As Vermont Yankee seeks to extend its operating license 20 years beyond its 2012 shutdown date, a group of energy-savvy panelists is assembling at the Big Picture Theater in Waitsfield to discuss Vermont’s power possibilities.
The free event, on June 24, from 6 to 8 p.m., is being touted as “an educational discussion” on Vermont’s energy future and the “political, health, economic and environmental implications of this decision.” For sure, the discussion will be educational — moderating the event is filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, of Why We Fight fame, who’s promising the public at least an hour to ask questions.
“Truly, our agenda is to learn more about the issues and raise overall awareness,” says Marge Keough, who is organizing the event for one of its sponsors, Valley Futures Network. “We’re not coming at it with a pro- or anti-nuke stance. We’re coming at it to learn more about the issues.”
Nevertheless, the choice of panelists suggests that the 37-year-old nuke plant in Vernon is in for a rough night, especially as no one will be representing Vermont Yankee or its owner, Entergy Nuclear. The panelists include several critics of the industry, including Dr. Nancy Chickering with Physicians For Social Responsibility and James Moore, a clean-energy advocate with Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Both groups oppose nuclear power in principle. Lawrence Mott, the third panelist, is managing director of New Generation Partners and has spent nearly a quarter-century developing wind and solar projects in Vermont.
Then there’s Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and member of the Vermont Yankee Oversight Panel. Though Gundersen isn’t against all nuclear power per se, the former industry whistleblower and legal expert says he plans to speak about why Vermont Yankee couldn’t be built today under current safety standards. He’ll also offer an example of how Entergy “dropped the ball” on its cooling tower problems, which he says the company knew about for years — a photo of the August 2007 collapse has become a symbol of the anti-nuke argument. Recently, Gundersen was hired by the Vermont legislature to make sure Entergy complies with the oversight panel’s recommendations.
Only Rep. Adam Greshin, an independent from the Mad River Valley and partner in the company that owns the Sugarbush Resort in Warren, is the nuclear wildcard. A first-term lawmaker, Greshin voted against a bill that would have required Vermont Yankee’s new owner to increase contributions to its decommissioning fund by the time the plant is sold. That bill, which passed both houses, was vetoed by the governor.