Tuesday February 22, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- Local residents will be asked to cast their votes on whether they would like the Selectboard to sign a letter of concerns about the possible impacts on Brattleboro caused by the 2012 shutdown of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

The non-binding initiative earned a spot on the ballot March 1 with a petition signed by the required number of residents, 5 percent of the town’s population.

That came after the Selectboard in December declined to sign a letter of concerns circulated by the Safe and Green Campaign concerning the closing of Vermont Yankee.

Robert Bady, an activist with Safe and Green, a grassroots education and outreach project, said he hopes that with official urging from the townspeople, the Selectboard will reconsider their decision not to sign the letter. But even if the voters pass the article, the non-binding initiative does not require the board to take any action.

"We want the new Selectboard to know that the citizens of Brattleboro are concerned about how the plant is operating, concerned how the decommissioning happens and the workers of the plant," Bady said.

The letter, which some nearby towns have agreed to sign, will be sent to several state and federal authorities, including Entergy Nuclear Corporation, the Vermont Legislature and Public Service Board and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

It has already been signed by the selectboards of 13 Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts towns in close proximity to Vermont Yankee, including Putney, Westminster and Dummerston.


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The Marlboro Selectboard approved the same letter but added an addendum.

In Keene, N.H., on Feb. 17, the City Council decided against signing the letter, though it will receive semi-annual reports on its operating statutes, according to published reports.

With three new members being elected to the five-person board next month, Safe and Green hopes the board will consider signing the letter if it’s brought to the board a second time, Bady said.

Richard DeGray, Selectboard chairman, said the current board has kept Vermont Yankee issues out of Brattleboro politics and that he will be very vocally opposed to bringing the letter before the new board.

"We have no authority to tell Vermont Yankee what they need to do, and I’ve been pretty steadfast on that," DeGray said.

Listed as Article II on the ballot, the initiative asks the board to sign off on the letter, summarized as follows:

"As a result of the 26-to-4 vote by the Vermont Senate this past February, Vermont Yankee is scheduled to close no later than March of 2012, when its original 40-year license expires.

"Between now and Vermont Yankee’s closing (when the reactor and its component parts, due to their increased age, will be more subject to breakdown than ever), and also during the multi-year decommissioning process and site cleanup following shut-down, the owner/operator of the reactor (Entergy Nuclear) and key state and federal agencies should take whatever steps may be necessary in order to minimize any negative impacts on plant workers, area residents, and the environment of our towns.

"Additionally, town Selectboards within a 20-mile radius of Vermont Yankee should be regularly kept informed regarding relevant plans and developments during Vermont Yankee’s final phase of operation as well as during the decommissioning and site clean-up phase."

The letter calls for Vermont Yankee workers to be given "first preference when workers are hired for the multi-year decommissioning and site cleanup process," as well as "opportunities for re-training for available jobs at decent wages, including jobs in the rapidly expanding ‘green energy’ sector."

In addition to voicing public and environmental health concerns related to decommissioning and site cleanup, the letter also addresses Vermont Yankee’s last year of operation, asking that "during the final period, as the reactor continues to age and minor accidents and radioactive leakages continue to occur (if they do), residents and officials of nearby towns and cities be assured that there will be extra attention to maintenance and repair of all systems associated with the reactor, coupled with heightened inspections, monitoring, and testing to minimize the possibility of a major accident and ensure that people, animals, and the environment are not exposed to any additional risks of breathing, drinking, or otherwise ingesting radioactivity."

The letter also proposes that a citizens advisory board be formed, with its members appointed by local Selectboards and town/city councils, "so as to facilitate on-going, two-way communication regarding all of these matters."

Jaime Cone can be reached at jcone@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.