VERNON -- Supporters of Vermont Yankee spent several hours Sunday holding signs outside of the main entrance of the nuclear power plant to thank employees, whose jobs could be in jeopardy.
The plant is in the middle of a $100 million refueling outage and its continued operation is in the hands of a federal judge who's scheduled to decide by the end of this year whether the Vermont Legislature passed acts that were based on regulating radiological safety, the sole jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Dick and Kay Trudell drove for more than three hours from their home in Grand Isle to show their support.
"We need the power in Vermont," Dick said. "If we lose this plant it's going to be a huge blow to our economy."
Kay added that most of the time plant employees are dealing with people negatively reacting to them and that it's vitally important to let them know that they don't speak for everyone.
About 30 people greeted the employees arriving for the night shift and thanked those just leaving the plant. Each held signs that read pro-nuclear messages like "Clean and Safe" and "Keepin' the lights on without climate change."
One of the demonstration's organizers, Meredith Angwin, said the rally was held Sunday because an anti-nuclear group, the Clamshell Alliance is holding a shut the plant down rally next weekend.
"We discussed holding a counter-rally at the same time, but decided that was a bad idea," Angwin, director of the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute, said. "There are too many security issues raised by a counter-rally near the plant gates."
Cavan Stone, 28, who runs the multi-media and communications for the project, said it was amazing to see the organization build.
"We appreciate all the work they do and the jobs they provide," Stone said. "When they're here they're not just working and leaving, the town benefits from them. They're buying groceries, renting rooms and hotels, and shopping at the local stores."
Stone added that if the science behind the issues at the plant are shown it'll prove that the plant doesn't cause significant harm and that's why the NRC relicensed the plant.
Owner of the Portside Tavern, Cameron Nesbitt, and his father, Dick Nesbitt, stood with their signs in support of the continued operation of the plant.
Cameron said he often serves plant employees and he's heard stories of people being harassed when others find out they work at the plant.
"They're always under the microscope," he said. "This community is very welcoming and warm but sometimes people's attitude changes. There's been quite a few people who have said they were in a grocery store and people were very friendly until they found out he or she worked at VY."
Jim Ratigan, of Bundyville, N.Y., one of the hundreds of people working during the plant's refueling, said seeing the people put a smile on his face.
"It warms my heart that other people know how environmentally sound this place is," Ratigan said. "It makes it a better place to work."
Dianne Amme traveled from Norwich to share why she thought the plant should be allowed to continue to operate.
"I'm very upset with the current administration because they don't realize the disastrous effect this is going to have on the economy if the plant is shut down," she said.
Vernon Selectboard member Patty O'Donnell agreed with Amme.
"There are thousands of Vermonters that support VY because they know it's a safe plant that provides good jobs and an economic benefit to the area," O'Donnell said. "But their voices aren't being heard."
She said VY has become a political football, being kicked about.
"Instead of keeping jobs here we're buying nuclear power from New Hampshire's Seabrook plant and it's really sad for the state of Vermont," O'Donnell said.
Cheryl Twarog stood alongside her two sons, Cam, 11 and Evan 14. Cheryl's husband, and the boy's father, has worked at VY for many years and without that income it could be incredibly difficult to survive.
"It's been dark circles under the eyes the last several months not knowing the plant's future," she said. "I know were not the only ones either. There's 650 other families going through the same thing."
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.