee-s-closing-years-5293996

Six Western Massachusetts activists convicted of trespassing for protest at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant
http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/11/six_western_massachusetts_acti.html

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant Begins Slow Process of Closing
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/05/us/vermont-yankee-nuclear-plant-begins-slow-process-of-closing.html?_r=0

Two radioactive waste seminars being held Saturday
http://www.recorder.com/MUST-USE-CAN-plans-nuclear-waste-wevents-9627929

The Boston Globe

Vt. Yankee reports on collapse in tower

Tries to reassure state regulators
http://archive.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/09/14/vt_yankee_reports_on_collapse_in_tower/?camp=pm

County activists hit the road to close Vermont Yankee
http://www.reformer.com/stories/county-activists-hit-the-road-to-close-vermont-yankee,190493

Vermont Yankee–the other side speaks
https://safeenergy.org/2015/01/08/vermont-yankee-the-other-side-speaks/

A Judge Rules Vermont Can’t Shut Nuclear Plant
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/20/science/earth/vermont-cant-shut-down-nuclear-plant-judge-rules.html

Can Nuclear Energy Compete In Today's Energy Markets?
https://www.forbes.com/sites/kensilverstein/2015/01/05/can-nuclear-energy-compete-in-todays-energy-markets/2/#6dd9b9783676

Legacy of Seabrook nuclear protest debated
http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/04/28/forty-years-later-nuclear-power-opponents-mull-results-their-fight/fsBR6Hokv8Pfs8yTvvJuIL/story.html?event=event25

Vermont Yankee: Expert says faster reuse unrealistic amid national waste dilemma
http://www.reformer.com/stories/vermont-yankee-expert-says-faster-reuse-unrealistic-amid-national-waste-dilemma,506578

Other documents

VY 2007 Cooling Tower Collapse A 2007 cooling tower collapse at Vermont Yankee didn’t exactly reassure Vermonters that the plant was well-built or well-operated.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/vermontcoolingtower_2007.jpg

Entergy's stock photo of VY VY sitting on the Connecticut River
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Entergy_Nuclear_VY.jpg

Protest on state capital Vermont residents and activists join a Greenpeace rally outside the Statehouse, following a vote by Vermont Senate to retire the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2012. Vermont is unique in that it is the only state in which the legislature has the ability to vote to shut a plant and this historic vote will mark the first time a nuclear plant has been closed by a state legislature.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Shut-Down-Vermont-Yankee.jpg

Spent nuclear fuel stored onsight Nearly 20 percent of the spent power reactor fuel currently generated will be "stranded" at closed reactors in the next few years.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/spent_nuclear_fuel_graph.jpg

March on VT Yankee HQ Mar 22, 2012 130 arrested including a 93 year old woman during march on Vermont Yankee's headquarters
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Mar_22_2012_VT_Yankee_Plant_March_130_people.jpg

Meta information

Contributor:Julie L. Snorek, [email protected]
Last update22/05/2017

Images

 

Spent nuclear fuel stored onsight

Nearly 20 percent of the spent power reactor fuel currently generated will be "stranded" at closed reactors in the next few years.

Retire Vermont Yankee

Protestors in winter in front of Montpelier, VT statehouse

VY 2007 Cooling Tower Collapse

A 2007 cooling tower collapse at Vermont Yankee didn’t exactly reassure Vermonters that the plant was well-built or well-operated.

Entergy's stock photo of VY

VY sitting on the Connecticut River

March on VT Yankee HQ Mar 22, 2012

130 arrested including a 93 year old woman during march on Vermont Yankee's headquarters

Protest on state capital

Vermont residents and activists join a Greenpeace rally outside the Statehouse, following a vote by Vermont Senate to retire the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2012. Vermont is unique in that it is the only state in which the legislature has the ability to vote to shut a plant and this historic vote will mark the first time a nuclear plant has been closed by a state legislature.