Anti-Nuke Dialogue Turns Up Heat on Vermont Yankee

By Tom Barnes

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Grassroots activists and University of Massachusetts students gathered for a dialogue on closing the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station at the Cape Cod Lounge in the Student Union on Tuesday evening.

The Safe and Green Energy (SAGE) Alliance and the Citizens Awareness Network teamed up for the discussion, hoping to kindle support for the environmental initiative.

“This is an old, rundown nuke,” said Bob Bady, a coordinator for SAGE. “This is a corporation, putting as little money into it as they can. Our concern is that this is the most dangerous possible scenario, to keep running this plant.”

Thirty miles up the Connecticut River from UMass in Vernon, Vt., the plant’s operating license was extended by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for another 20 years.

A successful grassroots activist campaign resulted in the Vermont State Legislature voting to block the plant’s license extension. Entergy – the corporation in charge of Vermont Yankee – is suing the state to keep the plant open.

The coordinators described the Vermont Yankee plant as utilizing the same containment housing design as the infamous Fukushima Daiichi plant, the site of a March 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.

And for reasons to decommission the reactor, the coordinators pointed to numerous malfunctions in the aging Yankee power plant – such as the cooling tower’s collapse into the Connecticut River and leaks of the radioactive isotope Tritium into the area.

“This is not a clean energy source,” Bady said

There is a spent fuel pool on site, which was built for seven years of waste and now contains 40, according to Bady. He also described the uranium extraction process as affecting vulnerable communities by contaminating water sources and requiring large amounts of money and carbon emissions.

However, the Entergy website claims that nuclear-generated electricity is “safe, reliable and clean.”

After looking at the evacuation zones in case of accidents at the nearby reactors, Bady said there were “four city blocks in Worcester that aren’t on someone’s evacuation plan.”

After the presentation, the SAGE Alliance fielded questions and encouraged a dialogue among the audience members to help in coming up with ideas on building a grassroots campaign.

In their own words, “Safe and Green Energy is a coalition of groups for directing nonviolent campaigns to create public pressure to close down these plants.”

SAGE is visiting campuses that would be affected by a disaster at the Yankee plant, hoping to tap into the same spirit that drove the Wisconsin Protests and Occupy Wall Street.

Approximately 12 people attended the event, clustered into the first three rows of chairs. The Cape Cod Lounge wasn’t packed, but those that attended the dialogue seemed eager to converse and trade ideas on shutting down the power plant. Even after the forum concluded, many stuck around to continue the discussion.

Kendra Ulrich, another activist heading SAGE, was optimistic about the Safe and Green Campaign.

“It’s going really, really well,” Ulrich said, in reference to working with students and committees to create the regional movement.

Ulrich got started in nuclear activism after discovering the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant, which is located in Cleveland, Ohio – where she grew up. The facility had a pineapple-sized hole in the containment housing, which highlighted the issue for her. She got involved with the fight against Vermont Yankee after going to school in New Hampshire.

The Safe and Green Campaign is gaining momentum with numerous upcoming events including a mock evacuation of Brattleboro, Vt. on March 11, the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Other events will include a rally outside Entergy’s Headquarters on March 22 and nonviolent direct action training days.

The SAGE Alliance is a decentralized campaign, made up of several dozen “Affinity Groups.” These localized groups are largely autonomous but send representatives to meet with the rest of the Alliance to coordinate action.

“We suspect we’ll be arrested,” Ulrich said of the upcoming events. “We are not going to let these corporations continue to subvert our democracy or poison our communities.”

Thomas Barnes can be reached at [email protected]