Neighboring Mass. towns see plant’s closing as good news
Officials from towns nearest the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant greeted news of Entergy Corp.’s decision to close the 41-year-old reactor with pleasure and reservations.
Entergy announced plans to decommission the plant beginning in late 2014, citing the energy economy.
“I’m extremely excited about that, but the work isn’t over, we have to hold them to decommissioning, and truthfully I’m concerned about the oversight in the next 14 months while it’s still operating,” said John Ward, chairman of the Gill Selectboard and a long-time opponent of the plant.
Half of Gill falls within the emergency planning zone established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a 10-mile radius around nuclear power plants in which evacuation and other emergency plans are concentrated, but a radius that has come into question since the 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdowns in Japan.
Ward has participated in many of the Vermont Yankee protests over the years and said he has been arrested several times in the process.
Gill Administrative Assistant Ray Purington said the town receives $7,500 annually from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to maintain radiological response preparedness due to the plant’s presence, money that has some cross-over utility.
Gill Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Gene Beaubien said that money does go to emergency operations center upgrades and some equipment, but won’t be a significant loss.
In Greenfield, which falls partially within the planning zone, Town Councilor Marian Kelner said she is unsure how many local residents are employed by the plant but believes the benefits outweigh the cost, with a protracted decommissioning process giving employees time to find new jobs.
“I think it’s excellent news and I think it impacts Greenfield in a very positive way because we’re living under the shadow of a very old plant with some very severe problems,” Kelner said. “I think Entergy did the right thing to close the plant down and make us feel a lot safer.”
Greenfield Town Councilor Norman Hirschfeld said “I’m not jumping up and down, but I’m glad.”
Hirschfeld said Vermont Yankee was the only “negative” when he and his wife moved to Greenfield five years ago.
“It was scary to think what would happen if there was a catastrophic event,” said Hirschfeld. “It’s only 12 miles away. I’m glad the old, antiquated reactor is being decommissioned.”
Hirschfeld said his only concern now is that the reactor be taken apart safely and carefully.
Bernardston Selectman Virginia “Ginger” Budness said she was pleased with the news, in light of the plant’s age and the example of the meltdown at the Fukushima plant following the 2011 Japan earthquake.
Budness said she years ago went before town meeting asking residents to call for the plant’s closure, but the effort was shot down.
Despite her pleasure, Budness pointed to a downside.
“I know they’ve been good to local communities, as far as emergency management. Sometimes the wallet speaks. I’m sure towns are going to feel the impact,” Budness said.
The closure may hurt some people in the short-term but benefit area towns in the long-term, she said.
The Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee in July sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking for an expansion of the 10-mile radius for the emergency planning zone.
Mohawk School Committee Chairman Robert Aeschbach said the NRC should expand the zone, which currently touches only on the edge of one of the district’s nine member towns, but his concern Tuesday was for the workers.
“My only reaction is I think it’s a shame that so many people are going to lose their jobs,” Aeschbach said. About 630 people work at the plant.
Wendell is entirely outside the 10-mile radius but passed a resolution in 2012 similar to Mohawk’s, calling for an expansion of the various emergency radii to encompass Wendell and many other towns.
Daniel Keller of the Wendell Selectboard said he was very happy to hear of the closure plans.
“We wish it were closing tomorrow, we still have a lot of concerns about the long-term consequences, long-term storage of radioactive waste at the sight which apparently does not have a finite ending, but it is a great achievement that the plant is closing,” Keller said.
Keller said the nuclear plant’s cooling process damages the Connecticut River ecosystem but safety is the main concern.
“If there were anything approaching a Fukushima-type meltdown we’re all down wind and we all could be in very serious trouble,” Keller said.
Christine Heard, also of the Wendell Selectboard, expressed a similar opinion, saying it has been scary having such an antique plant so close by.
“I work at the elementary school and we’ve started to have some discussions about what we would do in the event of a nuclear emergency and we can put that behind us, hopefully, soon,” Heard said.
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