Meeting with NRC doesn't go as planned

Posted
Thursday May 24, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- A meeting between members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the public almost didn't happen.

It started civilly enough with a one-on-one question and answer session with various members of the NRC, including Chris Miller, director of the division of reactor safety.

Surrounding the art room of the Brattleboro Union High School were several diagrams of the nuclear reactors like that of Vermont Yankee and those opposed to and for its continued operation discussed numerous topics surrounding nuclear power.

But as the first part of the meeting transitioned from one-on-one to a question and answer session, civil disobedience began.

A group of women from the Shut It Down Affinity Group formed a semi-circle behind the tables set up for the members of the NRC. Karl Farrar, general council for Region 1, told the crowd the meeting wouldn't start until they sat down in the audience.

"We're not going to start this meeting until they sit down," Farrar said. "It's disrespectful. We're trying to conduct a civil meeting here. It's just terrible. They can make their statement but we're not going to start this meeting."

One woman asked to take a vote.

"Who wants the meeting to start with women standing in front?" she asked the crowd of approximately 100 people. "This is democracy in action."

Farrar continued to say that the meeting wasn't going to begin because those were the rules, to which George Harvey, of Brattleboro, replied, "Those are your rules sir, not ours."

That's when a group of 30 or so people who were in the crowd joined the women behind the tables and apparently Farrar had enough.

Brattleboro Police escorted the dozen or so members of the NRC out into a nearby hallway and refused to let anyone else into the hallway.

While the group of NRC officials was in the hallway the crowd conducted its own meeting.

Harvey said that based on the fact that Vermont Yankee got through another year without major mishap, people are expected to infer that the plant is safe.

"That is the logic of the nuclear industry," he said. "If there is no mishap, then the plant is safe, like driving up I-91 at 105 mph could be called safe if you don't have an accident."

Eventually the group from the NRC decided to hold the meeting but kept close to the exit.

Sarah Edwards was one of the first people to speak.

"Clearly we're at an impasse as the beginning of the meeting showed," Edwards said. "I want to thank you for your choice to make this meeting work."

She thanked the numerous people who have continued to work to shut down the plant and asked that they continue to and asked director Miller to take the spent fuel out of its pool so that an incident similar to that of Fukushima in Japan doesn't happen in New England.

Miller explained that there is still discussion ongoing about whether or not putting the spent fuel into dry cask storage is really the best method.

"Some think they'd rather have them not go into casks; others want them in there as fast as possible," he said. "One of the issues is the casks we have now require a cooling down period. Could it change and go to an all cask storage, I'm not saying it couldn't work but we're still studying it."

When asked about Vermont Yankee's most recent inspection, Miller said that the plant had operated safely and that it received a green rating, which meant it operated safely.

Miller's comments were not well received by the group and after nearly each response received replies of "lies," "shut it down" and the sounds of whistles blowing.

Chad Simmons of the Safe and Green Campaign said it was clear that people who have continued to oppose the plant's operation aren't being heard.

"Why are we here?" he said. "What do we have to do to get you to listen to us? We want this plant shut down."

The meeting ended after Westminster resident Betsy Williams asked Miller if there was anything the group could say that would change the mind of the NRC about Vermont Yankee.

"Is there anything we can say tonight that would convince you to shut down this reactor?" she said.

The director's answer was no, "that's not how the system works."

With Miller's words spoken the meeting ended much like it began, at the direction of the crowd as many got up and left the building.

Also on Wednesday, the regional power dispatch group of ISO New England changed its stance on the future of Vermont Yankee saying the nuclear plant won't be needed to ensure future power supplies and grid reliability.

The statement is a staunch change from the position ISO took last year and could have a dramatic impact in future hearings as the appeal of the judge's decision is heard.

After months of controversy and nearly a year in the legal system, a federal judge ruled that Vermont legislation infringed upon the purview of the NRC. The judge also ruled that the state's only nuclear plant could continue to operate until the case is settled.

Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation said that the new finding undercuts one of Entergy's main arguments for keeping the Vernon reactor open.

Entergy spokesman Mike Burns says aside from power, Vermont Yankee also provides millions of dollars in taxes to the state and its host town of Vernon, as well as more than 600 jobs.

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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