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  • Vermont Yanks the Rug Out From Under its Nuclear Future

    Nuclear Plant Cooling Towers in Byron, Illinois

    In a highly publicized decision last week, the Vermont Senate voted to potentially close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, the state’s only nuclear plant.  The non-binding vote marked the culmination of a year-long debate in Vermont as to whether the state should renew the operating license of Vermont Yankee, a 37-year old plant that is seeking a 20-year operating extension.  Unfortunately, this decision was more about perception than fact.

    The tide had been turning against Vermont Yankee as news emerged that the plant had been leaking tritium, a weakly radioactive hydrogen isotope produced in the course of operating a nuclear power reactor, from underground pipes.  The plant owner’s public relations effort in response to the leaks was inadequate and disorganized.  Indeed, they had originally stated last year before the leak that the underground pipes did not exist.  Regardless of intent, much of the public felt misled, which created opposition to the relicensing effort.

    When it comes to nuclear energy, fact is one thing and perception is another.  The fact of the tritium leak is that it was minor in scope and did not threaten public health or safety.  Vermont Yankee has been safely operated for over 37 years, and officials from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission informed Vermont lawmakers that there is no reason to close the plant.

    Further, while public health and safety is not imperiled by Vermont Yankee, the economic and environmental future of the state could be jeopardized by needlessly closing down the plant.  Nuclear accounts for a higher percentage of electricity generation in Vermont than in any other state: around 75 percent.  And since Vermont Yankee is the only nuclear plant in the state, it is responsible for every bit of that production.

    Shutting down Vermont Yankee now, when the state has no viable power alternative, will result in substantially higher electricity rates.  One analysis from a year ago estimated a 19 percent to 39 percent increase in the cost of electricity.  Given that Vermont households and businesses already pay 30 percent more than the national average, such rates could be devastating for the state’s economy.

    Then there are the environmental facts.  The truth is that Vermont enjoys emissions-free electricity because of Vermont Yankee.  What’s going to replace it?  Wind?  Solar?  Hardly.  Not only are these sources expensive, they are intermittent and require massive amounts of land to produce a similar amount of energy.  Natural gas and coal could provide Vermont with the electricity, but building a new plant when the existing one is working just fine is a monumental waste of resources.

    And one more thing: the 650 jobs at the Vermont Yankee plant will be lost if the vote stands.

    Then there is perception.  Spills and leaks of radioactive materials should never be taken lightly; they should, however, be viewed reasonably and dispassionately.  Considering the facts of Vermont Yankee’s tritium leak in light of its 37-year safety record and the overwhelming economic and environmental benefits, closing the plant down early is a travesty.  But that is what happens when perception drives policy, which is too often the case when it comes to nuclear energy.

    Jeff Witt is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    16 Responses to Vermont Yanks the Rug Out From Under its Nuclear Future

    1. Mrs. Gail Rubio; Spr says:

      Unfortunately, I understand the IRRATIONAL FEARS OF SOME VERMONTERS;

      "Three Mile Island", "Love Canal", "Chernoble"…to name but a few. I live in a state that had VERY FEW nuclear power plants, there is very little interest or initiative to building any new ones AND WE WON'T EVEN GO AFTER OUR OWN OFF SHORE OIL BECAUSE WE'VE ALLOWED OURSELVES TO BE "BLACKMAILED" BY THE ENVIROS! This State could be pulling itself out of the HORRIBLE SHADE OF RED IT'S IN, GIVE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE REAL JOBS AND PRODUCE ONCE MORE THE OIL, NATURAL GAS AND PETROLEUM PRODUCTS THAT FUEL ALL THE SO MANY OTHER INDUSTRIES IN THIS STATE! Unfortunately, we have a Governor that will not take on these interests, so our State founders and flounders in ever depening debt. Vermont, TAKE HEED, YOU TOO COULD "LOOK" LIKE CALIFORNIA IN THE BUDGETARY PROCESS IF YOU'RE NOT CAREFUL, PRUDENT AND WISE! I THOUGHT THAT WAS THE TRADEMARK OF YOU "YANKEES".

    2. bob henry ohio says:

      bet their damocrats

    3. bob henry ohio says:

      scared people make bad decisions

    4. Kathy Witt says:

      Great article. How will Vermont Yankee turn the tide of negative public perception? Informative articles like yours and an aggressive public ad campaign to get the truth out to the public will certainly be required. When people have the facts they can make informed decisions and best determine what direction to take. The decision to close Vermont Yankee should be reconsidered in light of the expensive alternatives in these difficult economic times.

    5. KELLI - FL says:

      I have to commend Vermont for this decision, since I believe that America can do better by it citizens.. Nuclear power is just too dangerous and costly, let's always remember that the waste is not bio-degradable. . . . .

      I am also concerned about Natural Gas power plants – remember the recent tragedy. . . . Natural Gas is too volitile. . . .

      There are safer ways to power our world !!!

      Our local and national politicians need to STOP listening to the lobbyists for these dangerous power sources and listen to reason. . . .- SAFETY FIRST (at reasonable costs).

    6. Lloyd Scallan - New says:

      Kelli – What type of dream world does your mine live in. What about "candle power'? That's rigth, candles produce hot wax that could give you a blister.

      Tourches – That's right, tourches cause smoke to pollute the air and the heat causes global warming. No natural gas. No nukes. What's left, solar and wind.

      What happens when the sun is hiden by clouds for days at a time. What happens

      when the wind don't blow. DARKNESS. I bet you voted for Obama.

    7. Jackson, Denton, TX says:

      I started working in the nuclear industry at age 18 on an Aircraft Carrier. The ship was commissioned in 1961 and is still serving our country today. I also worked at Rancho Seco in Sacramento for several years – it operated for decades without incident but when the gutless board of supervisors could not make a decision to keep it in service the uniformed public voted 51-49% to shut it down. A few months later they could not understand why their utility bills jumped by 40%. Here is a clue: the district lost 1,000 megawatts of clean, reliable power and had to import power from another utility: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Power generated from oil, gas, and diesel units. By the way, the nuke plant that consumed about 60 acres was replaced by a photo-voltaic (solar) generation facility that consumed much more area and only produced 2 megawatts, and is not dispatchable; Lloyd is spot-on, when wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine it is dark outside and in. Be careful what you wish for.

    8. Uncle Steve says:

      Great job here Jeff. We do alot of work at the Nukes here in Illinois and they are as safe as you can get. They get the bad publicity from the likes of Chernobyl(sp) or Three mile Island incidents and these are even blown out of proportion. I feel Nukes are an important part of our enegy production as a nation going forward. The one thing Obama is doing right is paving the way for more Nukes to be built in the US.

    9. AD, Khaleeforneeah says:

      75% of electricity generation in VT comes from Vermont-Yankee, and they're going to shut it down???

      Sounds like a good time to buy coal and rail stocks.

    10. dave, dayton says:

      Somebody please enlighten this old man with the rational for shutting down 75% of the electric power source for your state. Even my feeble mind says, " gee, that's sotta dumb." Maybe we need to re- think that vote? Let's see, unemplyment at 10%, home owners going default on their mortgages in record numbers. Shutting down this plant will increase our electic costs by (est) 19 to 39 per cent? Duh! Sounds like these guys been hanging around their brother politicians in Washington. Let's see if we can p—- off the voters a little more by passing some more stupid legislation. VOTE THEM OUT!

    11. Duane Phinney Pensac says:

      They stopped building windmills and electric cars 90 years ago. Kind of old technology don't you think?

      Natural gas is dangerous? It's used in many power plants and millions of homes.

    12. Tim Az says:

      Kelli should try personal methane reclamation. Let us know how it works out for you Kelli.

    13. Spiritof76, NH says:

      I think Vermont needs to ban electricity. Can you imagine how many lives you could save by protecting them from electricution?

      It is so amazing that in a land that invented most of the 20th century marvels, Vermont wants to lead by example to crawl back into the caves. California is closer to it though.

      Ben and Jerry will hike the price of ice cream. On the other hand, Vermont should ban ice cream to address the obesity. That takes out the need for electrity. What will they call for instad of chair lifts for skiing?

      Obama will show up with the green jobs czar, Van Jones (the communist) to install the green power plants- wind, solar, cow-dung gas or other fairy tale.

      Something has sverely gone wrong with the gene pool!

    14. Meredith Angwin, WIl says:

      Excellent post with nice strong links to information! I hate to find any fault with it. But Vermont Yankee is more like 1/3 of Vermont power. Vermont has a very low-carbon footprint because we have 1/3 power from Vermont Yankee, 1/3 we buy from hydro in Canada (Hydro Quebec) and we have some hydro here and then buy the rest from the grid. So I think we come up to about 75% non-fossil power, but it is not all Vermont Yankee. Vermont Yankee license is up 2012, Hydro Quebec purchase agreement is over in 2016. We have a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (cap and trade) in the Northeast, which currently funnels money to Vermont. The money flow will probably reverse pretty soon. It could get very interesting.

      I live in Vermont and used to work in nuclear, and on January 1 of this year I decided the pro-Vermont Yankee people needed more support than they were getting. I began blogging at Yes Vermont Yankee this year. I welcome you all to read the blog and comment. http://yesvy.blogspot.com/

    15. Bill Schnitzer, Kihe says:

      IF nuclear is so desirable, why are Vermont's electricity rates 30% higher than the national average?

    16. D.A. White says:

      The nuclear industry is just like drug money, they don't care what they step on as long as the money keeps rolling in.

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