Saturday, March 26, 2011

Open Letter: Vermont Yankee

Greetings Senators and Representatives,

I am writing you today about the re-licensing of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vermont. As things currently stand, I am opposed to extending the plant's lifetime.

While I am not opposed to nuclear power in principle, I do not trust a private corporation to run a plant safely. Entergy has not been honest, and given that the current corporate culture in the U.S. values profit and nothing else, there is no reason to assume Entergy will be honest in the future. If the company wants to turn Vermont Yankee over to a publicly-controlled not-for-profit entity, then I would not be opposed to having the plant run for an extended period - if it can be determined that it is safe to operate. By safe, I do not mean satisfying every reasonable and unreasonable fear of an anti-nuke zealot. Instead, a team of skeptical engineers and scientists should be given full access to the plant, and the latest inspection equipment to use. If, after conducting an analysis that is independently reviewed for quality, the team finds the plant to be safe, it could continue operating. I doubt my conditions will be met, or even considered, so I think the plant should be shut down.

Thank you for your time.

Postscript: I started writing this letter before the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, and the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant. I think the events there are relevant to Vermont Yankee, but do not automatically justify condemnation of the plant. Here is what I think we can take away from the crisis in Japan so far:
  1. Vermont Yankee is unlikely to experience an earthquake with as great a magnitude during the next 20 years (or 2000, or 200,000) because there are no active subduction zones within thousands of miles. But the intensity assumptions used in Vernon could be wrong, as they were for the area offshore of northern Japan. If the plant was not designed to withstand to meet a sufficiently high level of shaking, the plant should not be considered safe.
  2. While Vermont Yankee has absolutely no chance of suffering from a tsunami, a more extreme flood on the Connecticut River should be postulated, and the plant re-evaluated using higher water levels. The scenario I'm thinking of is a spring melt causing a breech of the Comerford Dam near St. Johnsbury. If safety systems would not stay operational with water at higher levels, the plant should not be considered safe.
  3. Spent fuel rods stored inside the reactor building should be moved to dry cask storage and away from the reactor as soon as possible. Existing casks may also need to be moved uphill away from new flood level expectations. Re-licensing should be made conditional upon moving fuel rods that are sufficiently cool - on top of everything else.

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