Vermont Yankee Opponents Start Walk To Montpelier

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(Host) Residents of three states who live within 20 miles of Vermont Yankee set off on foot this weekend from Brattleboro to make a point.

They plan to walk 126 miles to Montpelier, to show their opposition to extending the nuclear plant’s operating license when its current license expires in 2012.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

"What a great crowd, wow!"

(Keese) About 70 bundled-up walkers got a send-off from well-wishers who gathered Saturday in downtown Brattleboro.

The group ranged from senior citizens to school-aged kids marching with their parents on at least part of the 12-day journey.

They’re carrying a petition asking Vermont lawmakers to pull the plug on the 40-year old nuclear plant.

Many of the walkers aren’t from Vermont. Randy Kehler of Colraine, Massachusetts is an organizer of the walk. He called himself a victim of "Radiation without representation."

(Kehler) "We who live so close to this reactor, who are most endangered, not only by the daily radioactive emissions but by the constant aware ness that there could be a catastrophic accident, we need to have our voices heard including those of us like myself who are legally disenfranchised because we live just over the border… Our voices have to be taken into account. This is not just a matter of what’s the cheapest electricity rate we can get for Vermont."

(Keese) Entergy Vermont Yankee is asking for a 20 year extension of its operating license. The request is under review by the Vermont Public Service Board, which represents ratepayer interests.

Vermont is the only state that’s added a layer of legislative approval to such requests. Lawmakers may vote this session on whether to relicense the plant.  Already advocates on both sides are making themselves heard.

Betsey Williams of Westminster is a founder of the Safe and Green Campaign, the group behind the walk.

Williams says any cost savings for Vermonters from a power contract with Entergy will be out weighed by the long-term costs of managing spent radioactive fuel on the banks of the Connecticut.

(Williams) "Another main point: We are very much able to do something different. And in my mind a good long term investment is to be thinking in terms of resources that are renewable, resources that are locally controlled and will benefit the state locally, and that can be sustained over time."

(Keese) The group has stops and events planned in towns along the way. They plan to hold a press conference at the State House on January 13.

(Singers) "We’re going to walk, walk, we’re going to walk, walk."

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

(Host) An Entergy spokesman says that recent safety and reliability audits support the plant’s request for a 20-year extension.

Leaders of unions who work at the plant also are calling for the plant to stay open. They say it supports 600 good-paying jobs.

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