Oh, That Tritium

     I live 5 miles from a nuclear power plant whose owner, Entergy, has just been exposed as a lying dog.
     Before I proceed, I should explain my position on nuclear power.
     I do not trust the nuclear industry any farther than I could throw a nuclear bomb. I do not trust its so-called regulators in the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission either. I believe the NRC and every other agency involved in certifying, approving and monitoring nuclear power plants has acted for decades, at all times, like whores for the industry.
     (For a terrifying look at how the U.S. government has dealt with the weapons side of the nuclear industry, see the book “American Ground Zero,” by Carole Gallagher.)
     That said, I think we need more nuclear power plants. I do not see any alternative to nuclear power – as soon as the federal whores can figure out a place to put the nuclear waste. That’s the main problem with nuclear power, and it’s a big one.
     I also believe my neighbors in Vermont are a bit loony about nuclear power, and I’ll tell you why I think this.
     I was editorial page editor for a daily newspaper in California during the great electricity fiasco of 2000-2001, when Enron screwed us all for jillions and the federal government proved day after day its pathetic incompetence to rein in crooks.
     I had to write editorials about that catastrophe day after day for months, and, somewhat against my will, I learned a lot about the power industry.
     That’s how I know that electricity does not come like magic just because you flip a switch. It comes from power plants.
Here in Vermont, there is a sizable contingent of folks who believe that Entergy, and its Vermont Yankee power plant on the Connecticut River, are, to put it mildly, Instruments of Satan.
     The very fact that I said just now that electricity does not come like magic when you flip a switch would qualify me, in the eyes of many of my neighbors, as a witless tool of the Instrument of Satan, a gutless hireling of the so on and so forth.
     So far as I know, that is not the case. If Satan offered me a deal, I do not remember it. I’m not anti-Vermont Yankee and I was willing to give Entergy the benefit of the doubt about a lot of things.
     But not anymore.
     Entergy’s permit to run the Vermont Yankee plant expires in 2012. It wants a permit to run it for another 20 years.
     Vermont is the only state that demands a say in this process. To be re-permitted, Entergy needs the approval not only of the NRC, but a certificate of public good from the Department of Public Service, and approval by the Legislature.
Entergy promised that when the plant finally closes – whenever that may be – it will decommission it to make the site safe. The NRC estimates that will cost $550 million. Nuke-watchers claim it will be closer to $1 billion. But let’s say the NRC is right.
     After the financial catastrophe hit America, Entergy revealed that its decommissioning fund for Vermont Yankee was a bit short – just a few hundred million dollars or so.
     Then Entergy said, Hey, wouldn’t it be a good idea if we spin off Vermont Yankee into a separate company?
     In other words, in broad daylight, Entergy said it didn’t have the half a billion dollars it needs to shut down the plant safely, and then, in the same breath, it tried to duck that bill and dump it onto a company to be named later, which the State of Vermont can sue when the time comes.
     But wait. There’s more.
     As part of the recertification process, state and federal officials asked Entergy if it had any underground pipes at the plant that might leak radioactive tritium and pollute the Connecticut River, where Entergy dumps its coolant water.
     Nope, Entergy said. No underground pipes at Vermont Yankee.
     Until two weeks ago, when it turned out that radioactive tritium had leaked from an underground pipe and contaminated a well 30 feet from the Connecticut River.
     Oh, that underground pipe, Entergy said.
     This week it turned out that another well has been contaminated by those nonexistent underground pipes – 100 feet from the river.
     Oh, that underground pipe, Entergy said.
     Now even the Republicans in the Legislature are ticked off.
     So you see, Entergy makes it pretty tough for a guy who wants to support the nuclear power industry. So I’ve changed my mind. I think Vermont had better start looking, now, for a place to get one-third of its electricity.
     And I think Entergy is run by a bunch of lying dogs.

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