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(HOST) Commentator John McClaughry is president of the Ethan Allen Institute, a Vermont policy research and education organization. And he thinks that at least one of the criticisms leveled at the Yankee Nuclear Plant deserves a closer look.

(MCCLAUGHRY) As the general election approaches, opponents of nuclear power are making a concerted effort to kill the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

Their day of decision will come in 2009. The Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have to decide whether to approve or deny Vermont Yankee’s extension well before the plant’s current license expires in 2012. Barring some astounding revelation, it is likely that the NRC will approve.

But alone among all the states, the Vermont legislature in 2006 gave itself the power of approval over a Federal license extension. That approval requires a simple majority in both chambers of the next legislature, and the resolution is not subject to a veto.
This unique legislation gives Vermont’s nuclear energy opponents the opportunity to actually kill off a plant that is now safely producing 620 Megawatts of low cost, reliable base load electricity, 45 percent of which keeps the lights on in Vermont homes, farms, factories and schools.

A Rutland Herald headline of July 26 stimulated new outcries from the opponents: "Study: Yankee Radiation up 30%." The article informed readers that – quote – "the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant is releasing 30% more radiation into the environment since it boosted power production 20% two years ago." Unquote.

That’s literally true, but the story requires some additional perspective. Vermont – and only Vermont – imposes a radiation dose limit of 20 millirems at a nuclear plant fence line. After the 20% power uprate of 2007, the radiation measured at the Yankee plant boundary converted to 18 millirems. This is a 30% increase from previous 13.8 millirems, but it is still under the extremely stringent state limit of 20 millirems. The state limit is one fifth of the federal safety level of 100 millirems.

According to the NRC, the average American absorbs 296 millirems a year from rocks and soil, cosmic rays, radioactive potassium-40 in the blood, and indoor radon. Manmade emissions add about 60 more. Emissions from the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants add one millirem.

This one millirem is thus less than one third of one percent of the normal background radiation. Yankee’s contribution to this one millirem is on the order of one one-hundredth of a millirem. Increasing that tiny contribution by 30% is ridiculously insignificant.

In the weeks remaining before the elections, the anti-nuclear lobby will ply legislative candidates with stories about the dangers of nuclear energy and demand their pledge to kill Vermont Yankee. Sensible candidates will turn a deaf ear, and leave the questions of radiation safety to the NRC and the question of public good to the Public Service Board.

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