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Compost Flies at Nuclear Regulator Commission Meeting

by Bob Audette

BRATTLEBORO - It wasn't just invectives that flew from mouths of the anti-nuclear activists at Thursday's Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting in Brattleboro.

One activist also threw compost at Vermont Yankee's site vice president Michael Colomb.

"You folks have no idea what to do with spent fuel or radioactive waste," said Sally Shaw, of Gill, Mass.

Carrying a bag to the front of the conference room, she threw a handful of "spent food" at Colomb and other Entergy executives before depositing handfuls of compost on a table where NRC officials sat.

"That's really good quality compost," she said.

The NRC was in Brattleboro to discuss Yankee's 2008 annual assessment, in which the agency stated the nuclear power plant was operated "in a manner that preserved public health and safety and fully met all cornerstone objectives."

Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon is owned by Entergy.

The NRC's conclusion about the plant being safe and reliable didn't sit well with any of the people opposed to Yankee's continued operation who attended the afternoon meeting.

"How do you expect us to take (the NRC) seriously," said Fric Spruyt, of Brattleboro.

Spruyt ran down a list of items he and others are concerned about, including the onsite storage of nuclear waste, the inadequacy of emergency evacuation plans and the size of the emergency preparedness zone and the lack of study of the life-cycle costs of nuclear power.

He also wanted to know why the NRC hasn't addressed the increase in cancer rates around nuclear power plants and the fact that it appears the NRC "rubberstamps" any uprate application that comes before it.

"History has shown we have taken a number of steps to improve the oversight and the safety of the plants," said Daryl Roberts, a division manager of the NRC's reactor oversight process.

Since Three Mile Island, he said, nuclear power plants have operated safely around the country, and there are conflicting reports about what kind of health effects occurred as a result of the accident there in 1979.

"There are varying accounts of the impact of that accident, depending on what study you read and who the author was," he said.

He also contended that the NRC doesn't rubberstamp applications.

In fact, he said, personnel go through a rigorous review process that includes a back-and-forth discussion between the NRC and the licensee to resolve issues of concern, taking up thousands of hours of staff time.

Spruyt also likened aging power plants to old cars, which fall apart while you are driving them.

But Roberts said that was an incorrect analogy because power plants undergo ongoing maintenance and equipment repair and replacement.

Another person said the NRC and Entergy are only concerned about making money for shareholders as opposed to spending as much money as necessary to keep the plant safe.

"That's not on the table for myself or my inspectors at the site," said Don Jackson, the NRC's branch chief for Region 1, which includes Yankee.

Resident and visiting inspectors focus on the operation of the plant for its safety and reliabilty, he said, and not Entergy's profit margins.

More than 6,000 staff hours were spent reviewing Entergy's operation in 2008 and several hundred hours just on assembling the report, said Jackson.

"Entergy is a business and operates as a business," admitted Colomb. Part of that is making a profit, he said, but to make a profit, the plant has to operate safely and reliably.

"That's the only way to be successful in this business."

Patty Buck, of East Dover, said her experience in Europe during the Chernobyl meltdown led her to believe that a 10-mile emergency preparedness zone around a nuclear power plant was just not enough.

"If we do have a meltdown," she said, "we can kiss this neck of the woods good-bye."

Another person concerned over Yankee's safety said the NRC's oversight of the nuclear industry is inadequate.

"We need watchdogs for the NRC," said Hattie Nestel, of Athol, Mass. "I'm afraid we have a bunch of lapdogs here."

She was also concerned about understaffing at Yankee and the fact that many of the employees have three years or less of experience at the plant.

At least one audience member contended the anti-nuclear activists have it all wrong.

"I would not work there if (the plant) were not safe," said Ellen Cota, of Chesterfield, N.H. "It's a very safe plant."

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