Nuclear Critic Urges Civility At Yankee Briefing

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(Host) A veteran critic of the nuclear industry is urging opponents of Vermont Yankee to practice civility when federal regulators brief the public this week.

Anti-nuclear activist Ray Shadis also wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be more open about the potential problems facing Vermont’s only nuclear power plant.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) It’s a big week for Vermont Yankee. First, the NRC gives a public presentation of its annual safety review. Then a federal judge will hold hearings on Yankee’s lawsuit that challenges the state’s oversight.

Ray Shadis is a technical advisor to the New England Coalition, an anti-nuclear group. He’s a respected critic who has challenged the NRC numerous times in public hearings and legal proceedings. But he’s asking people to make their case this week without personal attacks on NRC staff members.

Shadis says the issues – such as how regulators respond to the recent nuclear accidents in Japan – are too important to be obscured by inflammatory rhetoric.

(Shadis) "So I want to hear what the NRC has to say about that. And in a completely disorderly meeting that won’t happen."

(Dillon) Shadis said a recent hearing on the Indian Point reactor near New York City was marred by outbursts against the NRC. Earlier, a meeting in Vermont was disrupted when an activist sprinkled compost on a NRC official. Shadis said he’s concerned that the NRC could shut off public access if government employees feel threatened.

(Shadis) "The second concern I have is really a concern that violent language can stimulate violent action. I think people’s passions are at a pitch because they feel threatened, they feel their environment is threatened by Vermont Yankee especially in the light of Fukishima."

(Dillon) NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan welcomed Shadis’ call for civility.

(Sheehan) "We hold these meetings on a  once a year basis. It’s a good opportunity for people to hear about the kind of inspection work we did at the plant last year, what we found."

(Dillon) Sheehan said that overall the NRC gave Yankee good grades in its annual review. But the commission has required additional inspections to oversee Yankee’s groundwater monitoring system. That’s because underground pipes have leaked radioactive tritium and contaminated the groundwater.

The NRC is also reviewing its safety programs after an earthquake and tsunami in March crippled nuclear reactors in Japan, leading to massive releases of radioactivity. The Japanese reactors are the same age and model as Vermont Yankee.

(Sheehan) "There’s no question that every area of plant operation is really on the table. We are looking very closely at how plants would be able to continue to have power for safety systems after an extreme event."

(Dillon) Ray Shadis says the NRC needs to focus more on the vulnerabilities of the Vermont Yankee General Electric design. He points out that the plant has electric cables that are sometimes underwater even though they are not designed to be immersed.

(Shadis) "The NRC has acknowledged that in the event of a short circuit because of flooding those cables could burn out and burn out other cables. They could be the initiators of an accident, and burning out, they could prevent mitigation of an accident."

(Dillon) Yankee’s current license is set to expire next March. The NRC has renewed the license for an additional 20 years, but the state of Vermont has not given permission for the plant to operate beyond next March. That led Entergy to challenge the state’s authority in federal court.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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