Vermonters spoke forcefully Wednesday about the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant - they told the Public Service Board they wanted the plant shut down as soon as possible.
Only a handful of Entergy Nuclear employees, who all said they recently moved to Vermont to work for the company, spoke in favor of the nuclear reactor's continued operation during the first two hours of the hearing before the Vermont Public Service Board, broadcast on Vermont Interactive Television.
The board starts its formal technical hearings next week on Entergy Nuclear's request to keep operating for another 20 years beyond 2012, when its original 40-year federal license expires. The board must issue the reactor a certificate of public good for it to operate beyond 2012.
Again and again, people in Brattleboro, Bennington, Williston, Middlebury, Montpelier, Randolph, Lyndonville, Johnson, Springfield, White River Junction and Rutland told Chairman James Volz they saw no public good in the plant's continued operation. Yankee's time had come and it was time Vermont switched to renewable, sustainable energy instead of 1960s-era nuclear technology, they said.
Alexandra Thayer of Montpelier, who stressed she was no relation to Entergy Nuclear's chief lobbyist Jay Thayer, said no Vermonter would hire a contractor to work on their house with "40-year-old equipment."
Alexandra Thayer accused Jay Thayer of "bullying" the state of Vermont, for his recent statements that if legislation passed requiring Entergy to make contributions to the plant's decommissioning fund, the company would shut the plant down.
"If you didn't have enough cash to clean up your own mess, you wouldn't even get an interview" as a contractor, Thayer said.
"Use your cow-poop detection skills," she urged the board members, who were listening in from locations in Montpelier, Williston and Rutland.
Vermont Yankee was designed in the 1960s, built over several years and started operating in 1972. It supplies about one-third of all the electricity used in Vermont, about half of its production. It or its contractors employ about 600 people.
In the first two hours, about 40 people spoke against the continued operation of the plant, saying the plant was releasing increasing amounts of radiation, racking up an increasing number of accidents or problems and pointed to a recent state report that stated the plant needed $100 million in deferred maintenance.
Critics said the underfunding of the plant's decommissioning fund, the storage of high-level radioactive waste on the banks of the Connecticut River and the inherent vulnerability of the plant's spent fuel pool was enough to convince them the plant was too much of a threat to life in Vermont.
On the other side of the debate, six people, who all said they either worked for Entergy Nuclear or their parents did, spoke in favor of the plant and its impact on the Windham County economy.
Four of the six said they had recently moved to Vermont to work for Entergy, part of a "new wave" of young engineers at the reactor. They all said they would not stay in Vermont if Yankee shut down, rather, they would retrain and work for other energy enterprises.
Gene Gibbs of Brattleboro said he had moved to Brattleboro from his hometown in Georgia because there were no jobs in his hometown of 15,000 people, warning Brattleboro could face a similar fate.
"I had to leave my hometown. I had to leave my father. I had to leave my mother. I had to leave my brothers and my friends," he said. "I know what it cost me."
Vermont is unique in the country for the state having a say on the plant's future: Both the Public Service Board and the Vermont Legislature must support continued operation.
Two people said they had personal experiences with nuclear accidents, since they lived in Europe at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
For three years, Susan Ritz of Montpelier said, she couldn't have a garden at her home in southern Germany because of radioactive fallout from the accident and she and others had a hard time finding food that wasn't contaminated.
She was pregnant at the time, she said, and she and others lived in fear of birth defects from the radioactivity. She said she lived 750 miles away from the accident.
Another woman who was living in Europe at the time pointed out: "There are no jobs in Chernobyl today."