County activists hit the road to close Vermont Yankee

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BRATTLEBORO -- A coalition of anti-nuclear activists from Windham County are participating in a 126-mile walk from Brattleboro to Montpelier in an effort to block the re-licensing of the state’s only nuclear plant.

Brattleboro resident Bob Bady said opponents of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, owned and operated by Entergy, will begin their journey Jan. 2 as part of the "Step Up to Shut It Down" walk right to the Statehouse.

Joined by Vermont Yankee opponents from neighboring towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire within the emergency evacuation zone of the plant, Bady expects as many as 40 to 50 participants along the way, including at least a dozen walkers for the entirety of the trip.

"Half the people who live within 20 miles of the plant live in Massachusetts," he said, adding that there are so many voices of opposition living around the facility that "it’s important to have those voices in play."

Activists expect the walk, organized by the tri-state outreach campaign known as Safe & Green and the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, to take roughly 11 days (with one extra day of rest) to get to the capital region.

Along the way, the walkers plan to hold a number of free potlucks, speeches and other activities in each town they stop in.

A lively debate coupled with soup and cornbread is already planned for the Putney Community Center on the first night of the trip, with scheduled stops also projected for Bellows Falls, Springfield, Sharon, South Royalton and Barre.

Brattleboro residents Janet and Walter Schwarz, veterans of the fight to close the Oyster Creek Generating Station (the first large-scale commercial nuclear plant in the country) in New Jersey, are also participating in the walk.

High-level nuclear waste in the form of spent fuel rods are stored in a pool that was never meant to hold more than three decades worth of material, with many of these rods now loaded in dry casks (steel containers) near the Connecticut River, said Janet Schwarz. "It’s not safe, clean or green energy, or cheap," she added.

When organizers arrive in Montpelier around Jan. 13, they plan on presenting legislators with a petition ensuring the plant ceases operations once the current contract expires. The petition currently has approximately 1,600 signatures.

On that day, the walkers intend to hold a press conference with Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, and House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville.

Afterwards, the group will host a meet-and-greet to answer questions and present a short film of their march to the Statehouse.

Peter Cooper, also of Brattleboro, said one of the participants will document the trip and take statements from Vermonters along the way concerned about relicensing the plant.

"There is a hope that we capture statements on video ... so those voices of Vermonters can be shown for the legislators," he said.

Vermont Yankee, one of the oldest reactors in the country, began operations in 1972 and is currently scheduled to close in March 2012.

However, Entergy has pushed for the plant to continue operations for another two decades, saying the facility provides Vermont and the surrounding region with electricity at a low-cost to consumers.

Vermont Yankee spokesman Rob Williams said the participants in the march may have their own beliefs about the nuclear plant, but officials at the Vernon facility do not share in their view.

"If they feel that’s necessary to express their opinions, they’re entitled to that," he said. "For our part, we’re always said and continue to say Vermont Yankee is a good candidate to run for another 20 years, and recent safety and reliability audits that have been conducted confirm that. We want to be part of Vermont’s energy future."

With the Legislature set to open the 2010 session next week, lawmakers are expected to vote on Vermont Yankee’s license extension before concluding sometime in the spring. Vermont is the only state in the country with the authority to reject the relicensing request from the operators of a nuclear plant.

"We have a lot of faith in the Vermont Legislature," said Bady. "We’re optimistic that the Legislature will vote against continued operations of the plant this year."

Lawmakers have a great opportunity to close the plant in 2012 and move the state toward sustainable, renewable energy sources, said Cooper.

The send-off for the walkers will commence in Brattleboro on Jan. 2 beginning at 9 a.m. at the Stone Church on the corner of Main and Grove streets. More information is available on the campaign’s Web site, www.safeandgreencampaign.org.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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