Editor of the Reformer,
I am writing in response to the Jan. 14 article ("Nuclear Decommissioning panel to NorthStar: Pay up") about the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens' Advisory Panel (NDCAP) and its vote to approach NorthStar, the owner of Vermont Yankee, to pay for the panel's expenses.
I have been going to NDCAP meetings for years. As a member of the Safe and Green Campaign and a long-time resident of Brattleboro, I worked to shut down VY, and I remain committed to seeing it decommissioned responsibly. I am very grateful to the members of the panel and state regulatory agencies for paying attention to what's happening there. People interested in learning more can go to the Public Service Department website as a start: https://publicservice.vermont.gov/content/vermont-yankee-decommissioning.
Decommissioning is a complex process and difficult for the general public to comprehend. And after all the years of conflict, accompanied for some by feeling unsafe living near the reactor, it's really tempting to move on and just leave it to the experts.
In this context, real public engagement in the decommissioning process requires a robust element of public education and regular, comprehensible communication. But this hasn't happened. Instead we have a panel that meets every few months and sends out notices of meetings a week or so before. To keep up with it all, you have to spend lots of time reading, and you have to go to meetings.
Even if the panel saw a strong public engagement process as its job — which I'm not sure it does — it does not have the capacity (funding) to mobilize it. The panel's expenses are footed by the state, and that funding is insufficient.
At its last meeting, the panel voted to approach NorthStar for financial support; NorthStar's business is driving the costs, and they should foot the bill. This seems reasonable on the surface and would theoretically give more resources to the panel. However, I think the panel and the public should be very cautious here.
NorthStar signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Vermont that said only "NorthStar agrees to collaborate with the stakeholders to establish an appropriate public engagement process regarding the decommissioning and restoration of the VY Station site ." NorthStar has representatives on NDCAP, and they meet regularly with folks in Vernon, but beyond that, I don't see evidence that they have any commitment to engagement of the broader community impacted by VY decommissioning.
Further, to be credible, the panel needs to be independent of NorthStar. According to the Citizens Awareness Network, which has connections with nuclear host communities across the country, "boards funded by the corporation have devolved into dog and pony shows for corporate interests."
How can the panel get the funding it needs and remain independent at the same time? This begs two questions. Why hasn't the state put adequate resources into NDCAP, and can it? And can an agreement with NorthStar ensure the full independence of NDCAP? These issues need to be worked out with lots of forethought and care — way more than what went into the current MOU.
Easthampton, Mass., Jan. 18