Vermont Yankee — The sirens of history
BRATTLEBORO >> Once a month for decades, people living and working in the emergency planning zone around Vermont Yankee in Vernon have heard the wail of the emergency sirens that dot the landscape within a 10-mile radius of the nuclear power plant.
On Saturday, at noon, all 37 sirens will fire in unison together for the last time. The full three-minute siren testing is conducted by Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts state public safety agencies in compliance with the regulations of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure the effectiveness of the public notification system.
In Vermont, sirens are located in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Vernon. In New Hampshire, sirens are located in Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Richmond, Swanzey and Winchester. And in Massachusetts, they are located in Gill, Colrain, Leyden, Bernardston and Northfield.
But because the nuclear power plant ceased operations in December of 2014 and all the spent fuel has been moved out of the reactor, there is no longer a requirement to conduct the system-wide tests. And Entergy, which owns the plant, is only obligated to maintain the sirens until May 2016. Until then, emergency managers in the EPZ might "burp" the sirens for a few seconds to insure they are still working, but there will be no more three-minute tests.
What happens to the sirens after May 2016 is up to the towns, said Martin Cohn, senior communications specialist for Vermont Yankee decommissioning.
Cohn said Entergy is preparing a letter to deliver to all the towns in the EPZ, letting them know they can keep the sirens if they want them, or Entergy will dismantle and cart them away after May 2016.
Erika Bornemann, the chief of staff for the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the state has no plan to take ownership of the sirens.
"We have told the towns that the sirens are their property. They need to decide whether to keep them or have them decommissioned."
"We have five sirens in the town of Brattleboro," said Mike Buccosi, the town's fire chief and director of emergency management. "We have talked a number of times over the years about how we could incorporate the sirens into our own emergency warnings and we've always come back to the belief that people will associate the sirens with an emergency at Vermont Yankee."
While the sirens could be used for any type of emergency, said Buccosi, what they are really telling people is to turn on your weather radios to get information, not that Yankee is experiencing an emergency. To sign up to receive alerts to your phone or email, visit www.vtalert.gov.
"We really have no use for them," said Buccosi. "The only thing they could give a pre-warning about is a tornado, and, as you know, they are far and few between here."
Patrick Moreland, Brattleboro's assistant town manager, said there really is no good reason for the town to take ownership of the sirens.
"We have been offered them, but the idea of taking them on at additional cost just doesn't make sense."
But not everyone feels that way.
Zeke Goodband, the chairman of the Dummerston Selectboard, said that while there has been no official discussion about the future of the tow's sirens, he believes the town will need to weigh the benefit of having the sirens against the costs of maintaining them.
And Mike Darcy, chairman of the Board of Selectmen for Hinsdale, N.H., said he and his other board members need more information from Entergy before they make a decision on whether to keep the sirens or not.
"We need to determine what the necessity is to having an emergency siren and how much it will cost to maintain one," said Darcy.
Cohn said it can cost anywhere between $125 and $1,000 every year to maintain the sirens, depending on what kind of work needs to be done.
Jon McKeon, the chairman of the Chesterfield, N.H., Board of Selectmen, said town administrators are working with Chesterfield's two fire departments to determine if they would like to take possession of the sirens.
"The sirens would be a good addition to the town's early warning system," said McKeon.
To sign up for emergency notifications to your phone or email in New Hampshire, visit www.readynh.gov.
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