Vermont Yankee: Now What Are Opponents Doing?

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontThe shutdown of Vermont Yankee at the end of its current fuel cycle next fall has been announced. Now that opponents have been handed what they were working for, it might be expected that they would declare victory and go on to something else. This isn’t happening. It would be normal for the state and local governments to be concerned about the economic impact of the shutdown, and begin to plan for it. But what are the “anti-nukes” doing? You might be surprised, if you didn’t understand their real motive.

Generating political cover

Governor Shumlin of Vermont

Governor Shumlin

Right after the announcement of the shutdown scheduled for next fall, Vermont’s governor (Peter Shumlin), who had been criticizing plant owner Entergy for years and saying that the plant should be shut down, reached out to Entergy. In 2011 Shumlin said “no one ever told me about SAFSTOR,” and that it had not been mentioned in any hearings. We didn’t hear that this year, since SAFSTOR clearly was discussed previously by the governor (for more on SAFSTOR and Vermont Yankee see this post at Yes Vermont Yankee). If the governor wanted to argue that only what is said or not said in the legislature is what counts, he would be agreeing with the federal court that found “legislative intent” in overturning state laws regarding Vermont Yankee. The governor and Vermont’s Department of Public Service have held a series of closed door meetings with Entergy to discuss decommissioning. There is talk of asking the state’s Public Service Board, which has still to issue a Certificate of Public Good to the plant for another year of continued operation, to include decommissioning provisions in the certificate.

What can the state and Entergy talk about? They can’t change the facts of physics. The last fuel to operate in the reactor must stay in water cooling for five years until it is ready for air cooling. This governs what can happen. There is no equipment for transferring used fuel out of the plant before five years. Then there is the issue of returning the site to a “greenfield” condition. Some in the public are saying this ought to mean that every last scrap of foundations and base mats must be dug up and removed, that the site must be returned to the way it was before the plant was built, no matter what the future use might be. There has been some public mention of future uses, but nothing from the state.

These talks are really about political cover. Now that opponents and the governor are going to get what they wanted, they are suddenly waking up to the fact that there will be a big economic loss to the plant’s region, and to the state. In addition, they now find that the plant and the used fuel cannot disappear instantly, as if by using a magic wand. This desire is emotionally based, as is much of what drives many of the opponents. The political cover is to play to that emotion. The governor faces an election in the fall, just when the plant will be shutting down. If the anti-nukes are mad at him for not making the plant go away rapidly, they might turn against him by staying away from the polls. The anti-nuclear vote is 14 percent of his support, and without them he would not have been elected the first time.

Continuing the fear campaign

At the same time, anti-nukes are not giving up spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) about nuclear power. Their target now is decommissioning. They apparently want to do what they did in the other decommissionings in New England—to stick their noses in the process to try to make it as costly and painful as possible for the owners. This will help in their objective of giving all of nuclear power a black eye, to further discredit it with the public.

dr resnikoff c 150x130Opponents are continuing in the tactics that they have been using. There are press releases, letter writings, and public presentations. Dr. Resnikoff of the New England Coalition is a presenter at some of these events. At the coalition’s annual meeting (report here) he revealed his tactic, which is to show how much radioactivity there is in the plant. He never says why or how it is dangerous. The unspoken assumption is that it is can easily harm YOU.

The opponent groups also are discussing and proposing various decommissioning options. Perhaps these discussions will open their eyes to the fact that the options are limited to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regulations. One of their cards is the “greenfield” issue. The written agreement with the state when the plant was built included the promise to grade and reseed the plant site, if necessary. There has not yet been any mention of possible uses of the parts of the site, such as roads, parking lots, fences, office buildings, and security system that would be valuable for many uses. In addition, a rail line is within a few hundred yards, and there is a major grid switchyard adjacent. Originally built with and for the plant, the switchyard is now independently owned.

What lies ahead

It will be interesting to see what the next year will bring. Lurking in the background is the Certificate of Public Good, yet to be issued. If the plant is denied the certificate it would have to shut down immediately—or go to court.  Also, Vermont’s attorney general received an extension to January of a deadline to file an appeal of the recent appellate court decision to the US Supreme Court.  If the Supreme Court were to overturn the circuit court’s decision invalidating the Vermont legislature’s blocking of the Certificate of Public Good, then the certificate would be blocked and the plant would have to shut down immediately. Then there is the issue of sharing “excess revenue” per the sales agreement. If the price of natural gas remains high enough, long enough (and it is spiking now), Vermont Yankee would owe the state money.

vermont yankee c 405x201




Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years.  He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of the Vermont Grassroots Project. 

Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

15 thoughts on “Vermont Yankee: Now What Are Opponents Doing?

  1. Brian Mays

    Reading about Vermont Yankee makes me wonder if good old Yankee common sense still thrives in that part of the country.

    It still exists, but it has been heavily diluted by all of the hippie foolishness that has moved into that part of the country in recent decades.

    Having successfully destroyed California’s heavy industry, these folks have sought out new targets.

  2. Tom Clegg

    Robert Hargraves never mind the next cold snap. Wait for the summer when the temperatures sore and people want their AC. The trouble here will be two fold. One not enough power there for blackouts or brownouts. Two without VY And no wind blowing where will they make up the power? The answer will be OIL burning power plants. Now in order to make up for VY an oil burning power plant has to burn about 20,000 barrels of oil a day(42 gallons is a barrel) At about $3.50 a gallon Vermont’s electric costumers are going to be in for an expensive lesson on why VY should not have shut down. The governor should save the tax money he extorted from Entergy to help pay for the high bills in the summer.

  3. Mitch

    Ralph Larson | December 22, 2013 at 19:11 Reading about Vermont Yankee makes me wonder if good old Yankee common sense still thrives in that part of the country.

    Common Sense vs Blind Fear. Which usually rules?

  4. Ralph Larson

    From the Burlington Free Press Wednesday March 21, 2001, “In the next 15 years, the state’s two biggest long-term sources of power, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, and hydroelectric power from Hydro-Quebec, will cease to supply the state with power.
    Vermont Yankee is licensed to operate until 2012, and Hydro-Quebec is under contract to sell power to Vermont until 2015. The two energy sources account for about two-thirds of the 1,000 megawatts of electricity Vermont needs.”

    I doubt whether the situation described in the article has changed much since it was written. I don’t live in Vermont. Reading about Vermont Yankee makes me wonder if good old Yankee common sense still thrives in that part of the country.

  5. Howard Shaffer

    Of course its negative. I’m reporting on the antis efforts. In typical political campaign fashion, they said only negative things about nuclear power. They compared it to perfection. VP Bidden said of campaign tactics “Compare me to the alternative, not the almighty (perfection).”

    I greatly admire the work of the opponents. They achieved their objective. We have studied their work. We have learned a lot and are trying to get management to realize this political fight needs to be supported at the grassroots.

    Our attack now is to change the BEIR 7 and the LNT theory. The words that “any amount of radiation is dangerous” were known to be wrong at the time they were written, and 60 years of data now prove there is positive benefit- a vaccination effect- at certain low levels. Of course too much of anything can be deadly, including water and radiation.

    Nuclear power has 1000 years of fuel, releases no greenhouse gasses from the plants, kills no eagles, and provides power at night.

  6. Robert Hargraves

    Vermont Yankee could give Vermont a taste of what its people are in for. During the next cold snap, bid to offer its energy services at 25 cents/kWh — what Vermont pays for wind. Natural gas power went up to 50 cents to 100 cents/kWh in the last cold snap. Worst case, Vermont Yankee has to reduce power, which costs wear and tear on the equipment because of thermal stresses. But the plant is to be shut down down anyhow, so who cares about future maintenance costs?

  7. James Greenidge

    The state of Vermont and the environment were the losers here, and for no other reason than mass fear and anti-nuke ideology fanned by a sympathetic media driving a company into making otherwise irrational decisions to keep VY afloat. On a score card and level playing field, nuclear energy — even with its solvable very few drawbacks (which even now still have proven nil environmental/heath effects far less than rivals) — would win out over fossil and other “renewable” every time. Only the stain of “the bomb” has keep the public from seeing its virtues clearly, much to its energy and environmental poverty. Again, to constantly invite anti-nuke honchos to debate their “facts” and assertions on forums such as Rod Adam’s Atomic Show always turns up no shows. Instead we get hit-and-run YouTube FUD-fest anti-nuke videos. What are these learned anti-nuke Emperors afraid of? I ask all nuclear blogs to knock those FUD-monger ringleaders’ doors to challenge them to a toe-to-toe debate before the world and their followers, even if we should live so long. Just their reluctance should tell their fans something.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  8. Tom Clements

    Got anything positive to say, Mr. Shaffer? Your blog sounds as if you’re trapped by losers syndrome – blame it all on someone else and assume no responsibility, commonly known as a FUD (Fearful Unproductive Diatribe). The fate of the plant was in the hands of Entergy but you seem to think all the power was in the hands of the opponents and doubters – I’m sure many will appreciate your indirect tip o’ the hat to their efforts.

  9. Howard Shaffer

    Stock is paranoid!! What was meant was walk away from the negotiations. The plant would be shut down in the usual way.

  10. Howard Shaffer


    The election is in November, of course. The fuel cycle is supposed to end in November. Some off line time could easily push the end of the cycle into December. If they have a CPG only through 2014 they would not be able to go into 2015.

    There is no chance that I see that the State would change its mind. that I see. I have learned to never say never in politics!! Hang. It will be interesting.

  11. Twominds

    Stocky either doesn’t read or only sees what he or she wants to see, and gives a rubbish reaction. Typically.

  12. Rod Adams


    If gas prices rise and the state starts enjoying the revenue, do you see any possibility that the state might ask Entergy to reconsider? Will the election that you mentioned happen before the plant is actually shut down? Is there any remote possibility that a change in government would result in a change in the economics that Entergy evaluated as requiring a shutdown?

  13. stock

    Joffy suggests that nukers should just run away from the plant and let it meltdown, typically attitude. Nuclear terrorists.

  14. Joffan

    In negotiations for the CPG, Entergy’s hand strengthens the longer it takes. Unreasonable conditions can be responded to by simply walking away and closing the plant. There’s absolutely no need to agreed to additional costly impositions on the decommissioning process.

    I have no idea whether Vermont is going to go ahead with appealing the judicial decision to block the legislative attempt to veto a CPG for Yankee, but I don’t see what benefit it would bring to Vermont, given that the plant is closing anyway.

    I fully expect the usual level of nonsensical statements on this topic to continue from the governor.

  15. Mitch

    Governor Shumlin and Vermont’s Department of Public Service! Those other New England plants better watch out for these anti-nuclear dogs with blood in their jaws out for more! What I don’t get is why nuclear operators let Dr. Resnikoff and other anti-nukes run free spreading FUD. Don’t they know what PR is??

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