Going Nuclear

     I live 5 miles from a nuclear power plant called Vermont Yankee, which Entergy bought in 2002 for $180 million. Entergy promised it would set aside $310 million to decommission the plant when its 40-year license expired in 2011.
     I think the United States needs nuclear power.
     True, the cowards who run our government have refused for decades to build a storage site for the spent fuel rods. I don’t see why we can’t stick them under the Nevada or New Mexico nuclear bomb test sites. But that’s another story.
     Vermont Yankee is a sensitive topic in southern Vermont, in the potential fallout zone. It’s so sensitive that rational dialogue is just about impossible. People turn their back on you if you speak up for nuclear power. It’s happened to me.
     But in my 8 years in Vermont, I have come to see that Entergy, which reported $11 billion in earnings in 2010, is the most dishonest, abusive, arrogant corporate carpetbagger in the United States.
     Entergy invaded Vermont 10 years ago to sack the state. Here’s why I say this.
     Vermont Yankee’s cooling tower collapsed in 2007. The tower cools water that comes from the radioactive nuclear core, before dumped it into the Connecticut River.
     The Vermont Yankee cooling tower was made of wood.
     That’s right. A nuclear plant that provides 35 percent of Vermont’s electricity has a cooling tower made of wood.
     No cost-cutters at Entergy, what?
     As Vermont Yankee’s 40-year NRC license was coming up for renewal – for expiration – Entergy tried to sell the plant, and another nuclear plant in New York. Entergy claimed that the nuclear plants were money-making operations.
     When it didn’t get a single bid, for obvious reasons – licensing and safety – Entergy said that didn’t matter, because those nuclear plants did make any money anyway.
     Wait, there’s more.
     In 2010, Vermont Yankee, which sits on the Connecticut River, was found to be leaking radioactive tritium, or heavy water. The Connecticut River flows through Massachusetts and Connecticut into the Atlantic Ocean.
     Under intense public scrutiny, Entergy issued statements that: 1) there were no leaks, because 2) there were no underground pipes at Vermont Yankee; 3) well, one underground pipe may have leaked but 4) there were no other underground pipes; 5) well, there were other underground pipes and 6) maybe they leaked tritium too, but 7) the radioactive water would never get to the Connecticut River; but 8) well, maybe it did.
     These statements came in quick succession, day after day.
     Each statement said: We lied yesterday, but trust us today.
     Entergy eventually acknowledged that the tritium leaks may have reached 75,000 picocuries per liter – 37 times the federal limit.
     But we’re not done yet.
     Entergy tried to “divest” Vermont Yankee, to “spin it off” into a separate corporation, which – get this – would be responsible for the decommissioning fees, which now come to considerably more than $310 million.
     No one bit on this either, for obvious reasons: It would have left taxpayers to pick up the tab for an aging nuclear plant that Entergy had bankrupted and abandoned.
     When the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 against recertifying Vermont Yankee – to deny it a Certificate of Public Good – because of this history of lies and safety violations, Entergy sued Vermont, on the grounds that only the federal government, not the states, can regulate nuclear safety.
     The recent federal trial on this was a charade.
     Entergy dredged up every Vermont legislator’s statement it could find – from committee hearings, from the floor of the Legislature, for all I know, from lawmakers’ bathrooms – that referred to “safety.” Entergy told the judge that Vermont was illegally trying to trying to regulate nuclear safety.
     The judge ruled for Entergy.
     Then Entergy sued Vermont for $4.6 million in legal fees, claiming the state’s opposition to its relicensing was “frivolous.”
     Entergy filed this frivolous claim of frivolity as Vermont is recovering from Hurricane Irene, which cost the state – wholly apart from private businesses – at least $1 billion. That Vermont’s annual state budget.
     Entergy did this 2 weeks ago, during a disastrous winter, with no snow at all, which has cost Vermont’s tourism industry millions, killing hundreds or thousands of jobs.
     People all over Vermont are hurting. But Entergy wants $4.6 million from us, for a “frivolous” lawsuit about nuclear safety, less than a year after the Fukushima disaster.
     Is there a more dishonest and arrogant corporation anywhere in the world?

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