Some good news on page one of my morning paper: In Vermont, the only state that gives the legislature a voice in nuclear plant licensing, the state Senate has rebuffed an attempt by Vermont Yankee to relicense the aging and long-troubled N-plant for another 20 years, after its license expires in 2012.
The vote was 26 to 4—not exactly close, and to me, living less than 40 miles from the plant, that big margin provides substantial comfort. The plant’s owner, Entergy, would have to work pretty hard to get a majority.
All the way back to the 1970s when it was new, Vermont Yankee was named “one of the 10 worst nukes in the country” in No Nukes, by Anna Gyorgy et al (South End Press, p. 106)—a book that I used heavily in researching my own 1980 book on nuclear power and still consider the definitive work on the subject. According to Gyorgy, Vermont Yankee reported 39 “abnormal occurrences” in 1973 alone, and was shut down 17 times during a 19-month period.
Vermont Yankee was only a year old when it had those 39 incidents. Consider this: Nuclear plants do not age gracefully. The corrosive effects of high-level radiation and a toxic chemical stew, on top of normal aging and fatigue, inevitably lead to severe problems. Parts crack, pipes leak, systems fail—and the public’s health and safety are put at risk.
And like so many nuclear plants around the world, the plant is located near a border, so that other states share any potential catastrophe. In the far southeast corner of the state, the plant sits on the Connecticut River directly across from New Hampshire, is about three miles north of Massachusetts (a ten-minute bike ride). Activists in these adjoining states have used the slogan, “Radiation without Representation.” (Ask the citizens of Denmark how they feel about the Swedish nuclear power plant directly across the Orsund that threatens their nuclear-free country.)
Vermont Yankee has continued to be plagued with problems. Recently, to name one among many examples, it’s been spewing huge levels of radioactive tritium into the water—at 130 times the safety standard :
Since then, the levels of contamination found in some wells has risen dramatically. The federal safety standard for tritium in drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter, but water from one monitoring well measured nearly 2.6 million picocuries per liter.
Dr. William E. Irwin, the radiological health chief for the Vermont Department of Health, said Thursday that tritium has not yet been detected in the nearby Connecticut River, but it probably has reached it.
Not extending the license is indeed a people’s victory. Closing, once and for all, this dangerous plant that should have been shuttered decades ago is long overdue. And President Obama would do well to reconsider his ill-advised push for nukes.