Activists rally for a nuclear-free Vermont

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Monday, October 27
BRATTLEBORO -- The Brattleboro Common transformed from a picturesque, quiet corner of the town into a festival of grassroots activism Saturday during the Nuclear Free Jubilee.

Hundreds of residents turned out for the event, hoping to push the state closer toward a clean, renewable energy future and fuel a drive toward "green collar" jobs and industries.

The nuclear free event was sponsored by the localized campaign known as Safe and Green, which looks to highlight the public support for closing the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant located in Vernon when the original license expires in the next four years.

"This is a unique moment for Vermont," said Ellen Kaye, Safe and Green coordinator within Vermont. She estimated about 1,000 people participated in the day's events.

Residents in the Green Mountain State have a unique opportunity to weigh in on this issue, because the Vermont Public Service Board cannot issue a Certificate of Public Good without the support from the Legislature. By highlighting the dangers of the reactor, anti-nuclear activists hope to convince lawmakers the facility is not in the state's best interests.

"It's in the hands of the citizen legislature," said Kaye. While they cannot vote on relicensing the nuclear facility, they will have a say in deciding whether to permit operating the reactor, she added.

The Nuclear Regulatory Committee has the final say regarding the reissuing of the license, enabling the power to run at expanded output for an additional 20 years.

Organizers expect the vote to happen within the next legislative session in 2009, which would allow Vermont Yankee to continue operations beyond 2012.

"It's going to be one of the most important decisions the Legislature is going to make," said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham. Shumlin was one of the featured speakers during the rally.

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There is a movement for change not only in this state, but in the country, Shumlin told the Reformer, and nuclear power is not a part of Vermont's energy future.

"Vermonters' voices must be heard," Shumlin added.

As much as the jubilee was to focus on broader efforts to shut down the nuclear reactor, Kaye said the event also was a time for hope.

Surrounding the culmination of speakers was an assortment of booths promoting renewable, green energies for the future of the region. Many of the displays included interactive setups from green energy businesses and community groups looking to expand the renewable initiatives within the region.

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The citizen-led campaign remains active in Vermont, as well as Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Organizers focus on public education and outreach to the dozens of towns in the tri-state area within 20 miles of the reactor.

Randy Kehler, a coordinator from Massachusetts who lives within the radius of the facility, said the campaign is focused on bringing to light the safety concerns revolving around the plant.

"If there as a major accident, our families and our communities would be the first to go," he said.

Kehler read a statement out loud to the audience from Massachusetts President Pro Tempore of the Senate Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, regarding the safety of commonwealth residents living near the facility.

"It is my opinion that there are simply too many unanswered questions about the maintenance and mechanical soundness of the Vermont Yankee plant," according to Rosenberg's remarks.

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"We need an Independent Safety Assessment to determine how this facility fits into the future of our region. Our residents deserve a clear and impartial assessment of the plant's future viability.

Deb Katz, director of the Citizen Awareness Network, echoed the remarks by Shumlin, noting now is not the time to stand on the sidelines, but to make contact with local policy makers. "We cannot let corporations decide our future," she said.

Two gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Gaye Symington and Progressive turned independent Anthony Pollina, spoke during the event as well. Both have a track record of speaking against allowing the nuclear plant to resume operations in the state after 2012.

In between speakers, entertainment came in the form of folk music by Nerissa and Katryna Nields, Charlie King and the MacArthur Family. The notorious Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, a nonprofit performance group based in New York City, also thrilled the crowd with his message of consumerism overwhelming the lives of everyday Americans.

In addition to the candidates and lawmakers speaking during the jubilee, many local representatives appeared at the event to show their support to the mission of making Vermont nuclear free.

"We're going to see the economics of how we can move into a new energy future, which is more sustainable, more reliable and creates hundreds and hundreds of new jobs," said Rep. Sarah Edwards, P-Brattleboro.

Prior to the gathering at the Common, organizers led a parade of marching bands, entertainers and community members along Main Street. The procession through downtown was lead by the Bread & Puppet Theater, and was called a "high energy parade," according to Kaye.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.


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