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The Sun Sets On Vermont Yankee

 

We cannot let this day pass on Green Mountain Daily without mention of the shutdown of Vermont Yankee.

Many will heave a sigh of relief that, after a stressful decade of mysterious leaks and other concerns, the flawed reactor will go out with a whimper rather than a bang.

I am among that number but recognize the hard work and dedication of the VY staff who made it so despite engineering issues and management obfuscations.  Some of those folks are now looking for other employment, but many others will be retained for site security purposes and decommissioning over the coming decades.

That being said, I am far more grateful for the tireless effort of the many dedicated activists who never relented in their quest to shut the place down.  That VY finally closed for economic reasons is sweeter still, as it bears out one of their chief rebuttals of the "public benefit" argument.

In reflecting on VY's closure, Leslie Sullivan Sachs of The Safe and Green Campaign (and coincidentally, my colleague at Fairewinds Energy Education), made the following observations:

 

"Obviously, the legacy is decades of radioactive waste no one wants to take responsibility for - not the owners, not the federal government, not the state,"

"That beautiful strip of former farm land on the river, right in a village, will be a sacrifice zone," she said. "Maybe a swath of it will be declared a nature preserve someday, like they've done at other nuclear waste sites. It helps folks forget the waste left behind."

And she points to the following lens through which we can view the impact of VY's closing on most Vermonters:

 

* 2010 Independent Survey: Two-thirds of Vermonters say Yankee should shut down.  Overall, 71 percent of state residents are "less supportive now of Vermont Yankee, the nuclear reactor, than [they] were six months ago." That includes 57 percent of Republicans, 82 percent of Democrats and two thirds of Independents.

• Given a choice, fewer than one in 10 Vermont residents (9 percent) would ask their power company to use nuclear energy to power their homes, compared to 71 percent who selected "wind, solar and other clean-energy technologies."

• The fact that Entergy has been unable to find the source of the tritium leaks makes more than three out of four Vermont residents (76 percent) "less confident in the company's ability to safely manage a nuclear reactor".

Having generated electricity for considerably less than a single adult's lifetime,  Vermont Yankee will go on menacing the environment with its radioactive by-products for centuries, and the unconcealed location of its nuclear waste stockpiles will remain a temptation to terrorists until some distant future date when space can be created for it in an underground repository.

That's quite an outsized negative payload, even if it can't be measured in carbon units.
I'll leave it to others to do the number crunching, but I would hazard a guess that when all the subsidies for construction, all the liability costs absorbed by taxpayers, plus the billions in future costs for decommissioning and waste management are factored in,  those brief years of useful service  hardly measure up as adequate return on public investment.

It's an appropriate moment to reflect on the impulses that brought us down this particular garden path, and for that we must look to the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War, when "Atoms for Peace" served the twin interests of propaganda and proliferation.

The meme of "mutually assured destruction" justifying an unending arms race emerged.  At almost the same time, the Atomic Energy Commission got busy repackaging the persistent nightmare of Hiroshima into the modern housewife's happy helper.  The military/industrial complex was born.  

Who'd have guessed that less than half-a-century later the primary threats to our security would come not from conventional states, but from a multitude of rogue agencies, completely oblivious to their own destruction and fully prepared to unleash doomsday should the opportunity present itself?

Who'd have guessed that, within the same half-century, all that prosperity fed by cheap energy would become too much of a good thing and we would find ourselves knee-deep in waste and planetary destruction, grimly regarding the possibility of our own extinction?

The answer is: precious few.

As always, the views expressed in this diary are my own alone and do not necessarily agree with those of Fairewinds Energy Education.

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