Monday March 26, 2012

Editor’s note: Due to a production error this story did not run in its entirety in the Weekend Reformer.

BRATTLEBORO -- More than 1,000 people converged on the headquarters of Vermont’s only nuclear power plant, to tell its owners to shut it down, the day after its initial 40-year operating license expired.

During Thursday’s six-hour rally and protest, one of the largest ever in Vermont, 130 people were willingly arrested for trespassing, including 16-year-old Jono Schiff of Brattleboro.

Schiff and his parents, Leo Schiff and Joy Hammond, were also arrested for trespassing on land owned by Vermont Yankee, near Old Ferry Road, and both said they couldn’t be more proud.

When asked why they thought it was necessary, Jono explained that he and his family don’t want to live in fear of another radiological disaster, like the one that happened in Fukushima, Japan a year ago.

"We don’t want another Fukushima," Jono said. "Vermont Yankee shouldn’t be allowed to operate in Vermont."

Each arrest was made peacefully and without conflict, said Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn.

"It was very well organized and I’m thankful the organizers of the protest were willing to work with the various police departments," Wrinn said.

Most people were transported to the Brattleboro Barracks for processing, but those with a medical condition were released with a citation to appear in Windham County Superior Court Criminal Division at a later date to answer the charge of unlawful trespass.

Prior to their three and a half mile march to Entergy’s headquarters, the crowd from all throughout New England gathered at the Brattleboro Common to tell Vermont Yankee’s owners that their business was no longer wanted.

"I’m here because it unconscionable to continue to make nuclear waste that stays deadly for hundreds of thousands of years," said Mary Zabriskie, of Putney.

Some said they were concerned about what would happen if there was some sort of accident at the plant and others said they were upset by recent legal actions and decisions regarding the plant’s continued operation.

"I live within the 10-mile zone and this aged plant has got to go," said Peter Tusinski, of Leyden, Mass.

Wearing a sign that read "Judge Murtha shame on you", Tusinski said the federal judge’s recent decision to allow the reactor to continue running was deplorable.

"It’s a travesty of justice that the state of Vermont has to even go through this legal process," he said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin was sympathetic to the protesters. "I am very supportive of the peaceful protesters gathered today in Brattleboro to express their - and my - frustration that this aging plant remains open after its agreed-upon license has expired," he said.

In a coordinated action in New Orleans, the headquarters of Vermont Yankee’s parent company, Entergy Nuclear, another group of eight activists, calling themselves the New England Natural Guard, were arrested after they went into the building and refused to leave, police said.

Nancy Braus, of Putney, and Kendra Ulrich, of Keene, N.H., were both arrested after staging a brief occupation of the headquarters and said they’ll return with the group and many more people to protest outside of the building today.

The Journal News reported that five others also were arrested at Entergy offices in White Plains, N.Y.

Loyola University law professor Bill Quigley said the New Orleans protesters live near the Vermont plant and traveled to Louisiana to request a meeting with Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard. They didn’t get that meeting before they were arrested.

"We’re trying to tell Entergy that the whole world is watching, and you can’t pollute in one area of the country without consequences for everybody," Quigley said.

After hearing a brief phone conversation from the group attempting to "occupy" Entergy’s offices in New York, the crowd began their walk along Route 5 in the afternoon sun.

People walked on stilts, painted their faces, wore radiation suits and held signs that looked like giant eviction notices.

During the walk people shared stories of their struggle to fight nuclear power, laughed, waved to cars passing by or stopped because of the massive group, and sang protest chants like "We Shall Overcome" and "We can shut it down we’re going to change this world."

Lewis Thompson travelled from El Paso, Texas, as part of the Agape Community to protest the plant’s operation beyond the initial 40-year license.

"The earth belongs to God and we have a problem with nuclear power," he said. "We’re marching on behalf of all the reactors. We don’t need a radiation leak anywhere that will contaminate the planet, making the soil unusable. We don’t have another planet to go to. If we don’t take care of this one it won’t take care of us."

A company spokesman said work continued as normal at the plant 10 miles south in Vernon.

"We greatly appreciate the backing of our supporters and respect the rights of opponents to peacefully protest," said Vermont Yankee spokesman Larry Smith. "Inside the gates, our employees will not be distracted. As it is every day, their focus on safety will be laser sharp."

As one of the last groups to get arrested, Pamela Cubbage and Peg Alden, both of Putney, said their purpose was to support the state’s decision to cut ties with Entergy and shut down the plant.

"Vermont Yankee has been operating for 40 years, that’s long enough," Cubbage said. "We want to move to a 21st century energy future and leave behind the 20th century sources before it becomes impossible to live here anymore."

Just before being arrested, the two women pinned a child’s pink outfit with the phrase "remember me" written on it to one of the police barricades. Other people posted eviction notices on the building.

Another protest is planned at the gates of Vermont Yankee today starting at 11 a.m.

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.