Senate Votes Against Yankee Re-licensing

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(Host) In a historic vote on Wednesday, the Vermont Senate blocked the re-licensing of the state’s only nuclear power plant.

The action was a serious blow to Vermont Yankee, which has been plagued this year by tritium leaks and other high-profile problems.

The vote was a climax in the ongoing statewide debate over the future of the plant.

VPR’s John Dillon was in the Statehouse.

(Dillon) The main issue in the Senate debate was the credibility of Entergy Vermont Yankee. Senator after senator spoke about how the company misled state regulators and the legislature about underground pipes that could leak radioactivity.

Plant officials had said under oath that there were no such pipes at the plant. When a radioactive leak was discovered in January, the company was forced to acknowledge it had made numerous misstatements on the issue.

Franklin Republican Senator Randy Brock is a supporter of extending Yankee’s license for another 20 years. But he said Entergy was its own worst enemy.

(Brock) If it’s board of directors and its management had been thoroughly infiltrated by anti-nuclear activists I do not believe they could have done a better job in destroying their own case. The dissembling, the prevarication, the lack of candor have been striking.

(Dillon) The vote was on a bill that would have allowed the Public Service Board to approve the license extension. And the Senate voted resoundingly 26 to 4 against it.

But supporters of the plant said lawmakers were rushing to judgment without all the needed information on what will happen when the plant shut down. Here’s Rutland Republican Senator  Peg Flory.

(Flory) To pass on the this bill and take the chance of closing down Yankee … without being aware of what every single economic impact is I think is foolhardy.

(Dillon) Flory proposed an amendment that supported calling for a new reactor to be built on the Vernon site. That amendment also was soundly defeated.

The final vote came after three and a half hours of debate in a Senate crammed with observers and anti-nuclear activists.

Senate President Peter Shumlin urged his colleagues to vote against license extension.

He said closing the plant on schedule could steer the state to a future based on more renewable energy.

(Shumlin) I’m asking us to have the courage to stand up for job creation, for the extraordinary economic opportunities that are going to come to this nation as we say good bye to our old and tired nuclear power plants and this one in Vernon and move on to renewables.

(Crowd: "And on the vernal equinox March 2012 Vermont Yankee will close yea!")

(Dillon) After the vote, activists celebrated with a group photo outside the Statehouse. Cort Richardson on East Montpelier said he began working against Vermont Yankee 35 years ago.

(Richardson)  I think it’s a proud day for Vermont. It’s a day when everyone can really feel proud of their legislature. They took the testimony. They listened. They studied and they came up with the right conclusion. To me that’s democracy in action. It worked. …… The plant’s continuation is rejected totally and unequivocally.

(Dillon) But the vote may not be the last word. A future Legislature could revisit the issue – especially if Yankee comes up with a more favorable power deal.

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

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