Category Archives: View from Vermont

Speaking out of turn at the NRC meeting

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermontA few days ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting to discuss its yearly assessment of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The assessment results were excellent (all green).

Last year’s meeting and this year’s meeting

The plant also had excellent results last year, but the NRC meeting last year was a situation that moved close to mob rule. I wrote about it in The Politics of Intimidation at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

I didn’t know what to expect this year, and I said as much in a radio interview at WAMC. Well, let’s put it this way: I kind of expected that the meeting would be even more out of hand.

However, this year turned out to be quite different. On my own blog, I described the meeting as “mellow,” which I never would have expected. Comparatively few opponents came this year, despite organized attempts to run carpools to the meeting.

The meeting turned out to be fairly mellow. But… not completely.

An opponent tactic that did not work

At last year’s NRC meeting, a group of older women called the Shut It Down Affinity group showed up wearing costumes and masks (black clothes and white death masks) and walked single file around the room. They then took up a position behind the NRC table and refused to move. Eventually, a crowd swarmed up to support them.

This year, they tried it again—but it didn’t work. Once again, they had costumes (tied-dyed shirts) and masks (of former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko). Once again, they started by walking single file, and then stood behind the NRC and spoke and chanted while the NRC personnel tried to begin the meeting. Once again, the NRC people left the room and then came back, with the plant opponents still standing at the front. But things were a little different this time—because the plant opponents did not overwhelmingly outnumber plant supporters.

jazckoWalking c ac 340x301

I speak out and speak out of turn

The women were quoting Jaczko that “all reactors should be shut down,” and the NRC was asking them to sit down, back and forth and back and forth. Then one man in the audience shouted, “It’s about democracy!” He of course meant that the women should stay in front of the room because of “democracy.”

JaczkoStanding c c 400x288 png

But I had had enough. There was a microphone on a stand in the room, and I just went up to it and interrupted the whole thing. I said something like:

“No, it’s about diversity! It’s about whether people with different opinions and different views and different backgrounds will be allowed to talk at this meeting! Apparently not!” Then I left the microphone.

This was very bold for me. I was shaking when I sat down, and I mean physically shaking, not “feeling shaken.” I still can’t believe I did this! But… you could have heard a pin drop in the room when I finished. And shortly thereafter, the Jaczko impersonators sat down and the meeting proceeded.

This time, the stand-behind-the-NRC-and-keep-talking tactic did not work.

Why didn’t the opponent tactic work?

I would like to take credit, but it was basically because the plant SUPPORTERS were showing up and the plant OPPONENTS were NOT showing up—so the supporters weren’t completely outnumbered. I would have been terrified to do something like this at last year’s meeting, in which we were completely outnumbered by opponents. But when it is more even, plant supporters can assert themselves, even when there are opponents who are trying to wreck the meeting.

I will take credit, though, for two things:

  • I didn’t attack anyone, but I made the clear statement that diversity means having various people testify, not just listening to one set of people repeat themselves.
  • I realized that the meeting was out of hand, which meant that taking action was okay. Yes, I went up to the microphone completely out of turn. In a meeting that was well run, such a tactic would have been horrible and divisive and rude and… well, you get it. But in this case, with a continuous and repetitive argument between those who ran the meeting and those who were trying to destroy it, I knew it was okay.

At least, I hope so. I also hope I never do anything like that again. The emotional strain afterwards was overwhelming. When I did it, I was mad and had energy. Afterwards, I was a mess.

I wish you all good meetings, run by Robert’s Rules of Order. I wish you peace.

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Angwin

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters.  She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division.   She is an inventor on several patents. 

Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project.  She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Alternative energy in Vermont – Chickens coming home to roost

By Howard Shaffer

“Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.” – Chaucer, 1343–1400
“The chickens are coming home to roost.” – my grandmother

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In Vermont and New England, opposition is now rising against the “alternative energies” of wind and biomass (wood) as electric power sources. The technical arguments are specific to the technologies and locations, but the underlying premises are those that we have already heard raised against nuclear power for a long time—namely, “Its Not Perfect” and “Not in My Backyard.”

Wind power in Vermont

Lowell Mountain wind project

Lowell Mountain wind project

Vermont has four operating wind power facilities in the state (199 MW) and two more under construction. Several more wind power projects are proposed. In terms of environmental effects, there are complaints of noise, pressure wave effects, construction problems, bird kills, and more. However, the most prominent concern seems to be the visual impact.

For those who have come to know and love their mountain vistas, the sight of multiple 400+ foot tall wind turbines can be upsetting. Vermont is known for its rural character and bucolic settings that are well loved by residents, and this pristine setting is a large part of Vermont’s tourist and vacation home draw. One of the complaints against wind power is that destroying the views will lower property values and decrease tourist business.

Siting Study Commission

The virulent opposition to the wind turbines projects resulted in Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin, appointing a “Siting Study Commission” to examine how electric power facilities are sited. The commission is due to report on April 25. Currently, the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) is responsible for examining applications for all kinds of utility facilities, including electric, gas, and communications. One of the complaints that led to the establishment of the commission was that the Vermont PSB is quasi-judicial and that lawyers are required to officially participate, making the expense of participation too high for “ordinary citizens.”

Vermont Senate Bill 30

A bill (S30) was introduced in the Vermont Senate for a three-year moratorium on wind turbine development. The debate was fierce. The major environmental groups lobbied hard, and the bill has now been stripped down to requiring a study of wind power development.

During the Senate debate, a Vermont renewable developer told the Senate president that he would withhold support and fund an opponent in the next election, if the senator voted for the bill. (This was actually done in writing and widely reported! Meredith Angwin’s Yes Vermont Yankee blog carries three great posts on this amazing event, which demonstrates the political power of the Environmental Lobby in Vermont.)  See:

Comments or Threats: Wind in Vermont
Blowing in the Wind: Threats and Reactions
Environmental Review of Vermont Wind: A Gutted Bill Moves from Senate to House

The S30 bill now goes to the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, chaired by Tony Klein from the town of East Montpelier, Vt. Klein “grew up in the shadow of Indian Point” (a nuclear power plant in New York) and is a virulent opponent of nuclear power in general, and Vermont Yankee in particular. He is also an enthusiast for alternative energy.

Representative Tony Klein 156x150

Klein

Klein complains that the S30 bill appears to assume that wind is bad, and that he would prefer that the bill assume that wind is good. He also says that since the bill is about a study, there will be no “open door” and that he doesn’t want to hear from the neighbors of wind projects at committee hearings. (Not “our neighbors” or “my neighbors”, who are after all state residents, but “the neighbors.” One of the senators from the “Northeast Kingdom” area of the state where wind projects are located remarked that his area is bearing the burden of someone else’s policy.)

Senior Senator Bill Doyle’s unofficial but longstanding annual Town Meeting Day poll of current “hot button” issues shows 52 percent opposed to a three-year moratorium on wind development and 35 percent in favor, with 13 percent unsure. The poll also shows 46 percent in favor of continuing efforts to shut down Vermont Yankee and 41 percent against, also with 13 percent unsure. These Vermont Yankee percentages have held steady for years. Doyle poll shows support for wind power, Shumlin’s likability slipping.

A recent Letter to the Editor opposing wind turbines was titled The Making of a NIMBY.

Biomass in Vermont

A wood-burning electric power plant has been proposed for Springfield, Vt. There is opposition from neighbors who object to noise, pollution, resource depletion, and truck traffic. They don’t want it in their backyards. See Sustainability of Springfield Biomass Plant In Question for more details.

Lack of agreement in New England

“I don’t think we know how to do it” was the assessment of Vermont’s Public Service Department commissioner, in reference to attempts by six New England states to implement their governors’ commitment to bulk purchase wind and solar power. The idea would be to lower prices and provide stability, but the states have yet to agree on what should be included as “alternatives.”

One state says biomass is not “cutting edge.” Another state does not consider large hydro power (think Hydro Quebec) acceptable, while others do. For its part, Vermont didn’t count large hydro as renewable until, with the end of Vermont Yankee contracts approaching, it needed to. Then the legislature changed the definition. New Hampshire now uses the terms “renewable” and “sustainable” and is not currently participating in discussions. See New England Renewable Energy A Hard Sell In Region for more details. 

Which chickens?

So, which “chickens” are coming home to trouble those who let them loose?

  • Demanding that energy sources be perfect is one.
  • Teaching citizens to say “Not In My Backyard” is another.

These chickens were let loose against nuclear power years ago. It may be that ardent “anti-nukes” who also are alternative energy enthusiasts may not have considered that someday the chickens could come home—to land on them.

__________________________

Shaffer

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

__________________________

Framing the Discourse

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermontI have been thinking lately about “framing the discourse” on nuclear energy. Framing is the way that people use words and concepts to present their points of view in an understandable and appealing way to other people. I think that pro-nuclear people are often bad at this. We figure that “the truth will set you free,” and then we don’t spend very much time on how to frame the truth.

picture frame 173x150George Lakoff wrote the most-quoted essay on this subject: Framing 101: How to Take Back Public Discourse.

Lakoff’s first example of framing is the phrase: “Tax Relief.” This phrase implies that taxes are a burden from which anyone would seek “relief,” and that someone who relieves you of the burden is a hero. You wouldn’t want to stop a hero who is bringing “relief”—that would make you seem a “villain.”

Later in the essay, Lakoff contrasts this with the idea of taxes as an “investment” in America’s future and especially its infrastructure. Nobody needs “relief” from continuing the wise “investments” our parents made in highways, schools, the Internet…

Nuclear framing

What does framing have to do with nuclear power?

Let me give you an example. I just finished reading a book about the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant: Public Meltdown by Richard Watts.

In writing this book, Watts had amazing access to Vermont Yankee opponents, who were pleased to share their strategies with him. One strategy was designing the phrase: “Retire Vermont Yankee on Schedule.”These words were very effective framing: almost a work of genius.

killing us all c 250x174

Member of Shut It Down Affinity Group at NRC meeting in Brattleboro, May 2012

The hard-core opponents don’t use this phrase among themselves. For example, there is a “shut-it-down affinity group.” The women in that group chain themselves to the Vermont Yankee fence and get arrested. They do this on a regular basis: They have been arrested about 20 times. They get lots of newspaper coverage, and they receive admiration from other opponents. But do they attract more people to their cause? I don’t think so. Most people are kind of “middle-of-the-road.” Most people don’t identify with “shut it down” rhetoric or frequent arrests.

“Retire on Schedule…” That is a different matter. That is effective framing. The statement says that you are only trying to live up to a scheduled agreement, something anyone would want to do. The word “retire” also implies that a plant is aging and should be closed. To agree with “Retire Vermont Yankee on Schedule” is to affirm that you are a law-abiding, middle-of-the-road citizen who thinks that agreements should be honored.

Of course, there was never such an agreement. Vermont Yankee’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission license was renewed: it was not retired. At the state level, Entergy’s purchase agreement in 2002 included a provision for revenue sharing after 2012 (when the first NRC license ended and was renewed). In other words, there wasn’t ever a “scheduled retirement” for 2012. There was a possible retirement (if they didn’t get a license renewal or state certificate), but the “on schedule” part is the kind of close-enough statement (like  “tax relief” or “tax investment”) to be effective framing.

Our turn

We can admire the opponents for their anti-nuclear framing, but how can we do similar framing from a pro-nuclear point of view? Let’s take the “Retire Vermont Yankee” framing. What would our framing phrase be?

  • Keep Vermont Green without greenhouse gases.
  • Make the power in Vermont!
  • Honor Vermont Yankee’s revenue agreement with Vermont.
  • Don’t cheat Vermont out of its VY revenue sharing.

Or maybe something completely different.

Let’s crowd-source this one. Suggestions please!

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________________________

Angwin

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters.  She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division.   She is an inventor on several patents. 

Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project.  She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Understanding the anti-nuclear movement: Pieces of the puzzle

By Howard Shaffer

Many people are puzzled by the anti-nuclear movement in Vermont and the world. Those who consider all the evidence often don’t understand the opposition. Many issues and accusations are raised against nuclear power by anti-nuclear activists. Trying to understand the root sources of these issues can help in understanding the passion involved.

Do other recent issues in Vermont, seemingly unrelated, provide some insight about the motivations and underlying passion of those opposed to nuclear power? I will recount some recent issues, followed by what they may tell us about the anti-nuclear movement in Vermont—and the world.

To fluoridate or not

For many years, the town of Bradford, Vt., has added fluoride to its drinking water. This is a common dental health measure to prevent cavities.

Last year the town needed a new water system pump house. The new house included piping connections for a fluoride addition system, but it was not restored. The reason given by the locally elected Water and Sewer Commission—six months after the fact—was that they didn’t go forward with the fluoride system because they needed to save on costs.

Our small New England towns are proud of their town meeting democracy, where all voters can come and discuss issues, elect officials, and pass the budget. Lack of transparency is a sure way to raise hackles. And the fact that the commission bypassed the fluoride system, on the mum, did upset some people.

But, surprisingly, a movement began in town to not restore the fluoride addition.

Arguments were made that fluoride addition to water is no longer necessary because there is fluoride in tooth paste and food, and fluoride pills are available from dentists. A town dentist pushed for a vote before the commission: He asked that water fluoridation be restored, and a majority voted to restore fluoride addition to the drinking water.

Public versus private health

Vaccination Exemption Puts Vermont Children at Risk” was the headline in our local paper, the Valley News, on Sunday, March 3. Vermont is one of 20 states that allows parental exemptions from vaccinations for children, based on either religious beliefs or philosophy. The newspaper article reported that in some parts of Vermont the vaccination rate for whooping cough is down to 60 percent, whereas 90 percent is needed for “herd immunity.” Whooping cough cases had fallen to barely over 1,000 nationwide in 1976. They have now risen to 41,000 (2012), an epidemic by medical definition. Most of the people who do not vaccinate their children take the “philosophical” exemption (Slate: “What’s the Matter with Vermont?“)

A state bill to eliminate the philosophical exemption was introduced and defeated. One legislator, a polio survivor himself, voted against it. Polio has been “almost eliminated” due to vaccinations, yet this representative voted NO, perhaps due to the organized, vigorous opposition to the bill.

Rebuilding the past

The same Sunday paper that detailed the vaccination controversy also reported on the rebuilding of an historic covered bridge in Rockingham, Vt. The Bartonsville bridge had been washed away by hurricane Irene in 2011. This bridge, circa 1870, was of the patented 1820 design by Itheil Town, featuring a very distinctive interior. The article by a local writer, whose family bought a farm house nearby, describes at length the reverence that local residents have for the bridge and their area—and the writer of the article fell in love with the bridge and the area at first sight. (Full disclosure: My parents brought our family to Enfield and Lake Mascoma for vacation about 65 years ago. We kept returning, and we’ve lived here, retired since 2002, and in the local jargon are “year-round summer people.” We know about loving a place and its people.)

The bridge was rebuilt, apparently exactly as it was, even using “hand turned square headed trunnels” (pins).

Saving the environment and people from themselves

Some town meeting ballots in the recent election contained a measure to prevent tar sands oil from being piped through Vermont. Interestingly, the pipeline in question has been in use for years, and none of the towns it runs through are opposed to it, or to its use for transporting tar sands oil. However, other towns, far from the pipeline, were in opposition.

The towns through which the pipeline travels are in Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom,” (northeast corner of the state), long remote due to long travel times. This area has its own traditions. As expressed by a state senator from the area on town meeting night, also shown on state-wide TV coverage, “We don’t need outsiders (meaning the rest of the state) telling us what to do.”

The underlying passions

These examples reveal strong passions.

Opposition to public health policies persists, even though the policies are scientifically based and proven by experience. Opposition to fluoridating drinking water, and to vaccination programs, are two examples. These oppositions may be driven by fear of the unknown—that which an individual does not understand—and decisions made by organizations (bureaucracies, corporations) far away. This is a piece of the puzzle.

A great love of the past, and rural life, may be driven by longing for a simpler time, and longing for escape from hectic modern life. This is another piece of the puzzle.

The desire to save the planet, even to the point of interfering with things that don’t worry those who would be immediately affected, may be driven by great concern—even fear—for the future of our environment. This piece of the puzzle is prevalent in many environmental discussions.

Nuclear opposition

These passions are also prevalent in the charges made against nuclear power.

Fear of scientifically based decisions, but decisions that were made far away, manifests as fear of radiation. This “Fear of Radiation” underlies the opposition to nuclear plants, to emergency plans, and to used fuel storage in dry casks.

Nostalgia for the past is demonstrated in demands for smaller power plants, distributed generation, and local control.

Fear for the future of the environment leads to opposing practically any new risk, no matter how small.

Outreach

In order for our outreach to be more successful, we need to understand all the “pieces of the puzzle.” Can you think of any more pieces?

We can respond to these passions in our public contacts by acknowledging that some people are afraid. We can say we are very apprehensive too, about some things. (For example, the national debt and deficit really bothers me. I see our grandchildren struggling to pay it off, while living constricted lives.) We can acknowledge that we look at the world similarly to opponents in some ways, but differently when evidence supports a different stance on certain issues—like the benefits of nuclear power.

This approach may help. It can’t make things worse.

____________________________________

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

Vermont Yankee and Optimism

By Meredith Angwin

Refueling optimism

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will refuel this spring, probably in March or April. Vermont Yankee’s statement announcing the refueling was optimistic about the plant’s future. Spokesman Rob Williams

“We’re proceeding business-as-usual and making upgrades where necessary. As we plan this outage our assumption is we’re operating until 2032”  (quoted by Terri Hallenbeck in the Burlington Free Press).

The Hallenbeck article also noted: There’s been much speculation that the 41-year-old plant’s closure might be impending

This negative speculation about the plant was based on a UBS report that claimed that Vermont Yankee is uneconomical and might well be closed by Entergy. Andrew Stein at Vermont Digger reported on this analysis, and an earlier article by Stein provides a link directly to the UBS report.

I wasn’t negative. I thought Vermont Yankee would refuel. As a matter of fact, I posted a blog article titled: Vermont Yankee is Refueling and I Sort of Told You So.

The “I told you so” incident came about a week before Entergy announced that it was refueling. Pat Bradley ( WAMC Plattsburgh NY) interviewed three people, including me. She asked us all about the UBS report, and I was the only one who thought the plant would continue to operate. (A link to the interview is here—it’s about three minutes long).

My optimism

Much of my optimism was a reflection of my knowledge of tendencies in the price of natural gas in this region. We have few pipelines, and when natural gas prices are higher, they force the price of electricity to be high. About a day after I was interviewed, Matt Wald of the New York Times published an article about gas and electricity prices: In New England, a Natural Gas Trap. His article confirmed my statements about gas and electricity prices in this region. Jim Hopf’s post on Potential nuclear plant closures and what could be done to stop them at ANS Nuclear Cafe also supported my optimism (the early section on natural gas prices is most relevant to Vermont Yankee).

But there’s another reason: I had learned by experience. In other words, in the past, I made a very public mistake. A year and a half ago I made a wrong prediction. I predicted that Vermont Yankee would NOT refuel at that time.  When I predicted this, a federal case about the plant was totally unresolved.

Happily, I was wrong, and Vermont Yankee did refuel. Then, the federal case was resolved a few months later, with the judge ruling for Vermont Yankee. Now it is true that the judge’s ruling has been appealed by the state, and also true that the Public Service Board hearings about the plant are still on-going. However, the current situation feels far more positive than it was a year and a half ago. Looking back at that time, I was wrong to be a pessimist.

In other words, this former pessimist has turned into an optimist.

Gas price optimism

click to enlarge

And what about those gas prices? A year and a half ago, Vermont natural gas prices were $5.80 per MMCF and trending downward.

More recently, they have been at $5.90 MMCF and trending upward.

On a broader basis (though our prices are mostly pipeline-constrained in the northeast), the rig count is low and the Henry Hub price is trending higher.

These gas prices give reasons to expect higher electricity prices in the Northeast, and therefore a better economic outlook for merchant generators in our area (such as Vermont Yankee).

Taking action: eBook optimism

I have another, more personal reason for optimism. In November, many people made statements in support of Vermont Yankee at a Public Service Board hearing. I was so impressed with the breadth and quality of this support that I asked people for copies of their statements. I received some of the statements, and I posted them as guest posts on my blog at Yes Vermont Yankee. I described this series of posts in my ANS Nuclear Cafe post: Vermont Yankee’s Greatest Hits from the Public Service Board Hearing.

But I wanted to do more with these statements, to use them to inspire others to speak for nuclear energy and nuclear plants. But how would we do this? Yesterday’s blog posts are a bit like yesterday’s newspaper: a periodical, and who will go back and read them? So I decided that these pro-Vermont Yankee statements needed to have a better home. In other words, they needed to be in a book.

My husband George and I just finished compiling an eBook: Voices for Vermont Yankee (George did most of the work). We finished it about two days ago. It contains the testimony, the pictures, and introductory material. You can buy a copy for $2.99 at Amazon for the Kindle, or at Barnes and Noble for the Nook. You don’t need an e-reader to read the book. Free e-reader apps are available for PCs, Macs, Androids, Blackberries, iPhones, and more.

I am sure you will find the combined statements in support of Vermont Yankee, all together in a book, more impressive than scrolling through my blog posts.  Within the book, they are beautifully organized and presented (George’s work) and the statements themselves are so powerful. But I am not just writing this to sell the book (though I hope you will buy it). I also have advice to give away, and my advice is free!

My advice to fellow bloggers: Build some eBooks! More pronuclear bloggers could put together eBooks on specific subjects. Let me give one example of why there should be eBooks. If you want to read Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories, why leaf through tattered old copies of science fiction magazines? The stories were first published in such magazines, but later they were assembled in a book: I, Robot. It is much easier to buy the book directly.

Perhaps a similar principle sometimes applies to blogs. If there’s a subject you have covered in a series of blog posts, you can put an eBook together, and the book will be something you can point to, refer to, or suggest that people buy. “Get the eBook” is far more understandable than telling people that if they go to a blog and search for the keyword “economics” (for example) they will find some interesting stuff.

Let’s move pro-nuclear material into yet another format, and have yet another route for pro-nuclear communication.

What are the eBooks in YOUR future?

______________________

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters.  She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division.   She is an inventor on several patents. 

Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project.  She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

In Federal Appeals Court, Vermont Presents Backwards Economic Arguments

By Meredith Angwin

Three courts, three cases

The past week was the Week of Living Lawyerly in Vermont.

Within the space of one week, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant had to defend itself in two courts and at one Public Service Board hearing. Three separate courts, each one supposedly deciding whether or not the plant would keep operating. Each case was based on a different issue. All the cases together added to the pain and uncertainty for workers at Vermont Yankee.

All of the cases also added to fatigue for plant supporters. I think I am typical. If there’s an important hearing about Vermont Yankee, I do my best to attend it. With three separate hearings in one week, I threw up my hands and decided to follow the results in the press rather than attending. I am not proud of this. I am just saying that eventually, fatigue does set in for plant defenders.

Well, enough about me. In this post, I will cover the hearing at the federal court of appeals in New York City. If you wish to hear the hearing for yourself (it’s less than 40 minutes long), the audio is embedded in my blog post “Vermont Yankee: State Claims Economic Argument for Closing Plant.”

The federal court hearing: pre-emption or what?

In January 2012, in federal district court, Judge Gavan Murtha ruled that the legislators of Vermont had been voting on nuclear safety when they voted against Vermont Yankee. The Entergy legal team had shown quote after quote of legislators discussing the safety of the plant. Sometimes the legislators used a thin screen of “reliability” concerns, including the priceless statement: “We can’t use the s-word (safety).” Judge Murtha used many safety-related quotes in his ruling.

The lead lawyer for Entergy in that case was Kathleen Sullivan, former dean of the Stanford University Law School. The state legal team was drawn from the office of the state attorney general, Bill Sorrell. When the court decided in favor of Entergy, many opponents claimed that the Sorrell’s team had simply been “out-lawyered.”

Vermont’s case against the plant

Then, Vermont appealed the district court ruling to the federal court of appeals in New York City. For this appeal, Vermont hired a noted Washington D.C. legal firm to represent the state, and the firm’s lawyer David Frederick spoke for Vermont in the court of appeals.

Vermont had three main contentions in the appeal.

Number 1: It was procedural

The first Vermont claim was that the legislator’s involvement in the plant relicensing was merely “procedural.” I wouldn’t even mention this, except that if you listen to the audio of the hearing, you will hear Frederick state many variations on the theme: “Act 160 was merely procedural.” The justices didn’t spend much time on that, but rather tried to figure out what was behind the vote to shutter the plant.

Number 2: Judge Murtha cherry-picked the legislators’ statements

The second Vermont claim was that the Entergy lawyers had “cherry-picked” the legislators’ safety-related statements and that Murtha had merely used what the Entergy lawyers gave him. Vermont claimed that the legislative vote wasn’t about safety. A few people did say some things about “safety” but really, no big deal. The hearing included quite a few discussions of other cases, and how much importance should be given to legislative “intent”.

However, this discussion led right up to the really big question, the big issue. If the Vermont legislators weren’t concerned with safety, what were they concerned with?

Number 3:  Vermont’s concern was mainly economic. It chose to shut the plant down for economic reasons.

“Economics” was a very odd argument, because the plant is acknowledged as an economic benefit for the state economy.

In terms of economics, the legislature had commissioned a report on Vermont Yankee economics, to be prepared by two separate economic firms and called the “consensus report.” That study was due to be completed in March 2010. But the legislature voted about the plant before the report was finished. They voted in February, shortly after a tritium leak had been discovered, but before their own economic report was available.

If the legislature had waited a few weeks, they would have had the report. Also, after the report was completed, it was hardly discussed at all in Montpelier (it showed the plant as an economic asset, of course). So, the legislature’s “economic” reason for closing the plant was totally bogus on the face of it.

Backwards economics

The attorney for the state, David Frederick, made shockingly weak economic arguments. He claimed that the existence of the already-paid-for nuclear plant made it difficult for renewables to compete. Entergy attorney Kathleen Sullivan demolished that argument: If you don’t like us, don’t buy from us. The idea that a power plant supplies economical energy, and thus THAT is a reason to shut it down, because it’s too competitive…that illogical thinking is amazing.

But the Vermont economic arguments got even worse. Yes, they did.  If you have a chance, listen at the 35-minute mark of the hearing. Frederick, arguing for the state, says that the utilities still have a “relationship” with the plant worth $587 million dollars. He claims that this relationship, this tie to the plant—is a reason to shut the plant down.

Frederick is referring to the revenue-sharing agreement. According to the requirements of the 2002 sale to Entergy, the plant has to share some of its revenues with Vermont utilities. If Vermont Yankee is operating past 2012, and the plant sells power to anybody (Vermont, Connecticut, whomever) and it sells that power at above 6.1 cents per kWh (“strike price”), it has to share part of the revenue above 6.1 cents with Vermont utilities. If Vermont Yankee makes a deal with a Massachusetts utility to sell power at 8.1 cents, then it has to pay 1 cent (half of 2 cents above the strike price) to Vermont utilities.

In my own talks, I describe the Vermont Yankee revenue-sharing agreement as “potentially worth hundreds of millions to the utilities and ratepayers of Vermont.” I don’t know where Frederick came up with such a precise number ($587 million) for revenue sharing. Wherever the number came from, however, he claims this huge financial asset to Vermont utilities is a reason to shut the plant down. Well, that is an unusual claim.

In conclusion

The state’s case in the appeal process is supposedly based on economics, and frankly, their case is screwy and backwards. I can only hope that the appeals court notices the gaping holes. In summation, I will quote a Vermont Law School professor, Cheryl Hanna. She was at the appeals hearing in New York and wrote a “recap” about it. My quote is taken from the last paragraph—her summation of what she heard:

“The state should be happy that the (appeals court) bench at least took seriously their argument that Judge Murtha should not have ruled as he did. Whether the gravitas and intellect of Frederick (the state lawyer) is enough to convince them in the face of overwhelming evidence that the legislature was primarily motivated by safety is harder to call. The state still bears the burden, and the facts and (in my opinion) the law still favor Entergy. If the state loses, it won’t be because it was out-lawyered. It will be because, in the end, a federal court was reluctant to shutter a federally-licensed nuclear power plant on the basis of this particular legislative history. That has as much to do with judicial conservatism as it does with nuclear power.”

A few links:

Howard Shaffer on the challenges facing Vermont Yankee: No Holiday From Politics (at ANS Nuclear Cafe)

My blog post on the three Vermont Yankee cases:  Three Vermont Yankee Hearings: The Week of Living Lawyerly

My blog post on the federal appeals court hearing, including the embedded audio of the hearing:  State Claims Economic Argument for Closing the Plant

Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna:  A Recap of the Entergy/Vermont Yankee Oral Arguments in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals

My blog post on the economic report, released in March 2010, after the legislative vote in February 2010:  Economic Report: Well-Constructed

Some of the documents in the federal case (including Judge Murtha’s ruling) are posted at the Energy Education Project website:  Filings in Entergy Appeal

_______________________________

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters.  She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division.   She is an inventor on several patents. 

Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project.  She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

No Holiday from Politics

By Howard Shaffer

In Vermont, the Holiday Season did not slow the wave of actions and interest about energy in general and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in particular. Vermont Yankee continues to run very well, and there have not been even any routine events for opponents to “crow” about.

The legal front

Vermont Supreme Court

Intervenors filed suit in the Vermont Supreme Court, asking for Vermont Yankee to be shut down due to violation of a condition of the sales agreement (in 2002 from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation to Entergy Corporation). The sales stipulation states that the plant will not operate after the expiration of its Certificate of Public Good, unless the certificate is renewed.

Vermont’s Public Service Board (PSB) is in charge of such certificates, and the plant certificate has not been renewed yet. The renewal process is underway, including two public meetings held in November. The final briefs are due to the PSB in August. The PSB will then issue its decision, although there is as yet no date set for that decision. The intervenor hopes that the Vermont Supreme Court will rule separately from the PSB, even while the PSB hearings are continuing.

Federal court

Entergy won its suit in federal district court, but the state appealed (as did Entergy, on some aspects of the decision). The appeal is scheduled to be heard in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on January 14. The district court found that the State of Vermont acted illegally by preempting the exclusive federal jurisdiction over nuclear safety. The court issued an injunction forbidding the state from attempting to shut down the plant over any of the contested issues.

The intervenor’s suit in Vermont Supreme Court is an attempt to find a loophole in that federal court ruling.

Entergy went back to the federal district court that found in its favor, asking that it issue an injunction forbidding the state from shutting down Vermont Yankee for any reason. The intervenors then filed an objection to the plant’s request, again raising the issue of “state’s rights”.

The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the intervenor’s case on January 16. It seems unlikely that state court will agree with the intervenors while there is a federal case in progress. The federal finding of illegal state action would seem to override provisions of the sales agreement.

The Public Service Board

The PBS has an open docket and a schedule for deciding on a Certificate of Public Good for Vermont Yankee’s continued operation, and a request from the plant to install a new emergency generator.

On December 27, the PSB issued an order confirming that the Vermont Yankee plant is operating in violation of PSB orders, in terms of the sales agreement and the Certificate of Public Good for Dry Cask Storage. Included in the order was the statement that the PSB will appoint a hearing officer to examine the plant’s request to install the additional emergency diesel generator.

This new generator is needed to replace the backup power now provided by the nearby Vernon Dam hydro station, which will no longer maintain a “black start” capability. The capability is being dropped based on a decision by ISO-New England, the grid operator, to change its black start capability from “bottom up, to top down“.

Vermont Yankee is licensed to have the Vernon hydro station as backup for its two in-plant emergency diesel generators. The new diesel will maintain the licensing commitment when Vernon hydro is no longer considered to be qualified as a backup. The diesel may in the future satisfy Nuclear Regulatory Commission post-Fukushima requirements. Vermont Yankee was not designated as a plant to black start the grid. Nuclear power plants take many hours to start up, so are not candidates for reenergizing the grid. The first meeting on the new diesel will be January 17.

The PSB’s order saying that Vermont Yankee is operating in violation of its orders included the requirement that the plant not use the fact that the PSB is having a hearing process on the request for a new diesel as “proof” that it approves of the plant’s operation while the federal court process plays out. This seems to be legal maneuvering. The PSB has to say this to affirm its authority, but it must consider the request to approve the new diesel. If it doesn’t consider this request, then it might be sued for de facto shutting down the plant, in violation of the intent of the federal court injunction. Along with this, the plant might have to study having backup diesel power that does not require PSB approval—perhaps trailer-mounted.

ISO New England

Also of note was ISO-New England’s “delisting” Vermont Yankee as a facility needed for grid reliability, under their “degraded grid” scenarios. Utilities in the grid will bolster their infrastructure so that Vermont Yankee would not be needed in such scenarios. This was only prudent management, given the uncertainty of the plant continuing to operate beyond this past March. However, this provides fuel to plant opponents who have claimed that Vermont Yankee is not needed for Vermont or the New England grid. The counter argument is that Vermont Yankee displaces CO2-creating generation. Also, Vermont Yankee is insurance against a price-rise in natural gas since, as Meredith Angwin has reminded us in her Valley News Op-Ed, the sales agreement for the plant includes a revenue-sharing provision above a certain grid price.

The legislature and energy issues

The Vermont legislature will continue to want to lead the nation in a transition to “green energy.” In the past, it has established conservation and efficiency programs, and enabled solar and wind installations. There is a Renewable Portfolio standard, feed-in tariffs, and tax credits to insure profitability.

Real dollar numbers are now coming in for solar and wind power, and they have garnered some attention. In addition, local residents of wind installations are objecting to their environmental impact.

Last year, Vermont’s governor created a commission to review the state’s process for approving power projects. A bill will be introduced in this year’s legislature for a three-year moratorium on large wind projects.

Another bill will be introduced for a “Thermal Efficiency Tax”. It would tax heating oil and propane to raise money to make inefficient buildings more efficient. One objection is that this tax would harm those least able to afford it.

The river and shad—again

A leading environmental writer has examined the lack of shad in the portion of the Connecticut River downstream of Vermont Yankee. It is concluded that the problem is due to the way the shad are routed through man-made channels. The Northfield pumped storage plant is between the dams, and is likely to be one of the culprits. This is in contrast to the plant opponents’ claim that the plant’s warm condenser discharge is solely responsible. The plant is also in the process of applying for an amended water quality permit.

The Brattleboro Reformer has a January 5 article summarizing the 2012 events in the struggle over Vermont Yankee’s future.

The year ahead

Vermont Yankee has continued to operate well, with not even minor routine events to give opponents “ammunition”. In the meantime, some members of the legislature seem to have grasped that solar and wind power do have some impacts that give cause for objections.

There will be much legal activity in 2013 concerning Vermont Yankee, as discussed. I predict that the Circuit Court of Appeals decision will subsequently be appealed to the US Supreme Court, as occurred in the case of the Massachusetts suit against the NRC over the Seabrook plant’s emergency plan years ago.

It will doubtless be a very interesting year.

____________________________________

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

The Other Side of the Cookie: Anti-Nuclear People in Our Lives

By Meredith Angwin

The woman on the moral high ground

The woman in front of me was standing on the moral high ground; or at least, she thought she was standing there.

“I’m very disappointed in you,” she said.

Physically, we were in a hallway outside an interactive-TV room at a community college near my house. The Public Service Board meeting was in progress (November 19) and she had just finished making a statement against Vermont Yankee. I had left the room to find the ladies’ room, and she had left for the same purpose. But she found me first, and made sure to tell me that she was “disappointed” in me.

Then she added: “I suppose you might say you are disappointed in me, too.”

I answered: “Yes, the feeling is mutual.” That’s what I said, but it wasn’t really true. I wasn’t “disappointed” in her.

More about her and about me

“Disappointed” is an odd word, when you think about it.

She told me that we had met many years ago. I didn’t remember meeting her. However, I have become a bit of a public figure around here, and she remembered meeting me.

Apparently, we had met at a party, shortly after George and I moved to Vermont. We were invited to lots of gatherings in our first few months in this area. Our friends would say “I know someone who lives near Dartmouth” and arrange an introduction for us. I remember the party; it was at the home of a Dartmouth faculty member. It was a summer-time party, with the grill going. As I said, I don’t remember meeting her.

How could she be “disappointed” in someone she barely met?

Then I looked at the situation from her point of view. She had met me. I was an educated Jewish woman who had been invited to a party at the home of a Dartmouth faculty member. Therefore, she had expectations about my views on energy.

I disappointed her.

The other side of the cookie

In my blog, I often talk about the brownie gap, the need for nuclear supporters to hang out together, eat brownies, and support each other. But what do we do about all the anti-nuclear people in our lives? I have many friends who don’t like nuclear energy. I suspect that they secretly think of me as a fanatic.

In practice, these friends just avoid talking about “that.”  I have other interests, including music and gardening.  I read and write mysteries.  I try to be a good listener.  In other words, my friends and I  have many things to talk about without mentioning “that.”  (Speaking of “that”, you might like to read this guest post on How Did Nuclear Become a Four-Letter word.)

Eating brownies with pro-nuclear people is one side of the cookie. Anti-nuclear friends are the other side.

Being friends with all kinds of people

I have learned some things about friendship, ever since I became a pro-nuclear advocate:

First, I acknowledge that people who meet an older, well-educated Jewish woman have certain expectations about what her attitudes are going to be toward various subjects. When they find that they are wrong about my energy attitudes, they can be disappointed. It’s a real feeling, and there’s anger with it. “How can you say that?” Or as another woman said to me: “You are the first educated person I have ever met who is in favor of Vermont Yankee.”

Second, I try not to talk about “that” directly with friends who disagree with me about nuclear energy. Friends are more valuable to me than policy. Also, there is no person in the world with whom I agree about everything. Some people inexplicably prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate, for example. People aren’t clones of each other, and it would be pretty terrible if we were. In practice, I often attempt to change the subject.

Third, if really pressed, I stick up for nuclear energy. I say it is better than anything else that is out there. This explanation gets complicated because, of course, they are also against fossil fuels, and plan to use only renewables. So instead of talking about the evils of fossil fuels (relatively straight-forward to explain) I end up talking about energy density (that’s harder). A commentator on one of my blog posts said that I was a “grief counselor” as people begin to understand what their energy choices really are. Maybe I am.

Fourth, I hold to my own values, which include seeing the world as it is, rather than as I would like it to be, or as others would like it to be.  The Zen of Be Here Now about energy.  This isn’t something I say to people, but it is important to me, and keeps me centered.

Finally, I don’t sweat the small stuff. The lady in the hallway… heavens, I met her and we didn’t hit it off, eight years ago, energy or no energy. She seems pretty judgmental, and I probably detected that attitude at the long-ago party. Her opinion about me is “small stuff” in my life. If a closer friend makes an occasional negative remark, I try to let it slide. As another friend put it: “You don’t have to join every fight you are invited to.”

The third side of the cookie: Hope for the future

Being true to my understanding of electricity sources and nuclear power has been hard, but sometimes it has surprising rewards. I meet people who are secretly pro-nuclear. Other people are puzzled and tell me that they would like to learn more. One woman, anti-nuclear when I met her, now tries to convince her friends of the importance of nuclear energy to combat global warming. Another woman, at my synagogue, told me that many people are “very proud of me.”

I don’t want to refine too much on this. Most people won’t change.

Most of my anti-nuclear friends are going to stay exactly that: both anti-nuclear and friends. I remind myself that we all want the same thing: a better world for our children.

Some people, a few, have re-evaluated nuclear energy, perhaps because of me. That is very gratifying.  That’s the third side of the cookie: the possibility of winning supporters to nuclear.

Have Happy Holidays, a Merry Christmas, and a New Year of friendship, health, and nuclear power!

____________________________________

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters.  She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division.   She is an inventor on several patents.  Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project.  She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Vermont Weather Gets Colder – Vermont Yankee Politics Continue Hot

By Howard Shaffer

Some long-awaited events related to the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant took place toward the end of 2012, such as the trial of some members of the Shut It Down Affinity Group (known to the media as the “nuclear grannies”) who have been arrested many times for blocking Vermont Yankee’s gates.  Some unexpected events have occurred as well, such as a Public Service Board ruling and a brand new lawsuit by a long-term intervenor.

Before the Public Service Board

The Vermont Yankee plant’s US Nuclear Regulatory Commission license was renewed for twenty years in March 2012.  However, the plant also requires a Certificate of Public Good from the state of Vermont in order to operate.  The original Certificate expired on the same day as the original NRC license, but the plant continues to operate under a Federal Court injunction which would prevent the state from shutting the plant down.

Public Service Board members David Coen, Commissioner John Volz, and John Burke, court reporter at left

In the spring, Entergy applied to the Public Service Board of Vermont to change orders concerning the plant’s end dates — to update the expiration dates of Board orders on sale of the plant to Entergy, and approval of Dry Cask Storage.  These expiration dates are the same as the Certificate of Public Good, so on paper the plant is operating in violation of state law.

The Board decided to open a new docket and start over again on the Certificate of Public Good process, after the Federal Court decision and injunction.  On November 29, the Board denied Entergy’s request.  This denial was reported by some media as the Board slapping down Entergy, making it sound like a major blow to the plant.  In fact, the Board stated in its ruling that the ruling was narrow, and did not foretell how it would rule on the new process.

The Board’s ruling inspired the New England Coalition to file suit in Vermont Supreme Court asking the court to enforce the expiration dates and shut the plant down.  The suit is under review.  The suit of course generated media coverage, and must have inspired opponents, which appears to be the purpose.  However, from a citizens’ viewpoint it is ridiculous to ask the state court to act contrary to a Federal Court injunction.  We’ll see.  For those who wish to pore through the legal details, Yes Vermont Yankee has a great detailed post.

New Hampshire Public Radio

Laura Knoy, host of The Exchange

New Hampshire Public radio’s popular call-in interview program “The Exchange” explores topics of public concern, and has done many programs over the years on nuclear power, Vermont Yankee, and Seabrook plant in New Hampshire.  I was already scheduled to be on the program before the Public Service Board’s finding and the lawsuit, so my appearance on December 6 was quite timely.  I was in the studio, while Ray Shadis, technical advisor to the New England Coalition, and John Dillon, Vermont Public Radio reporter, were call-in guests.  Listen online

On the program, I placed the Vermont Yankee issue in the context of a Congressional Public Policy decision, which found that a minute local risk was worth the public good for the country as a whole, where the policy objective is replacing coal burning for power generation.  The Coalition’s new tack is that natural gas plants can be built quickly, so these should be used instead of nuclear plants, which take a longer time to bring into service. The Coalition judges that the gas plants’ release of carbon dioxide is only half that of coal plants… so they are preferable to nuclear power (which emit almost no carbon dioxide at all!).

In response to the host’s question about political support for nuclear power, the Coalition admitted that nuclear power indeed does have support from a majority of Congress.  In kind, the host asked me, why not give up on nuclear power since it seems “too difficult” in the New England region.  I replied that companies in New England have indeed given up for the time being — no new plants are proposed here, while they are under construction in other parts of the country.

On Trial at Last

The Shut It Down Affinity Group have been actively protesting against Vermont Yankee for years by blocking the plant gates and getting arrested.  Some members recently went on trial for the very first time (in the past, prosecutors have not felt it worthwhile to waste court time while providing a public protest platform).  This time, the “nuclear grannies” protest, which included chaining themselves to the gates, took place two days after hurricane Irene had devastated Vermont (the “grannies” actually hail from Massachusetts).  Local first responders were busy helping hurricane victims, but were interrupted by having to arrest the grannies again.

A jury found them guilty.  The judge fined them, even though some wanted to go to jail instead.  Some said they would not pay, and the judge warned that the order would be turned over to a collection agency, with fees added.  The local Brattleboro Reformer editorialized against the grannies.

A ‘Small’ Anniversary
On December 2, on the anniversary of the first man-made chain reaction, the calendar for the Vermont Yankee opponent coalition SAGE Alliance listed a protest at the plant gates.  Four showed up for less than an hour.

And A Positive End to the Year
Vermont Yankee’s site vice President, Chris Wamser, issued a press release thanking all the supporters who came to and spoke at the Public Service Board’s Public Input sessions.  One was face-to-face, and the other via multi-site interactive television.  The press carried the release, which is certainly a positive note.

Best wishes to all in the New Year!

 

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

Vermont Yankee’s Greatest Hits from the Public Service Board Hearing

By Meredith Angwin

On November 7, an important hearing about the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant was held before the Vermont Public Service Board. Howard Shaffer has an excellent post on this hearing at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

At that hearing, 39 people spoke in favor of Vermont Yankee. I have been collecting their statements and their pictures (as best I can), and posting them on my blog. I have 17 posts to date.

I wanted to share some of these pro-Vermont Yankee statements with ANS Nuclear Cafe readers. They were all great statements — but, with seventeen statements, I needed to choose a subset for this post.  So, I chose excerpts from five of the statements.

Here goes!  (Drum roll. Maybe trumpets.)

The Vermont Yankee Greatest Hits! from the November 7 Vermont Public Service Board hearing held in Vernon, Vt.

Baseball and Baseload. Statement by Dick Trudell, civil engineer

“[Why did I drive 360 miles round trip] to spend a couple of minutes testifying to this board?

I’ll give you an analogy.

Vermont Yankee has proved to be a dependable source of baseload power for Vermont, with approximately half of its 620 MW capacity serving the homes and businesses of Vermont, with over an 80-percent capacity factor. Now, if you had someone on your team batting .800, it is unlikely you would kick them off the team—that’s just plain common sense. Some Vermonters still seem to think that with enough conservation, plus solar and wind power, we can replace Vermont Yankee’s 620 baseload megawatts with a couple of rookies that are batting at best .300, require state subsidies before they could even go to the locker room to suit up, and their salaries cost more that the dependable pro you have had for years.”

Buy Local and Help Your Community. Statement by Kenyon Webber, Vermont Yankee engineer

“…Third, this area should be committed to the “buy local” motto. I suppose many of you feel that because this is not some farm stand on the side of the road, it is not a local business. This business employs hundreds of local people that support the farm stands and other local businesses. We live here locally, and spend our money locally, just like any other person in this community.

So, I close with three good reasons to vote favorably for Vermont Yankee. We provide higher wage, stable careers for more than 600 people, not to mention the millions of tax dollars we provide; we are a good community partner; and, you should be buying your electricity local.”

The Ability to Live in My Home. Statement by Karen Wilson, Vermont Yankee employee

“I live here in Vernon with my daughter, Heather, who happens to be an adult with developmental challenges.

My other daughter, Amanda, also lives here in Vernon with her partner, Jason, and my two granddaughters, Kali and Reis.

I moved to the area in 1971 and began raising my family here in 1980.

I worked at a local business in Brattleboro until a few years ago, when, due to the times, I found myself in a position like many and was laid off.

Thankfully, just over a year and a half ago, I was offered a job and accepted a position at Vermont Yankee.

Vermont Yankee has many programs and offers support not only to the community but to its employees.  With the support of management and my fellow employees at Vermont Yankee, I am able to take advantage of one program they offer, that is allowing me the opportunity to go back to school to complete my business degree.

Having Vermont Yankee here in Vernon, as an employer, has made it possible for Heather and me to continue to live in our home, for me to support my family, and for me to continue my education.”

Phobias Should Not Determine Policy. Statement by Peter Roth, chemical engineer

“There is no rational argument to shut a facility that continues to produce safe, reliable, and low cost electricity for Vermont and the New England grid, and has demonstrated so for a long time. Electricity is not a luxury, but a vital necessity, as we know when a storm like Hurricane Sandy shuts down power for millions.

Loss of power creates a high level “Misery Index” for people, but creating a condition that raises electricity costs for marginal income folks also creates a Misery Index. We are dealing with a commodity that is essential to our lives and an option that cannot be deferred. Food, clothing, shelter, and power cannot be deferred…..

Those that fear “Nuclear Power” may suffer from the same anxiety and condition that causes fear of flying, or fear of heights, or fear of enclosed space, and no rational argument can dissuade them from their phobias. However, their fear should not be an argument that impacts the lives of more rational people.”

Vermont Tourism Supported by Vermont Yankee. Statement by Heather Sheppard, employed by a major Vermont resort

“Beauty, clean air, and affordability. Vermont Yankee is a benefit to all three. Beauty, because having an operational Vermont Yankee means we are in less of a rush to clear cut our mountain ridgelines and valleys to make way for wind farms and for crisscrossing new power lines for the hodgepodge of small-scale power generation that some would have replace it. Clean air, because Vermont Yankee emits no air pollutants, unlike the coal and gas plants that will be ramped up if Vermont Yankee closes. Some environmental groups that should know better have suggested a patchwork quilt of woodburning power plants, carbon emissions and all, to replace Vermont Yankee. From an air quality point of view, this makes no sense. To me, one of Vermont Yankee’s greatest environmental benefits as a power producer is that it already exists. No more trees need to be cut down, nor rocks blasted, nor tourist-drawing scenic views destroyed. There is no need for lines of slow, loud, exhaust-emitting trucks running to and from construction sites and woodchip plants.”

Excerpts from five statements are linked above. Readers are encouraged to visit Yes Vermont Yankee to see more of the statements in favor of continued operation of Vermont Yankee:

Farm and Forest in Vermont, Bruce Shields

Young Workers in Windham County, Lindsay Rose

Vermont’s Fair Share of the Grid, Howard Shaffer

Air Pollution and Vermont Yankee, Meredith Angwin

Avoid Carbon Dioxide, Keep Vermont Yankee, Dr. Carlos Pinkham

Vermont People work at Vermont Yankee, Patty O’Donnell

Global Warming and Vermont Yankee, Ellen Cota

Affordable Reliable Electricity, Dianne Amme

A Strong Vision for the Future of Vermont, Charles Kelly

Power, Carbon and Costs, Peter Lothes

Vital for the Region and My Family, A Teen-Ager’s View, Evan Twarog

Over 600 Families, Cheryl Twarog

Thanks to Paul Bowersox of ANS for suggesting the idea for this post

______________________________

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents. Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Vermont Yankee supporters at Public Service Board hearing

Public Service Board hearing a success

By Howard Shaffer

Supporters and employees of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant mounted a successful appearance at a Public Service Board hearing on November 7 in Vernon, Vt. This was to be the only face-to-face meeting between the board and the public in the process for a new Certificate of Public Good, required for continued operation of the plant. The hearing appearance was judged a success, due to the 3 to 1 margin of supporters to opponents and subsequent balanced press reporting.

Preparations

The Public Service Board hearing was announced a few months in advance, so there was time to notify supporters and plant staff and plan for our appearance. The plant notified and encouraged supporters, employees, and unions. Groups notified included the ANS Grassroots Project, Vermont Energy Partnership, Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project, and others. These groups notified their mailing lists and Facebook pages. For example, see this blog post by Meredith Angwin.

Two weeks before the hearing, Tracy Mason, communications expert from the Nuclear Energy Institute, came to brief plant staff and supporters on nuclear communications.

Briefing

A briefing session was provided to instill confidence in people, help them feel safe with many colleagues to support them, and know what to expect. Fellowship and food are important in building team spirit. Entergy opened the Governor Hunt House, in Vernon, for the briefing session, beginning at 4:00 pm. Entergy’s Brian Cosgrove, vice president for Governmental Affairs, and Chris Wamser, Site vice president, spoke at the briefing session, as did former Vermont governor Thomas Salmon.

Governor Salmon at the briefing

The hearing

The Vernon Elementary School is a short walk from the Governor Hunt House. The gym is the only large meeting room in the town. Public meetings concerning the Vermont Yankee plant are held here by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state of Vermont, as well as at locations in Brattleboro, Vt.

Public Service Board hearing, Vernon Elementary School

The doors opened at 6:30 and the board and staff arrived soon after. Sign-up lists for speakers were on a first-come basis, so supporters and opponents moved quickly to get in line. Eighty speakers signed up. The hearing had been announced in advance for 7pm–9pm, but the board extended the hearing to 10pm. About 300 persons were in attendance.

The board allotted two minutes per speaker. Testimony was recorded by a court reporter. Testimony could also be submitted by e-mail and letter, as long as the docket is open, the board said. We encouraged supporters to bring written testimony and submit it to the board at the hearing, even if they also spoke. Also, there was a risk that they would not get the opportunity to speak, in which case their written testimony would become even more important.

The board is a quasi-judicial body, providing Certificates of Public Good to all utilities. The Public Service Department, under Vermont’s governor, oversees utilities, and serves as the public’s representative before the board. The board stated that the information provided by the public is not evidence, but is used to inform its questioning of witnesses. It was also stated that radiological and nuclear safety are not in the board’s jurisdiction, so that these topics should not be addressed. (A few of the opponents did, anyway.)

The speakers were timed by a board member, given 15 seconds warning, and cut off when their time was up. A few took less than the allotted two minutes.

Meredith Angwin—American Nuclear Society member, director of the Energy Education Project, and a Yes Vermont Yankee blogger—addresses the Public Service Board.

Opponents raised all the usual non-nuclear issues: company trustworthiness; emergency planning and evacuation; climate change; weather events; conservation, efficiency, alternative energy; and the river ecosystem. A new objection, strangely, concerned the cost to Vermont of the Emergency Plan. This is strange since the Vermont Yankee plant funds the emergency plan. Without the plant, taxes would have to support the plan.

Supporters stressed the great economic benefit, the increase in CO2 emissions that would result without the plant, the benefit of baseload power to the grid, the grid as a shared responsibility, and the contribution of plant employees to the area as citizens. It was noted that the plant’s direct charitable contributions are quite significant.  [Readers are strongly encouraged to visit Yes Vermont Yankee to read the ongoing series of excellent written testimonies and guest posts in support of continued operation of Vermont Yankee.]

Former Governor Salmon referred to a recent New England Council report calling for retention of the region’s four nuclear power plants as vital to the electric power supply.

Vernon residents, including plant employees, spoke of their trust of, and comfort with, the plant. Patty O’Donnell, of Vernon—Selectboard chair and a former 12-year state representative from the town—also spoke of the town’s comfort with the plant. She said that no amount of money, i.e. economic benefit, could convince the town to favor the plant if residents did not feel the plant is safe.

Lessons learned

Nuclear power supporters are out there. With organization and support, they will come forward and join in the political fray.

Plant employees are the best advertisement there is. One employee spoke of living in Vernon, and having his wife teach at and his child attend the school (about a half mile from the plant). Over the past decade, several scientific public opinion polls in Vermont have consistently shown that 65 percent of the public feels “people who work at the plant” are the most credible and trusted source of information about plant safety and operations.

Supporters need to gather and socialize. Refreshments or food is needed for morale (to prevent the “brownie deficit” syndrome). Anti nukes always have food.

A great deal can be accomplished with management support, at minimal cost.

_________________________

Contributions by Meredith Angwin and Brian Cosgrove

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

Mind the gap: Vermont’s electricity supply

By Meredith Angwin

There’s a gap in Vermont’s electrical supply. Or rather, there’s a gap in Vermont’s “committed electric resources”—that is, electricity contracts in place for Vermont utilities.

Vermont utilities have not written contracts to buy power from Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, and that’s the basic gap. In my opinion, Vermont utilities are betting that gas prices stay low for a very long time. I think this is a bet that the utilities (and Vermont) are going to lose.

Before we look at the arcane field of gas price prediction, however, let’s look at…”The gap.”

The old gap: Possibly a gap in supply

In 2011, Vermont received one-third of its power from Vermont Yankee, one-third from Hydro Quebec, and one-third from other sources, including in-state hydro plants and purchases from the grid. In 2011, Vermont Yankee was half-expected to be shut down in 2012, and the Hydro Quebec contracts were also coming to an end. New contracts with Hydro Quebec were in place, but these contracts supplied less power than the old contracts supplied.

A Vermont Department of Public Service chart illustrated this situation, and in June 2011 I wrote Thoughts on a Chart for the ANS Nuclear Cafe. This chart shows a gap in Vermont’s “Committed Electric Resources.” The two factors—less power from Hydro Quebec and none from Vermont Yankee—opened up a lot of white space on the right side of the chart. This white space represented electricity that was needed, but not committed.

click to enlarge

After 2012, almost half the electricity the state requires was shown as…white space. If Vermont Yankee had shut down, the white space would probably have represented an actual gap in power supply. If Vermont Yankee continued to operate, however, the white space would simply be power-not-purchased yet.

The new gap: A gap in contracts for power

In 2011, it looked like there might be an actual power supply gap. In 2012, with Vermont Yankee still operating, fears of a supply gap have receded. There’s still a gap though. The new gap is all about contracts. It’s a gap in “committed resources.”

Guy Page from the industry group Vermont Energy Partnership (VTEP) wrote a white paper this summer about this committed resources gap. Entergy and many other businesses are members of VTEP.

Mr. Page borrowed Figure 3 of his white paper from Vermont Department of Public Service reports. It shows a gap of 31 percent “undetermined” power in 2016—for all Vermont utilities put together. The gap is about the same percentage of Vermont electricity as the electricity that formerly was purchased from Vermont Yankee.

click to enlarge

Vermont’s largest utility, Green Mountain Power, has a very similar chart on its website. Its “Fuel Mix” page for 2011 and 2013 shows two pie charts. Nuclear power falls from 46 percent to 8 percent of the supply over the two years from 2011 to 2013. “Other” rises from 6 percent to 30 percent. That’s the gap: 30 percent.

click to enlarge

In other words, two sets of projections show approximately the same gap in committed resources: 30 percent—approximately the same amount of power that formerly was purchased from Vermont Yankee.

Views of the gap

Howard Shaffer and I recently attended a meeting where one of the speakers was Robert Dostis of Green Mountain Power. In his presentation, Mr. Dostis showed the Fuel Mix pie charts. He said that he was pleased with the gap in committed resources. He felt that the gap gives his utility the flexibility to obtain good electricity bargains.

Ahem. As I remember it, Mr. Dostis did not mention that Vermont utilities are currently filling that electricity gap with purchases from the grid. He also didn’t mention that Vermont Yankee is probably selling most of its power to the grid. We could talk more about the power-plant-behind-the-curtain, but we will pay no further attention to it in this blog post.

Cheap gas forever?

Let us look at Mr. Dostis’ claim that the committed-power gap gives his utility the ability to obtain inexpensive power. This may be true, but I wonder: For how long will power be inexpensive?

The price of power on the grid is closely tied to the price of natural gas, and the price of natural gas is close to the lowest it has been for many years. Though the price of natural gas fell to $1.89/thousand cubic feet this April, the price has begun rising again, and is now about $3.50 thousand cubic feet.

The new sources of shale gas caused prices to fall. Many analysts, however, expect gas prices will soon climb, because it is uneconomical to drill new shale wells at these low prices. At Forbes magazine, Richard Finger thinks we are well on our way to $8 gas.

Gas prices and electricity prices

Instead of further speculation on gas prices, I want to end with this chart from ISO New England. The chart shows the close connection between electricity and gas prices in New England, and gas price volatility. I think that if the Vermont utilities had signed a contract with Vermont Yankee, they might have been able to avoid some expensive surprises in the “gap area” of Vermont’s power contracts. As a Vermont citizen and ratepayer, I wish the utilities had signed such a contract.

click to enlarge

Maybe it is better, however, for Vermont Yankee itself that the utilities do not have a contract with the plant. As grid prices rise, Vermont Yankee profits could rise right along with them.

Two end notes:

The actual contracts: If you look at the Hydro Quebec contracts, and most of the contracts Vermont Yankee proposed for the Vermont utilities, the power price moves with the market. In other words, I think that gas and electricity prices will rise, and I suspect that power generators such as Hydro Quebec and Vermont Yankee think so too. If I were Green Mountain Power, I wouldn’t be so happy about the “opportunities” of the gap.

Using power and paying for power: Vermont is still using Vermont Yankee power, because Vermont power users are close to the plant. The difference between power supplies and power purchases is well described in Howard Shaffer’s post on my blog: Where’s the Magic Switch?

_________________________

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents. Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

 

The Genesis: Founding of the Anti-Nuclear Movement

“There is no Democracy in the United States”
“They built cancer factories on earthquake faults”
“A long-term low dose of radiation may be worse than a high short one”

— Anna Gyorgy, author of the book No Nukes, at University of Massachusetts DuBois Library Exhibit reception, October 2, 2012

By Howard Shaffer

Each year, the University of Massachusetts’ Dubois Library stages a program and exhibit on an aspect of social change. This year, the subject was the rise of the anti-nuclear movement, titled To the Village Square: An Experiment in American Democracy.

As noted in the introduction to this event, the anti-nuclear movement is “thick” in the New England region, and the presentations at the event explained how this came about. The exhibits and documents of the movement’s founding will be archived at the library.

The venue

The program took place in a reception area in the lower level of the multi-story Dubois Library tower. This reception area is open to an adjacent study area, where students were busy at computers. Chairs and refreshments were set up, along with enlarged photos on easels, photos in display cases, and a monitor with a slide show of pictures.

About 40 people were in attendance, including two or three students and faculty. The audience largely consisted of older adults; several were recognizable from Vermont Yankee public meetings.

Right away, I met Professor Gerald Peterson of the UMass Amherst Physics faculty, whom I got to know at a Selectboard meeting in Brattleboro, Vermont, where I had been commissioned to present a program on nuclear power. Also attending was Gregory Bangs, a chemical–nuclear engineering student from UMass Lowell. We met at a previous ANS Northeastern Section Meeting. He and other students expressed an interest in public outreach, and I encouraged them to attend this event.

At 4:40 p.m., the program began with an introduction of the speakers. This was followed by the two speakers, questions and answers, and refreshments.

The documentarian and publicist

Delevingne

First to speak was Lionel Delevingne, a French photojournalist. He came to this country in 1968 “to be a part of something.” He attended the Vietnam War protests in Washington, DC in 1972, and wound up in Montague, Mass. (about 20 miles south of Vermont Yankee.)

Delevingne read Rachel Carson’s and Barry Commoner’s books, and commented on Commoner’s death two days before. “They provided a way to look at the environment as a whole,” Delevingue said.

In the Vietnam era, photo magazines were a principal news media. Delevingne documented the actions of the movement and sold the stories and photos to these outlets.  Movement actions included Sam Lovejoy’s toppling of the meteorological tower at the proposed nuclear power plant site on Montague Plains in Massachusetts—eventually, area farmers helped stop the plant from being built. He then covered the activists who went to Seabrook, N.H., to inspire the opposition to those plants. Delevingne believes that the anti-nuclear movement went from Montague to the world.

France is not a democracy, he feels, and nuclear power there is a state industry. Accidents are covered up, he said.

The founder

Gyorgy

Anna Gyorgy spoke next, her first public address in English in 25 years. She now lives in Bonn, Germany, a center for many United Nations agencies working on sustainable development. She is active on many issues, such as global North-South equity and women’s rights.

She was in Montague, working in a co-op, when the new nuclear power plant was proposed. She recounted that power company officials took the town’s Selectmen out to a steak dinner at Howard Johnson’s restaurant, and spoke of tax revenues for the town. She had read Poisoned Power: The case against nuclear power plants by John Gofman (published in 1971) and became active, gathering supporters. After writing pamphlets, she and the supporters decided to write a book, and 52 activists worked on it. Each had something different to contribute to the book, No Nukes: Everyone’s Guide to Nuclear Power, published in 1979.

The activists agreed that the movement must be peaceful. They also decided that they needed to offer an alternative to nuclear power, and so began promoting conservation, efficiency, and alternative energies. Einstein’s direction to “Take the movement to the village square” guided them.

Gyorgy made a series of statements that indicate her beliefs:

  • Germany shut down eight old nuclear plants, yet exported power the first winter. Talk of impending shortages was “all lies.”
  • In Germany the anti-nuclear movement is inter-generational, now into the third generation.
  • Local movements around nuclear plants, like the one against Vermont Yankee, are the backbone of the movement.
  • It’s not enough to have facts and people alone. A strategic discussion in needed.
  • President Obama’s “All of the above” energy policy is a disaster.
  • All different movements should join together—she is excited by the Occupy Movement and came home to see it.
  • Public education is fine, but the education she received while working on the 1984 presidential campaign for Jesse Jackson was irreplaceable.
  • Delevingne’s pictures caught and spread the spirit of the movement.

Gyorgy displayed a copy of a bar chart of a Gallup Poll, showing the low confidence in Congress. “Democracy has to be won and fought for over and over again. The future depends on it,” she said.

Questions and answers

Together Delevingne and Gyorgy took questions:

Can the internet overcome corporate media?
-  Perhaps not. For example, Wikipedia deleted all its information about Lionel (Delevingne) because it was pre-digital. Alternative energies and localization must be our way.

Can climate change be solved with nuclear power?
-  No. Nuclear power makes CO2 in its mining and life-cycle processes.

What are the effects of the Three Mile Island and Fukushima accidents?
-  They are well documented. People don’t drop dead right away. There are future health effects. Chernobyl is “20 years of cancer in the making.” The movie “Chernobyl Heart” is great. There is a synergism between radiation, air, and food contamination. The soil around Chernobyl is contaminated, but the food grown there is sold in the common market.

What do you think of the Patriot Act? Has it made energy a state secret?
-  The reaction to 9-11 seemed like a coup. These are dangerous times. The US is creating problems and exporting them.

Have you given up on the US? What do you think of Churchill’s “Democracy is the worst form of government except all others?”
-  We don’t have democracy here.

Additional discussion after the Q&A

Gregory Bangs, Professor Peterson, and Marilyn Billings of DuBois Library

When talking to Gyorgy and asking about a plan to transition to a fully renewable economy while still maintaining an economy, she said it has been done by a researcher at SAIC.

Doug Black, from the Walama Restoration Project in Eugene, Oregon, said that he believes in localization, as they are doing it in Eugene. He noted that we are “all in the same boat.” When asked if jet airline travel and ocean liners would exist in a localized economy, he said perhaps we could go back to sailing ships! And he added that no one has all the answers.

Prof. Peterson reported to me that the UMass Amherst Physics Department hosted a conference: “Climate Change and the Future of Nuclear Power.” It was reported that the relationship between CO2 and earth’s temperature has been found to be logarithmic, such that a large increase in CO2 is needed to affect a small temperature rise…

Opinion

Some nuclear opponents are *very* afraid of radiation—this is the underpinning of all their actions. And the basis of their fear seems clear. It comes from John Gofman’s work and books—Poisoned Power (1971, 1979) and Radiation and Human Health (1981)—based on the idea that *any* amount of radiation is harmful. Gofman is of course quoted in “No Nukes.”

It seems that we nuclear energy advocates won’t make the progress we want, until we directly confront and abolish this issue.

Right now, the dialog on the issue is stuck on: “Any amount of radiation is harmful” vs “Radiation is natural and low levels are safe.”

I am thinking about developing a one-page “elevator speech” addressing these points:
1. What did Gofman say, and why is it wrong based on current knowledge? What does the evidence say?
2. Based on the limited facts available at the time, was he “right” then?
3. If he was not right at that time, where did he go wrong?
4. Gofman’s views generated a lot of opposition. Was he seeking perfection, not considering risk vs. benefit?

Dr. Gofman died in 2007 and maintained his beliefs to the end.

___________________________

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.

Pro-Nuclear Activism: Something for Everyone

by Meredith Angwin

A few days ago, the Connecticut Section of the American Nuclear Society invited Howard Shaffer and me to give a talk on “Pro-Nuclear Activism.” Well, it is true, we have been very actively pro-nuclear in Vermont. So, armed with our recent experiences, our presentation was an effort to convey “lessons-learned,” or perhaps “best-practices” of pro-nuclear activism.

It was our story of what works for nuclear advocacy. And, a lot of “what works” can be summarized in three words: Just Show Up!

(Speaking of which, may I also recommend readers peruse “The future of nuclear at #MOXchat” posted yesterday at ANS Nuclear Cafe—exemplifying much of what we are talking about here.)

Hearings and public meetings

When we think about nuclear advocacy, we think about hearings, public meetings, and pro-nuclear rallies. These events are essential for “showing up” for nuclear power.

If there is a hearing:

Be there
Be with a friend
Be visible

Being there is what makes all else possible.

Bring a friend so you aren’t alone. At the MOX meeting in Tennessee, ANS had arranged for a coffee room (with cookies!). In this room, nuclear advocates could chat, eat (until the cookies ran out), and decompress from the hearing. This was a brilliant idea and made the hearing much more fun for the people who attended.

Be visible (e.g., wear a pro-nuclear shirt or button) so you can identify your friends, and reporters can also identify you as pro-nuclear.

May I add, socializing and having fun are important. Pro-nuclear people can sometimes encounter a “brownie-deficit.” Pro-nuclear people need to get together, even if ostensibly it’s to have brownies and coffee. We need to schmooze and plan our activities: letter-writing, hearing attendance, sign-making, and so forth. Nuclear opponents munch brownies and have potlucks, and thus they WANT to show up for another meeting. We need to do the same.

Other ways to be there

However, if our only chance to support nuclear energy is when we can attend a hearing or rally, opportunities for pro-nuclear activism would be few and far between. It is important to be publicly pro-nuclear—frequently! As Howard Shaffer says: We will always need pronuclear outreach. We emphasized this at the Connecticut Section ANS meeting, and you can see our viewgraphs here.

There are many things you can do from the relative safety of your computer to support nuclear on a constant basis. You can write letters to the editor. You can write on the web—print newspapers have websites, and if you see an anti-nuclear article, you can usually go to the website and comment on it. If you see a pro-nuclear article, you can do the same, showing that you agree with the article.

Easy does it

Supporting pro-nuclear is not all or nothing. Many of us are scientists and engineers, and sometimes we think we have to do a whole research project before we can write anything. But we can just share a pro-nuclear opinion, too. Your opinion counts!

For example, we included two viewgraph examples of pro-nuclear comments to web articles. Both of the web articles were on Vermont Digger, an online local news organization. When Judge Murtha ruled for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in federal court in January this year, one online commenter suggested that Murtha was inappropriately pre-disposed to Vermont Yankee. Lance Hagan responded: “I suspect if Judge Murtha had made a judgement the other way, you wouldn’t be questioning his integrity, but writing letters to the pope, nominating him for sainthood.”

That’s a pro-nuclear comment that didn’t take a lot of work to research. But it’s an opinion, and a voice that is heard. And it certainly counts as a public pro-nuclear statement.

The second comment explains why it is impossible to replace Vermont Yankee with renewables. It is written by Willem Post, a member of the Coalition for Energy Solutions with me and Howard.  (Willem Post blogs at the Energy Collective.) He wrote a fact-filled, excellent comment. In fact, it’s the gold standard for comments. <click image to enlarge>

I am giving these examples to show that you can answer with an opinion, or answer with well-researched information. But the important thing is… to answer!

For further reference, check this string of pro-nuclear comments on a Vermont Digger article about a Vermont Yankee protest.

Make it real

Unfortunately, our slides don’t show Howard Shaffer’s great use of props to make things real. Often, this can make all the difference. Howard bought a tritium self-illuminated exit sign, and he takes it to meetings. It contains more tritium than was spilled in a pipe system leak at Vermont Yankee—yet, it can be ordered through the mail! Howard points out that hazardous materials cannot be sent through the U.S. mail.

Howard also carries a fire-starter for a gas grill. Any ordinary gas grill serves as an example of a controlled chain reaction. A small spark starts a fire, and the size of the fire is controlled by the fuel one gives it. Thus, we are surrounded by controlled chain reactions…in our cars, furnaces, and gas grills. Howard gives a terrific presentation, because he makes it real.

Our Connecticut meeting had a good mixture of students and old-timers. There are all sorts of people in nuclear energy. Similarly, there are many ways for people to be pro-nuclear activists. Choose something to do, and start today!  And then, invite a pro-nuclear friend over and have some cookies together.

_________________________________

We want to thank the Connecticut ANS Section for their hospitality, and for everything they did to make the meeting a success. Special thanks to Uli Decher and Shawn Downey for all the work they did before the meeting, and for mounting the presentation on their website so quickly.

Photos from the Connecticut Local Section meeting.

Steve Skutnik’s eyewitness account of the Chattanooga meeting.

____________________________________

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents.Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Plant cooling a stumbling block?

By Howard Shaffer

When the heat released by nuclear fission is used in a steam plant to produce mechanical power, the second law of thermodynamics dictates that a large part of the heat must be rejected to the environment. Most land-based nuclear plants reject heat by using cooling water from a river or ocean.

The environmental effect of rejected heat is a legitimate concern that has been addressed in the design process for all nuclear plants. Environmental monitoring begins with a preconstruction baseline survey and continues throughout the plant’s lifetime, per regulations.

Environmental science continues to advance, and these advances must be taken into account when considering plant cooling.

Vermont Yankee’s design

The Vermont Yankee plant design began in the 1960s, and operation began in 1972. The plant is located on the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vermont, in the southeast corner of the state. The Connecticut River borders Vermont and New Hampshire, flows south through Massachusetts to Connecticut, and then empties into Long Island Sound. The Vermont Yankee plant is built just upstream from the Vernon Dam, and the dam’s large “pond” provides the plant’s cooling water.

The Vermont Yankee design included cooling towers, recently required by the Clean Water Act. Tower use is required only in warm months. River temperature requirements are specified in the plant’s Discharge Permit, and have been adjusted during plant life.

Permit issues

Vermont Yankee’s Discharge Permit is issued by the State of Vermont, under the authority of the Federal Clean Water Act. As the plant’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission relicensing date approached, the plant also applied for an extended permit from the state. The state review has been underway for several years.

Meanwhile, the NRC issued a 20-year renewal of the Vermont Yankee license, and the plant then sued Vermont for trying to nullify this license through state law. The plant won in federal district court and the case is being appealed.

Then, interveners sued the NRC claiming that the license renewal is illegal because the plant does not have a valid Discharge Permit from the state. The federal court dismissed this suit on procedural grounds, saying that the state and interveners had not used every available step in the administrative process, as must be done before going to court.

A detailed blog post on these rulings is available at Yes Vermont Yankee.

Protecting the river

The Connecticut River Watershed Council is an environmental group that monitors the river’s health and acts to ensure its protection and continued cleanup. Prior to the Clean Water Act of 1972, the local lore called the river “the world’s most beautifully landscaped sewer” because it was used that way by every city, town, and factory that had access. The river is far cleaner now.

However, the Watershed Council is now reporting that its studies have shown that one of the river’s fish, the shad, has essentially disappeared for a distance downstream from the plant. They claim that their studies show that water temperature increases due to the Vermont Yankee plant can be measured miles downstream. The council advocates the use of Vermont Yankee’s cooling towers for a longer part of the year, or even all year. Meanwhile, the state is waiting for its scientific review to be completed.

One law professor called for shutting down the plant until the Discharge Permit process is resolved. The responsible state official replied that the process must be fair and defensible in court!

A complication?

About 10 miles downstream of Vermont Yankee, the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage plant also uses the Connecticut River. It pumps water up to a reservoir at night, and releases it as needed during the day to generate power. This reservoir is on a mountain top and open to the sun, so it gains heat.

There has been no mention of this heat gain by the Watershed Council. A Massachusetts environmental professor detailed severe effects on aquatic life that were probably caused by this plant. He pointed out that many species recovered when the pump storage plant was off-line. In addition, there are reports of heavy shad fishing at the river’s mouth. Will these concerns appear in the council’s report? They should.

Opposition activity

The SAGE Alliance plans a September 15th Flotilla at Vermont Yankee. Supporters are encouraged to launch any kind of craft, and also be on the river banks. Banners opposing the plant will be displayed. They will symbolically dump some ice in the river for cooling. There has not been much to keep the plant in the news this summer, so this seems to be a publicity stunt, and an effort to keep supporters energized.

Possible outcome

It seems possible that scientific findings may eventually dictate that the Vermont Yankee plant reduce its temperature impact on the river for more months than it does now. The plant’s cooling towers would have to be used more. However, tower operation reduces the net power the plant delivers to the grid. Winter operation of these wooden frame towers is problematic at best, due to potential ice damage, and probably not possible.

Likewise, the findings may also dictate changes to protect fish from the effect of the pumped storage plant. There are fish ladders around the dams, but there may need to be a long canal installed to allow fish to bypass the pumped storage intake.

The future

Several other nuclear power plants (Oyster Creek and Indian Point, among others) also are facing challenges about discharge temperatures. The sciences of aquatic life are advancing. It may be that practices once believed acceptable will need to be changed. Nuclear scientists and engineers believe primarily in science and the scientific method. We will go where it leads us (that is why we are so passionate about publicizing correct information about radiation safety).

In terms of aquatic life, we need to accept valid, peer-reviewed findings substantiated by the evidence, even if conclusions turn out to be uncomfortable for us. However, the important point is to accept comprehensive, peer-reviewed scientific studies that look at the whole river, dams, pumped storage and all, and do what is best for the ecosystem.

________________________________

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.