The Vermont Yankee shutdown means the plant carcass must be safely decommissioned as quickly as possible. With full spent fuel pools, we hope Vermont Yankee rests in peace, not in pieces like Fukushima Daiichi. In this video, CCTV Nuclear Free Future Host Margaret Harrington discusses the economic, environmental, health and safety implications that the recent closing of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will have on New England with Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps and Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer of Fairewinds Energy Education.
Entergy first applied to operate VY for twenty additional years in January 2006, beginning a long process of increased oversight by the public, the state, and frontline activists. The shutdown of VY happened much sooner than Entergy planned on December 29, 2014. Arnie and Kevin look at the huge costs Entergy would have incurred to keep the aging plant operating with safety modifications required since the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. With VY’s shutdown, environmentalists hope that the diminished wildlife in the Connecticut River, specifically shad fish , should rebound now that the thermal pollution has ended.
What’s next for Vermont Yankee? Rapid safe decommissioning and safe clean up of the carcass of the plant by owner, Entergy is possible according to calculations Arnie has developed. State supervision to assure that Entergy continues to protect the people and environment of Vermont is imperative. Entergy wants to take as many short cuts as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will allow including ending the emergency planning program. Entergy has asked for a special exemption simply to avoid spending money on the current evacuation plan even though the equivalent of radiation from 700 atomic bombs sits in the spent fuel pool.Another example of increasing risk to the public is evident at the San Onofre nuclear site where owner Southern California Edison let go of security guard forces before any approval by the NRC.
From Vermont Yankee’s shut down, Arnie and Kevin express the optimism and hope of a new trend of fewer aging nuclear reactors and impress upon us the responsibility to hold Entergy to a safe and thorough clean up.
M: This is Burlington and here we are in the Channel 17 newsroom in Burlington, Vermont, for our ongoing Nuclear-Free Future conversation. And viewers, welcome with me our guest today, Arnie Gundersen, here in the studio with me.
AG: Hi, Margaret, nice to be back.
M: Nice to be back here with you, Arnie. And you’re the Chief Engineer of Fairewinds Energy Education. And together, we can welcome our friend, Kevin Camps, from Beyond Nuclear, and you’re a guest – you have been a guest here a few times before. And we welcome you back, Kevin. Thank you so much.
KC: Thank you, Margaret. Hello, Arnie.
M: At this time, we have just experienced the closing of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant here in Vermont. The date was December 31st, 2014 –
KC: December 29th at 12:12 p.m. So I’m saying.
M: And our subject here is Vermont Yankee Post Mortem: Environment, Health and Safety? Economics? Activism? With my two guests. So right off, we’ll plunge into it with questions about – what are the repercussions of the closing of Vermont Yankee? Because the public – and I am a member of the public here – we have learned from one of the most apolitical articles in National Geographic, that the “Vermont Nuclear Power Plant, which sits along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vermont, shut down in the face of price competition from natural gas.” Period. That’s the first paragraph. It stands there. What do you say to that, Arnie?
AG: There’s no doubt that there’s price competition from natural gas, but also from renewables. And if you want to shut down your local nuke, the best thing you can do is put a solar panel on your roof. And the reason for that is that it reduces the peak demand, and that’s how nuclear power makes all its money is by – at the peak. So if you put a solar collector on your roof, you’re making a statement that will put financial pressure on nuclear. But again, natural gas is low, and utilities around the country are threatening to shut down their nuclear plant unless we pay higher electric rates. So basically they’re saying we need to subsidize nuclear power by paying more for electricity. And that’s the argument Entergy made: we can’t make money so we’re shutting it down. And here in Vermont – Vernon, the town that Vermont Yankee is in – they’re saying oh, how sad, we’re losing all these good people. And it was a perfectly good plant. The fact of the matter is it was a very expensive plant. And if we wanted to keep it running, we’d have to pay more than we can from other sources. When Entergy was making money, they didn’t give it back, and for the last year, they were losing money and they decided it was time to pull the plug. (3:12) Well, money was part of it, but it wasn’t everything, and I think Kevin really was a major contributor to the overall issue. M: Kevin, can you speak to that about how much money Vermont Yankee used to run the plant? And it was taxpayer money, also, the tax incentive programs and all of that.
KC: Well, thank you, Arnie for your kind words, but it was really my honor and privilege to kind of show up at the high moments in Vermont. And it was an honor to testify at the Vermont State Legislature and I did get to see your presentation to the legislators about the mis-statements, shall we say, under oath, by Entergy officials to State of Vermont officials. And I was also there for the big protest, March 22, 2012, the first day of the license extension that was so controversial. So I would have to correct you, I’m afraid. It was really the grass roots activists of Vermont, many of whom were at this for over four decades. And the party in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on January 3rd that just took place – a lot of those folks were there. And I looked around the room at one point, there were probably 150 people there despite the severe weather conditions outside. And it dawned on me that if you did the person years or the activism years in that room, you were talking many centuries of activism put together there. And I really love this op-ed that Bob Beatty (?4:39) of the Safe & Green Campaign put out just after Entergy announced its decision to permanently close Vermont Yankee. So it would have been published in early September of 2013. It was titled What Killed the Beast? And he had a King Kong metaphor going. And his answer was it was the beauty of people power that killed the beast. Because what forced Entergy to have to compete on the spot market? Well, it was the people of Vermont and western Massachusetts and nearby in New Hampshire who got elected officials in the State of Vermont in the right place on this issue. And that led to the utilities of Vermont having a very strong stand when they negotiated with Entergy. Not one watt of electricity from Vermont Yankee has been used or sold in Vermont itself for years now. And that was people power in action.
AG: Yeah, I think – you’re right. Entergy had five nukes that are in trouble. There’s Pilgrim in Massachusetts; there’s Palisades in Michigan; there’s Indian Point right in New York City. And they chose to shut down Vermont Yankee. And I think it was because not just activism but we are smarter because of activism in Vermont. The nuclear issues have constantly been raised and the populace in Vermont is very smart and the political office holders are also very smart. So we just didn’t get pushed around by Entergy like they seem to be able to push people around in New York State.
KC: I didn’t really answer your question, Margaret, about the cost, but the nuclear power industry has a very bad habit of trying to send the bill to the people, whether it’s to the rate payers on their electricity bills or to the taxpayers. And Entergy is pretty infamous at that. Entergy has kind of an unwritten business model of buying reactors dirt cheap and then running them into the ground. And I’m from Michigan so I’m more familiar with their behavior at Palisades since 2007 when they took over there. They have some major safety-related systems and structures and components that the previous owner promised the state and the population of Michigan would be fixed when this wonderful company from New Orleans called Entergy took over. Well, I’m working with Arnie and others right now on the worst embrittled reactor pressure vessel in the country at Palisades. Entergy has done nothing to address that problem other than try to lobby the NRC to weaken the safety regulations. That’s one of many examples of Palisades we could cite. So what Entergy does is they pocket the profits they make – because they do make a lot of money from electricity sales. Not everywhere, though; not at Vermont Yankee recently. But at Palisades, they do. They’re not putting that back into maintenance, and we live in dire risk downwind because of that.
AG: You know, Entergy was calling these plants cash cows. For years, they were calling them cash cows. And just for the last year or two, with the gas market and renewables displacing it, now they’re bemoaning the fact. We’ve got politicians throughout New England, but in Vernon especially, who are saying oh, woe is us, those bad activists have shut down a perfectly good nuclear reactor. And over the 40 years Vermont Yankee was running, it’s been – there’s been 440 nuclear reactors built – 5 of them have had meltdowns. So one out of every 100 nuclear plants melts down. That’s not the kind of neighbor I want. I don’t walk across the street when I know the odds are going to be 1 in 100 I’ll get run over by a bus. So actually, I’m really happy that Vermont Yankee shut down. Because now we are not in the nuclear crosshairs. We’ve managed to escape the likelihood of a meltdown. Vermont Yankee was identical to the design of Fukushima Daiichi, too, so it’s a great day for Vermont.
M: And what is the impact in present day upon the environment here in Vermont? And the health and safety issues surrounding the decommissioning plant?
AG: Any nuclear plant – nuclear plants have the least efficient way of producing electricity in the world. That means that they throw out an enormous amount of waste heat, and that’s why they’re always built near rivers or on the ocean. And Vermont Yankee has been polluting the Connecticut River for 40 years with its waste heat. And the shad population on the river has declined from 70,000 shad per year down to 7 shad per year. That’s right – 7. Now shad go out to sea for 4 years before they come back. So 5 years from now, we should see the beginning of the shad runs begin to build back up again because there’s no more thermal pollution to kill the eggs as they’re floating down the river. I think that’s a major thing to keep on the radar. And I hope that the people in Vernon and people along the Connecticut River recognize that when the shad start to come back in 5 years, it’s because Vermont Yankee is not polluting the river with thermal pollution. That’s a big deal.
M: Yeah, and that would indicate other health concerns that are brought up with the running of the Vermont Yankee, including thyroid problems and radiation from – for especially the young population around the power plant. (10:32)
KC: That reminds me of conversations I had in Greenfield, again. I was up in Vermont for the celebration this past couple of weeks and I learned a lot from folks who have watchdogged Vermont Yankee for so long. And one of the things that just made my jaw drop was how close the elementary school in Vernon is to the atomic reactor. And I did stop by there and saw with my own eyes. I mean it’s several hundred yards at most. And I learned that Vermont Yankee, even from the earliest days, had to put in radiation shielding between the reactor and the school to cut down on the gamma dose that the children would experience. And then when they got the power uprate – the 20 percent power uprate, which is one of the biggest in the country, they had to increase the shielding so that the children would not get a large dose. But those risks now, those concerns continue, because one of the first things that’s going to happen in the weeks ahead is they’re going to offload what’s in the core – the irradiated fuel – we’re talking a large quantity – into the pool. And we’ve seen recent reports from Europe especially where the radiation releases that occur often occur when they take the lid off and move fuel around. So that’s a concern. Then you’ve got many hundreds of tons of irradiated fuel in the storage pool at Vermont Yankee. That’s still a very significant risk. And then you’ve got the bad contamination of that site that has to be cleaned up. But that school right there, and then right across the river, there’s another elementary school – and so Citizens Awareness Network has started to raise that concern that when someday they start moving field when they start dismantling the facilities – we saw that happen in Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3, during dismantlement of the rumble at Unit 3, the carelessness of Tokyo Electric, they caused a large release of radioactivity airborne that fell out over a long distance, contaminating rice crops, for example. So there’s still a lot of vigilance required at Vermont Yankee.
AG: You know, the reactor’s shut down. That doesn’t mean that the radiation goes away. The nuclear fuel pool will have the equivalent of about 700 nuclear bombs worth of radioactivity in it for the next 5 years. And eventually, that will be taken out of the fuel pool and put into canisters which then are lowered to the ground and will be stored for perhaps 50 or 60 years and maybe even longer. So the process of lifting those heavy canisters out and moving them onto the ground has a lot of problems associated with it. Our viewers may remember back about 4 years ago, one of those canisters – the brakes on the heavy crane failed at Vermont Yankee, and the canister started to slide down and they couldn’t stop it. So it’s – until that fuel is out of the fuel pool and until the building is essentially emptied of radiation, we’re still at risk. And Entergy’s reaction to that is to eliminate the emergency plan starting next year. They don’t want to do emergency planning at Vermont Yankee. And what that means, of course, is that the risk is being carried by the people who live near Vermont Yankee, but Entergy saves some money by not having to have an emergency staff on hand.
M: (14:03) And so this emergency plan means the evacuation route, etc., for the people living near there, among other things. Right?
KC: And I would give credit to Senator Sanders from Vermont, alongside Senator Markee from Massachusetts and Senator Boxer of California, who were in the majority and so they were able to hold a lot of sway the last few years of Environment and Public Works Committee hearings on nuclear matters in the U.S. Senate. That’s all changed now that the Republicans are in the majority and Senator Boxer has announced her retirement. But they made a really big deal about that point that Arnie just raised where shutdown nuclear power plants, which in recent years have included Kewaunee, Wisconsin and Crystal River, Florida, San Onofre Units 2 and 3 in California, it’s another bad habit of the nuclear power industry to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for these exemptions from emergency preparedness even though the irradiated fuel is still in the pool. And they get it. They get a rubber stamp to do away with these important plans for evacuation; while at the same time, the NRC assumes in its studies of the risks of pool fires that nobody is going to get hurt because everybody is going to evacuate very quickly and safely. And so they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth. And it was so bad at San Onofre that the company – Southern California Edison – actually let go of its security guard force without informing the NRC despite the fact that their pools are full of catastrophically dangerous nuclear waste.
M: Now you bring up the NRC and the public perceives the NRC as the Great Oversight of this decommissioning plant. And recently the NRC made a decision about the storage of nuclear waste. Could you explain that more to me, Arnie?
AG: Well, I’ll touch on the oversight issue. The NRC is a captured agency. There’s 5 commissioners – the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Those 5 commissioners are appointed by Congress. And Congress has always appointed pro-nuclear commissioners. So the 5 guys running it – 5 people running it – there was 2 women; now there’s one – that team is essentially rubber stamping what the nuclear industry wants to have done. And the staff of about 4,000 people get the message: that you don’t get promoted in the NRC if you support the public. You get promoted in the NRC if you support the industry. So the pressures on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are to lower the cost of nuclear. They all know that if they’re too rigid in their interpretation of the law, that a nuclear plant is going to go out of business. In the last year, 5 nuclear plants have gone out of business. And there’s 20 others that are right on the cusp. So the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s staff is fully aware that if they’re too tough, 20 more plants will likely collapse. And that’s going to mean somebody at the NRC is going to lose their job. So they’ve got a conflict of interest at the NRC. They’re not looking out for us. They’re looking out for the nuclear industry.
M: Can you speak to that, Kevin? I know you are the nuclear waste watchdog and when you have appeared on this program before and many other places – but what do you say about the newest nuclear – NRC decision – about nuclear waste, and specifically at Vermont Yankee? (17:40)
KC: Yeah, that’s a funny choice of words – you said oversight at NRC. And English is a funny language, so there’s two definitions of oversight. One means to look very carefully at something; and the opposite as well – to miss something by not looking very carefully. An oversight. NRC is infamous for its oversights, and one of them is this question you ask about nuclear waste confidence, this Orwellian term, literally from 1984 when NRC first put the policy out, where NRC effectively said, hey, nuclear industry, make as much high-level radioactive waste as you want because we have confidence that it can be safely stored at the reactors for decades or longer. And then we have confidence, too, that there will be a dump site someday where we can just sweep it under the rug. So go ahead, make as much as you want. Without even doing an environmental impact statement for all these decades. And they could not get away with that any more after June 8th of 2012, when a coalition of states, including Vermont and New York, and a coalition of some 3 dozen environmental groups took them to court, and the DC Circuit Court of Appeals said, you know what? These folks are right. NRC you need to do an environmental impact statement on the generation and the storage of high-level radioactive waste. And so they went through the motions. They did a very shallow environmental impact statement. They effectively ignored tens of thousands of public comments from hearings around the country. And again, they changed the name but they kept the policy. Now they call it Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel. They’ve incredibly said it’s safe at the reactor site for decades if not centuries into the future, and they have not put a date certain on a repository. And it’s going to go back to court is what’s going to happen. In fact, there are a bunch of licensing decisions that are poised for finalization now by the NRC. Davis-Besse, where we’ve worked with Arnie, Calloway, Missouri – any number – Ferme 3 where we’ve worked with Arnie in Michigan – as soon as NRC makes its move to grant those licenses that, again, the coalition of environmental groups, for sure, and hopefully that coalition of states which have their own duty to protect their own constituents will take action, seek an injunction against that licensing decision – has finally caught up with NRC after all these decades.
AG: And when I went to school and all these plants were being built, no one thought you’d be storing nuclear waste at a nuclear reactor. The theory was that within 5 years, the fuel would be shipped out to be reprocessed. Well, reprocessing has been a colossal failure and there are no reprocessing facilities in the United States right now. And the one in France is not doing very well, either. So what has happened is that the plants have become constipated. There’s no place to put the fuel. They can’t ship it away, so they keep stuffing more and more and more into these nuclear fuel pools. The fuel pools are full. Now they’re saying we’ll take it out of the fuel pool and we’ll put it on the ground and we’ll store it for – as Kevin said – decades if not centuries. That was not the plan when these nuclear plants were built. The plan was in 50 years – in 5 years, rather – that fuel would be on its way to be reprocessed. So that process was a total failure – reprocessing. And now we’re stuck with the legacy of decisions made in the 60’s that fuel pools would only have 3 to 5 years worth of fuel in them.
M: (21:21) When we’re talking about the activism and the public – and I as a member of the public – we have to struggle and reach out to people such as you, Kevin, and you, Arnie, to understand what’s going on, because I again cite the National Geographic article and they say “As another nuclear power plant closed this week, the United States faced a dwindling fleet of aging reactors, few new projects and the challenge of safely moth-balling radioactive fuel for decades.” So this is what we the public are hearing, that they’re moth-balling, as though – well, when I mothball something in my closet, it’s to use it at a different time or to sell it or something like that. So moth-balling is a common word – speak to that for me.
AG: There’s a brilliant movie that you can get on pretty much any of the computer – the places you buy movies – it’s called Into Eternity. And it’s about the storage of nuclear waste in Finland. And they talk about building this facility and how difficult it is to design something that has to store nuclear material for longer than there have been humans on the earth. You have to keep this stuff stored in the ground for a quarter of a million years. And they talk about how language has changed. And do you put big warning signs up telling people to stay away? And in what language, when 1,000 years from now, people won’t be able to ready it. And then the flip side of that is, if you put a warning sign up, then the next person who has – who is not a nice guy – the next Hitler or something like that – will say well, there’s plutonium down there and I can make bombs and I know where to drill. So if you warn, you actually invite people whose motives are not pristine, to drill in the future. We’re talking about a problem that’s going to be with us longer than mankind has been on the planet.
KC: And talk about back to the future, the United States is in the year 1957, when it comes to high-level radioactive waste, which was when the powers that be – the National Academy of Sciences, the Federal government, first put out a report that said that’s the way to go, it’s going to be easy; in the meantime we’ll reprocess – we’re back to 1957. We have no answer. Yucca Mountain was the illusion of a solution, as Michael Keegan with Don’t Waste Michigan puts it – as long as there was an illusion of a solution, be it reprocessing, Yucca Mountain as a dumpsite, go ahead, we have confidence, make as much waste as you want. And here we go again. The republicans in Congress are very fixated, obsessed with the Yucca Mountain dump because their paymasters in the nuclear power industry where they get their campaign contributions from, wants it. They want Yucca Mountain, they want centralized interim storage, which we call parking lot dumps, on a regional basis, which are surface storage. They’re targeting Department of Energy sites, Native American reservations, nuclear power plant sites. It’s crazy. It’s chaos. We refer to it as mobile Chernobyl – these trucks and trains and barges that would move the waste to these places. And it was a tremendous grass roots victory in Nevada working with people across the country to stop Yucca Mountain. I mean it came very close, sometimes down to a single vote in the United States Senate, like in 2000 – a single vote sustained President Clinton’s veto against the Yucca Mountain dump. But we did. And we held off that dump for decades. They’re going to come at us again in this new congressional session and we will beat them again because it’s too dangerous. It’s a disaster if they get away with it because it’s an earthquake zone at Yucca, it’s a volcanic zone, there’s a lot of water flow through that landscape that would release the radioactivity in massive quantities over time. So we have to stop it; we have no choice.
AG: (25:31) The decision to build at Yucca Mountain was not scientific. When the bill passed Congress, it was affectionately called the Screw Nevada Bill because Nevada didn’t have many representatives and basically everybody else didn’t want it in their back yard, so they screwed Nevada. And now, even if Yucca Mountain were to be built, there’s not enough storage space at Yucca Mountain for the fuel from Vermont Yankee. So we now have to look for another mountain to store our nuclear waste in as well. So it was a political decision and not a scientific one, and now we’re trying to ramrod through what scientists don’t really think is a great idea.
KC: We know that first site search back in the early 80’s, because the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was passed in 1983, they were sniffing around Vermont. There were 7 cites in granite-rich Vermont and another 2 over in New Hampshire and Maine. The Department of Energy was sniffing around the Northeast and they got chased out of there just like they got chased out of other parts of the country. And Nevada got gained up on, like Arnie said. They only had one member of the U.S. house and of course, they had two senators but they were both rookies. But the nuclear establishment messed with the wrong rookie senator, Harry Reid, and they never foresaw Reid becoming Senate Majority Leader. They never foresaw Las Vegas growing to such a large population. And it really backfired on them. But here we go again. They’re going to start targeting the path of least resistance. And what’s really scandalous is that many times that takes the form of Native American reservations. We fought a bitter struggle for years working with the tradition at the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation – people like Margene Bullcreek and Sammy Blackbear, to fend off a parking lot dump targeted at them by the nuclear power industry. And we succeeded but the wounds were deep. And it was a happy ending, but the wounds in that community, because lots of money was being dangled before them – are still there.
M: So what is the prospect here in Vermont on the site of Vermont Yankee? And what is the burden to Vermonters and to Americans across the country with this decommissioning of the site?
AG: (28:03) For 5 years, the major buildings will have to stay intact because the fuel is in the nuclear fuel pool and it’s not going anywhere for 5 years. After 5 years, they can empty all of the fuel in the nuclear fuel pool and get it on the ground, at which point you’ve got a carcass. And that carcass at any point can be removed after that. Of course, the problem is, there’s not enough money. And the Nuclear Regulatory commission allows Entergy and other power plants to take 60 years to remove the carcass. So here’s a plant that ran for 43 years and you’re allowed 60 years to clean it up. There’s nothing in science why 60 years is a good idea, but the reason is, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants to make nuclear power cheap, so they invest this money in the stock market and they believe that over 60 years, the money will grow and they’ll be enough to get rid of the carcass. So we’ll have a radioactive carcass of a power plant even after the nuclear fuel is on the ground. Likely, they’ll be eventually enough money in maybe 2040 to begin to dismantle the plant. And by 2050, I’ll be 101. The carcass should be gone and shipped to Texas. So Texas is the dump that Vermont will send its nuclear power plant to. But the nuclear fuel will remain there until there’s a place to store it, which could be 100 years.
KC: And that waste control specialist dumpsite in West Texas, right on the New Mexico border – there’s another of the nuclear industry to really, through corruption, open reactive waste dumps. And so Waste Control Specialists was founded by a billionaire in Texas and really bought his way through the permitting process at the Texas Environmental Agency. Several career-long staffers at the Environmental Agency in Texas resigned their positions over the decision . One of the biggest concerns being that it’s right on the edge, if not on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, which is essential drinking and irrigation water for a dozen states on the Great Plains, and now it’s become a national radioactive waste dump for so-called low-level radioactive waste. And in fact, I mentioned those parking lot dumps, Waste Control Specialists has thrown its hat in the ring – they would love to be the parking lot dump for the high-level radioactive waste of the United States. And similarly, if you’re very close to the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation which was targeted for a high-level waste parking lot dump – just down the road, some tens of miles, is EnviroCare, another Orwellian name Energy solutions – again founded, opened, through corruption. The question before the jury in that court case was did or didn’t the owner of the dump bribe the state official? And the jury found in favor of the founder of the dump and the state official went to jail. We’re talking cash, we’re talking gold, and we’re talking jewels – literally. And so these dumps are founded on criminal misbehavior and they leak. And so it’s a crime against the planet and against society. AG: And it’s placed in an area where the incomes are very low, so the people want the jobs and the hell with it. If it leaks in 50 years, that’s something – I’ve got my paycheck, I’m retired, I may be dead – that’s the next generation’s problem. The nuclear industry has a tradition of siting these dumps in areas where the income is very low and people are desperate for work and are willing to overlook the environmental impacts that – the legacy issues that’ll carry on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
M: (32:05) Yes. So the prospect – and we the public can’t look forward to green fields – a green field down there at the site of Vermont Yankee.
AG: Vermont Yankee will look like it looks now until oh, 2040. And by 2050, the horizon won’t show the power plant; however, there’ll be a fenced-in area with bright lights shining down on it for security where the nuclear fuel is stored potentially until the 22nd Century.
KC: And out there, and this comes from Big Rock Point in Michigan, which is now controlled by Entergy because Entergy took over at Palisades in West Michigan. They also got Big Rock Point thrown in as part of the package deal. A small 70-megawatt electric experimental very early prototype reactor which they declared it a green field. They dismantled the facilities. They supposedly cleaned up to a shallow depth in the soil. There is still plutonium in the soil, in the groundwater and especially in the sediments of Lake Michigan where NRC, Entergy and the previous owner, the State of Michigan, have not bothered to even look in the sediments of Lake Michigan where Big Rock Point discharged through a canal radioactivity and toxichemicals for decades on end – 35 years of operations. So when they say green field, there is lingering radioactive contamination. And that’s a part of the vigilance that’s going to have to go on. They had those bad tritium leaks and other radioactive poisons at Vermont Yankee that got into the soil and groundwater. That’s got to get cleaned up. And if Entergy and the contractor it hires to do the decommissioning can get away with it, they will pocket the money and not go down very deep at all.
AG: It’s important to note that if there’s any money left over, Entergy gets half. And the rate payers of the State of Vermont get half. So it’s in Entergy’s best interests not to dig very deep to look for these problems because they make half of the excess. I’ve advised the State that we had that leak and the ground is still contaminated. And we should immediately destroy that building and clean the soil under that building. Because what’s happening now is over the next 40 years, that radiation is going to move toward the river. And it’ll be much more expensive 40 years down the road than it is now to clean up. So that one building that had the severe leak could easily be cleaned up next year and eliminate and future contamination of the Connecticut River. Entergy doesn’t want to do that.
M: Who has the power to address Entergy face to face and convince them that they must do these things for the good of the people?
KC: That came up a lot during the celebrations, which I should hasten to add were also strategy sessions. I mean you get a bunch of concerned citizens together like the environmental and anti-nuclear movement of the Northeast and even at a party, they’re trying to figure out which reactor is next to focus on and also how to stay vigilant at Vermont Yankee. And that question of how to hold Entergy’s feet to the fire during the decommissioning, how to hold NRC’s feet to the fire during the decommissioning was raised. And I can point out to people that shutting down Vermont Yankee was a miracle, right? We weren’t, as the people, supposed to have that power. And people did it anyway. They insisted on it and they saw it through and made it happen. And so the same kind of courage and vision will have to be applied now to the decommissioning process. People have to stay in there, attend all the meetings, read all the documents. It’s a Herculean task and if anybody can do it, it’s the folks who have already forced the shutdown of Vermont Yankee.
AG: And Fairewinds is working on a report commissioned by the Lintellect Foundation to look at Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning and we should have that out by the end of February. M: That’s Fairewinds – your Fairewinds Energy Education is doing this report.
AG: Yes. And it will discuss the weaknesses in the NRC’s plan and make some recommendations that hopefully will get in front of the legislature to begin that public oversight of a rogue agency and a rogue company. It’ll be difficult.
M: And what power does the Vermont legislature have at this point?
AG: None. The power of bully pulpit I think is the main key. Kevin, your thoughts?
KC: Well, again, I think a little courage goes a long way and the State of Vermont, Governor Shumlin, have shown a lot of courage over the years. But they were really kind of given no choice in that matter by the people of Vermont who asked them to do that. And they did do it. They really stepped up – they need to continue to step up, because there’s so many deceptions in this line of work. When NRC releases the site as a green field site for unrestricted reuse, that could mean the growing of crops there. That could mean a maternity ward, a daycare center. In Michigan, again, at Big Rock point, they were proposing a state park and they were going to charge the State of Michigan – the people of Michigan – 20 million dollars to take over that property, which is radioactively contaminated with high-level radioactive waste still stored there. They were going to build a museum glorifying the atomic age. And we really had no official voice in the matter. But we said no way, it ain’t happening, and we put a stop to it. The way we did was decisions were about to be made on the funding of that plan and we went to the state agency that made those funding decisions and we said this can’t happen. And by a 2-to-1 vote, that panel said no, we’re not going to fund this state park glorifying atomic energy on a contaminated site with high-level waste in the middle of it. There’s other parks in the state that really deserve funding more than that. So creativity and courage are what’s needed in this democracy of ours.
M: Thank you so much, Kevin. And now I’m going to ask the last question of you both. Arnie, what do you see as the way forward right now? And just a short –
AG: (38:46) You know, we are in a paradigm shift right now. And the way we used to generate power back in the last century was these large central station power plants. But with the computer, we’ve been able to shift that and the paradigm that will be in the next 50 years, will be a distributive generation – renewables. The collector on my roof, of wind power on a windmill. And we’ll be shifting power around. And when there’s excess power, it’ll go to batteries, and when there’s power that’s needed, it will leave those batteries. We’re in the middle of that paradigm shift and I’m excited about the future.
M: Okay, thank you, Arnie. And Kevin, what’s your word on it?
KC: I agree. The future is renewables and nuclear free by 2020 and there are going to be hardly any fossil fuels by midcentury. If Germany, the 4th largest economy in the world can do it, then we can do it here as well.
M: Thank you very much, Kevin Camps of Beyond Nuclear and Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education. And I invite you back again to our nuclear free future conversation. And thank you very much for your insights and for giving us a way forward.
AG: Thanks, Kevin.
M: Thank you. Goodbye for now.