You are being served at Vermont Yankee plant

By Howard Shaffer

On Sunday, October 30, Meredith Angwin and I arrived in Washington, DC, to attend the American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting. At the meeting, we presented the biannual Green Bag Lunch talk, titled “Political Activism in Vermont.”

Meanwhile, the SAGE Alliance was holding a demonstration at the entrance road to the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Meredith and I looked forward to reports from the demonstration, particularly because of changes that the organizers had made in preparing for this event.

(photo courtesy Brattleboro Reformer)

Background

The SAGE Alliance is a new organization. A study of its website, however, shows it to be a grouping of “the usual suspects.” We have found, over the years, that there is a certain hard core of people in the New England area who are passionately opposed to nuclear power. They support every anti-nuclear activity in the region, and have formed several different groups. Forming yet another new group gives the impression that the number of nuclear opponents is expanding, while in reality the number of opponents seems to remain about the same.

We first heard of plans for this demonstration while attending a talk by Indian anti-nuclear activist Vaishali Patil at the Vermont Law School. Participants for training in non-violent demonstration techniques were recruited at the Patil meeting, and announcements were made that the SAGE Alliance event would feature “Puppet Theater” and a presentation of a “Trojan Cow” to the Vermont Yankee plant. The event was announced on the Clamshell Alliance website on October 10 (see Meredith’s post at Yes Vermont Yankee).

Two small demonstrations were soon held at the plant, which we learned of only afterward because there were no press releases and no press reports. Arrests were made, and court appearances were reported in the media. Vermont’s new state’s attorney has decided to prosecute these cases, unlike the previous office holder who did not want to waste the court’s time while providing a forum for the protesters (arrests at the plant years ago were prosecuted, but continuously trying cases of trespass without damage was found to be unproductive).

On September 20, however, there was an arson attack on Vermont Yankee’s offsite offices, and it is possible that this arson attack influenced the state’s attorney’s decision to press charges.

The October 30 event

On October 25, in an article in the Rutland Herald newspaper (unfortunately behind a paywall), Bob Bady of the Safe and Green Campaign was quoted as saying that information from pro-nuclear groups that the SAGE Alliance’s demonstration was being organized by the Clamshell Alliance was not true. Shortly thereafter, the SAGE Alliance’s website announced the demonstration, and non-violence was stressed. There were no words about civil disobedience, so it appears that the planning underwent some changes as events unfolded.

The event, when it took place, was reported by the local Brattleboro Reformer newspaper, which has consistently covered plant news. It was reported that the event drew 150 protesters from Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. Similarly, an outing called the “Vigil for All Victims” was held earlier this year outside the Vermont Yankee plant for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and it had an attendance of 250 or more people from the same region. The “Vigil” was anti-nuclear (to no one’s surprise). The Reformer article also noted that a pro-nuclear rally held a week earlier at the plant had an attendance of only 30. This was true at the beginning of the rally, but the number grew to 60 people when local residents joined in.

The purpose

The announced purpose of the SAGE Alliance’s October 30 anti-nuclear event was to “Put the Plant on Notice” that it will be forced to shut down at the end of its original 40-year license. At the event, protestors held signs showing the number of days remaining until March 21 next year, when the current license expires. Since the event, one or two people have shown up every day at the plant with a sign showing the number of days until the license ends.

What are the demonstrators trying to accomplish? To make a moral statement? To intimidate the plant’s owners and staff? To persuade the state government? To persuade the federal court?

As always, they are trying to get media attention. Also, as always, they need to keep their faithful energized. But for what?

The Clamshell Alliance, which has recently reemerged, was formed in the 1970s to oppose the Seabrook nuclear power plants. The group occupied the site during early construction and many protestors were arrested. By the end of construction, and while waiting for an operating license (which took four years—another story), the group staged “fence climbs” that resulted in arrests. The media would show up, the fence would be climbed by a few designated individuals, they would be arrested as agreed upon with the police, the media would have their footage, and all would go home unharmed. Eventually, the Clamshell Alliance wound up with a contempt of court citation, and went underground. The group offered training at Vermont Law School in non-violent civil disobedience and direct action tactics . So, when would these tactics be used? Is this the reason that the SAGE Alliance has been formed, and the reason that Bady said it was “not true” that the Clamshell Alliance was organizing the October 30 demonstration?

One stated SAGE Alliance objective is to force the Vermont Yankee plant to stop operating when the original 40-year license is up. Could the group be planning to block the road to the plant with hundreds of sitting protesters? Hundreds were arrested at the Seabrook plant 30 years ago, and this jammed up the legal system. On the other hand, the SAGE Alliance seems to be distancing itself from the Clamshell Alliance, and perhaps from the Clamshell tactics.

Stay tuned.

____________

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. He is coordinator for the Vermont Pilot Project. Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

8 Responses to You are being served at Vermont Yankee plant

  1. Dear Howard,

    I thought now would be as good time as any to chime in here, given I had the distinct honor of being profiled by you once way back when I was with the Clamshell Alliance and the Seabrook protests.

    I see you are still at it with your customary gusto. Good for you.

    With regard to folks showing up at Vermont Yankee with signs indicating days remaining to March 21, 2011, you ask “What are the demonstrators trying to accomplish? To make a moral statement?”
    Well, its much more simple than that, marking time, you know, like a count down.

    But I have to say that I was a little surprised by your mis-profiling here and there of the Clamshell Alliance, having been there and done that. So just for the sake of accuracy, that is as I recall it, I wanted to comment on a several of your points.

    First of all, the formation of SAGE is not exactly made up of a re-emerged “Clamshell Alliance.” Its really more like a number of the old clams still residing in New England are joining in with this broadening new coalition effort to permanently close this Fukushima-style reactor at Vermont Yankee on time.

    As for Seabrook, and the court orders threatening contempt charges against the Clamshell that you mention, those orders were actually issued very early on in the campaign, in fact, immediately following the very first demonstration/site occupation of August 1, 1976 to intimidate, and I might add unsuccessfully, those same 18 New Hampshire residents arrested then from participating in the August 22, 1976 follow on demonstration/site occupation. I remember coming home in Penacook, NH to find one tacked on my door. I did not eventually participate in the August 22, 1976 construction site occupation as I was just getting out of Grasmere County Jail for sitting in on the Executive Floor of Public Service Company of New Hampshire in Manchester on Nagasaki Day on August 9, 1976.

    However, several folks refused to be intimidated by the court order and went in with the August 22 occupation group (180 citizens).

    The point here being, nobody went “underground” as you write. In fact, these individuals willingly, nonviolently faced the court orders and were charged with not only criminal trespass but the contempt of court charge as well and spent three months in Rockingham County Jail.

    Given that the contempt of court threat did not work very well, Rockingham County judges stopped using them in 1976. More than 400o individuals were subsequently arrested at Seabrook from 1976 to 1990. On one day in June 1989, 900 individuals went over the fence or blocked entry gates , not “several designated individuals” as you write here.

    The Clamshell activities were open and above board. We actually prided our peaceful actions in openness and respect for everyone included those whose goals we opposed. As you well know, you and I disagree but have maintained a respectful relationship over the years.

    I do remember at one point in 1989 that Seabrook Police Chief Alan Cronheim attempted to press RICO charges against me and several other clam organizers, but the Federal District Prosecutor in Concord, NH openly refused to press charges saying that given that the trademark of the Clamshell Alliance was nonviolence, racketeering charges did not apply. I recall that the prosecutor’s comment and endorsement made for a great fundraising letter.

    Finally, you are mistaken that the “Clamshell Alliance” offered nonviolence training to SAGE Alliance. In fact, it is the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), you know, the Quaker service arm that is providing the trainer for trainers as they did in the original nonviolence training sessions for the Clamshell Alliance back in the 1970s. Aren’t those Quakers consistent.

    No Nukes,
    Paul Gunter
    Beyond Nuclear

  2. James Greenidge

    I’m still in the dark as to EXACTLY what the anti-nukers’ beef is outside trying to avenge Hiroshima. Do they think people who are for nuclear plants care less about their families and society than they do?

    James Greenidge

  3. James,

    Is that request for somebody to turn on the lights?
    It’s dirty, dangerous and expensive.

    Avenging Hiroshima is an interesting twist. How about the global proliferation of nuclear weapons through the transfer of atomic power infrastructure to be precise. Aren’t you convinced that Iran is merely pursuing “The Peaceful Atom” too? Wasn’t North Korea once upon a time a member of the NPT?

    Or try seventy years and still no scientifically accepted long term nuclear waste management plan for the first cupful generated under Stagg Field.

    Or maybe, after the lion’s share of R&D, it still can’t make the market test. Did you miss that Constellation Energy actually got a $7.8 billion federal loan guarantee for Calvert Cliffs 3 and was scared off by risking their own money in the financing charge and dropped the hot potato (EPR) in Dec 2010?

    246 days into the widening radioactive contamination from Fukushima…

  4. Mr. Gunter.

    You provide an interesting personal history of your youthful “glory days” of climbing fences and getting arrested. You offer no explanation, however, about why Bob Bady of Safe and Green said that pro-nuclear groups were providing information that the Clamshell Alliance was organizing the protest, and this information was not true. In other words, Bady denied that Clamshell was organizing the rally on the 30th.

    I sent out the press release for the pro-nuclear rally on October 23, and I said “an opponent group” was organizing a protest on the 30th. I did not name the group, though I had gathered my information on their rally from the Clamshell website. I found it because my “Google Alert” on Vermont Yankee led me to the Clamshell website announcement.

    As I said, I had my information on the rally on the 30th from the Clamshell website, and I had no problem with the idea that Clamshell was planning it. But Bob Bady had a problem with Clamshell getting the credit. Can you explain this? Why didn’t the group just go with Clamshell as lead, instead of starting a whole new Alliance?

    Is the Clamshell name…tainted?

    Meredith Angwin

  5. Meredith,
    I received a call from Susan Smallheir of the Rutland Herald last month. She mentioned that she had heard that the Clam Shell group was organizing the Demo at VY on October 30th. I responded that I had also seen you mention that on your Website. I explained to her that the collection of groups organizing the demo included Safe and Green, the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, and the Citizens Awareness Network, and that along with other individuals we were operating as an alliance with the name of SAGE. The Clam Shell Alliance has a website but they currently do little direct organizing.They have not been involved in VY work for the past many years. Clam Shell has a proud history , and I think is a positive model for nonviolent activism.
    Bob Bady

  6. Bob

    Thank you for the explanation. On my blog, I did link to the announcement on the Clamshell website, because that is where Google Alerts picked up the story. Apparently, Clamshell does little nowadays except run the website. I didn’t know that.

    Meredith Angwin

  7. Howard Shaffer

    Paul.,
    Thanks for taking the time to clear up the history of the Clamshell Alliance. I was around at the end of the Seabrook project, 1984-92, but not aware of every detail. The website is a good start.
    You are right about people still thinking of themselves as “Clams.” Rep. Klein of East Montpelier said there are many there. They must vote for him. He said he grew up in the shadow of Indian Point, which I interpret to mean his parents rasied him as a anti nuke. He sure acts like it. The woman taking names at Vermont Law School said she was a Clamshell member and did not mention the AFSC.
    As for weapons proliferation, it is the fuel cycle technology that can be modified to produce weapons material. Power- only reactors can’t produce weapons material, just mixed Plutonium. If they could governments would do it that way. The proof is the Chernobyl type design. It was made to generate electricity continuously AND breed Pu-239 at the same time. This required a graphite moderator and on-line refueling. Thus the design is a dead giveaway to what they were doing. The knowledge that nuclear weapons are possible means that a rogue nation can always reinvent the wheel, even if all nuclear technology is outlawed. In conrast, look at South Korea. Many nukes, no weapons or weapons program, prosperous the point of selling cars here, and getting contracts to build plants in the mideast.

    Several scientific solutions for waste handling exist. No political solution. Our political process allows opponents to jam up progress so far. They say the only want safety, but the tactic is to ask for an unrealistically high standard.

    Do you think that we need to keep fossil plants running, to make enough power, even with maximum efficiency and conservation, while wind and solar power sources are built? I’ve never heard a transition plan in detail. Does shutdown all nukes now mean that, or does “now’ mean as replacements become available?

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