Editorial: An uncertain transformation

When the day comes that Entergy shuts down the Vermont Yankee reactor in Vernon, Vt., it will mean an end of producing energy by nuclear fission there.

But at the same time, it could be the beginning of transformation that may be more complex and hold a larger impact on the region than all that has come before.

As the Franklin County area is all too aware, based on its experience with the shutdown of Yankee Atomic in Rowe in February of 1992, the decommissioning of the plant is just one facet of that future. The physical dismantling of the plant wasn’t completed until 2007, 15 years later. The final cost associated with decommissioning was $608 million, according to officials.

Despite the effort and money that was put into decommissioning, there remains a part of the plant that no one could have envisioned when Yankee Rowe began operating in 1960 — high-level nuclear waste. Sitting on the property are the 533 spent fuel assemblies encased in 16 above-ground steel canisters within reinforced concrete casks. They will remain there until such time the United States federal government finds the political will to build a depository for this and nuclear waste from other plants.

Waste storage is definitely in the Vernon property’s future. That’s just part of the puzzle involved in the area’s economic future as well, one that John R. Mullin, University of Massachusetts professor and director of the university’s Center of Economic Development addressed at a recent Franklin Regional Planning Board meeting. From what was said, the plant’s closing is going to be a big negative hit on the area, with a loss of $300 million in economic activity during the decade following the closing.

As Mullin and others study the kind of economic impact this closing will have, there is also a call for outside help in helping Vernon and the region make the economic transition a successful and healthy one.

“There is tremendous potential to improve outcomes, to help communities use closure as an opportunity to create economic resilience that will create robust prosperity for decades,” said Jennifer Stromsten, a co-founder with Mullin of the Institute for Nuclear Host Communities.

The area certainly wants to think so. But along with studying and gathering information, there is going to have to be plenty of persuasion on the part of the region that calls for meaningful assistance.

The used fuel will very likely be reused, without "reprocessing" (separating uranium and plutonium), in reactors designed to do this. Prototypes proved this long ago. China is going full-bore on one type and may buy all this used fuel from us. We will be left in the dust. Towns knew from the beginning that the plant would be decommissioned some day. Why didn't they have a savings account for that?

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