Shooting the messenger

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If you can't refute the message then try to discredit the messenger.

That's the tactic several Vermont Yankee advocates have taken to impugn the character and devalue the experience of Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear safety advocate who has been highly critical of the operation of the nuclear power plant in Vernon.

The writer of Atomic Insights ( accused Gundersen of inflating his resume, which states he is an engineer with more than four decades of experience in the nuclear power industry.

Gundersen was a licensed nuclear engineer but has not been recertified in many years, though he claims he has spent 20 years working directly in the nuclear industry and led teams of engineers dealing with nuclear reactors at 70 nuclear power plants around the country.

In his attack, the author of Atomic Insights said "I think he exaggerated his responsibilities for projects at (Northeast Utilities from 1972 to 1976)."

His "contact" told him Gundersen "did not have any real design engineering responsibilities while at (Northeast Utilities)."

He fails to mention that Gundersen was the youngest Northeast employee to be promoted from assistant engineer to engineer.

He also fails to mention that Gundersen was fired from his job at Nuclear Energy Services, where he worked for 18 years and was eventually promoted to senior vice president, after he blew the whistle on safety violations. He was sued by NES and settled out of court, but later the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that there had been irregularities at NES, and a second document, prepared by the Office of the Inspector General, noted that the NRC had violated its own regulations by improperly steering business to NES.

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After he was fired from NES in 1990, "From that point on, his full-time employment was as a math and science teacher at a series of private schools," wrote the Atomic Insights author. While he admitted Gundersen was a consultant from 1990 until the present, he added, "but it would be interesting to hear the opinion of nuclear professionals about how those activities count as experience in the nuclear industry."

Of course, he includes no opinions from nuclear professionals to buttress his contention.

"(T)he claim that he developed and maintained any reliable knowledge about topics like plant maintenance, operations, radiation health effects, and economics should be viewed with a bit more skepticism," wrote the author.

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OK. Let's double-check whether skepticism is the appropriate response: He has been qualified as an expert witness before the NRC, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board and the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, in Federal Court, the State of Vermont Public Service Board, the State of Vermont Environmental Court and the Florida Public Service Commission.

He has been an engineer on reactors such as Millstone and was an author of the first edition of the Department of Energy Decommissioning Handbook.

He was a startup engineer at Millstone, worked at Dresden nuclear power stations as a management consultant and actually built the fuel racks for Vermont Yankee.

Gundersen was one of three men appointed to the Vermont Yankee Oversight Panel by the state Legislature. He and his wife have also reported to the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Office on the status of the power plant's decommissioning fund.

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So we find it hard to believe that Gundersen, who "is prone to inflate and exaggerate the facts about his own career experience," according to the author, got his foot in the door to testify in federal and state hearings.

We also wonder if the author is implying that the state of Vermont didn't do its homework when it appointed him to the oversight panel and asked him to review Yankee's decommissioning fund.

While Gundersen doesn't believe Yankee should continue operation past 2012, he does believe nuclear power could play a very vital role in the United States' energy future.

The Atomic Insights author's attack on Gundersen has been disseminated widely on the Internet, but fortunately it's mostly been picked up by those who fanatically support, or receive some sort of remuneration from the nuclear industry.

While you may disagree with Gundersen's conclusions related to Yankee, and many people do -- presenting valid evidence to support their positions -- we have never heard him attack any of those people or question their motivations or integrity.

All we ask is that people stick to the facts. There are plenty of them to go around, whether you are in support of or in opposition to Yankee's continued operation.

Rather than attack Gundersen with specious allegations, refute his contentions with unbiased science. Let the regulators and the scientists sort it out.


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