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Anti-nuke coalition plots course for future

The New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution got rolling in 1971 when a consortium of Vermont utilities was seeking an operating license for the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant, and it’s been involved in legal battles with owners of the Vernon reactor ever since.

Now that Entergy has announced plans to pull the plug on its 41-year-old plant a year from now, the coalition is gearing up for what it figures will be the next stage in the long-running battle.

“We feel our role has been substantial in Vermont Yankee from the very beginning,” says Diana Sidebotham, a former president of the organization who became involved in forming it in February 1971. “But there is much to do.”

Key questions remain about exactly when in the last quarter of 2014 the 605-megawatt reactor will be shut down and what the plans are for its decommissioning and its spent fuel.

“This is simply a continuation in what we had anticipated from the very beginning,” said Sidebotham, recalling that among the issues the coalition raised in the original operating license was when the highly radioactive fuel would be removed. “We were told repeatedly by the Atomic Energy Commission that (that issue) did not apply to an individual proceeding and that the matter of waste storage would be dealt with later. Well, now is later.”

In its spent fuel pool, which Sidebotham complained is vulnerable, seven stories above ground and covered with what Sidebotham criticized as “an industrial style metal roof,” the plant has nearly 3,000 assemblies, although the pool was originally built for about 350. According to The Associated Press, there are nearly 900 more assemblies stored in air-cooled dry casks on site.

If Entergy Corp., which owns the plant, continues with its chosen “safe-store” approach after shutdown, essentially mothballing the reactor for decades to allow the radiation to decrease naturally, it will mean another challenge for the coalition, which has focused throughout its history on intervening in formal NRC processes and litigating in state and federal courts when necessary.

Sidebotham, who has been involved with the coalition for more than 30 years, said that her own concern is that Entergy plans to defer decommissioning for up to 40 years as a way to eventually walk away from its responsibilities for decommissioning, projected to cost more than $875 million.

“I suspect there will be litigation” over waiting to decommission, Sidebotham said. “We certainly think there should be immediate decommissioning,” a position that Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has also expressed.

Sidebotham said that four decades of involvement by the coalition, with about 400 members, is partially responsible for Entergy’s decision to close the plant. She pointed to the owners’ statement that the challenge of “cumulative regulation” was part of what led to its decision a month ago. “There’s no doubt whatsoever in our minds that actions of the New England Coalition in insisting at some points they abide by the regulations and seek upgrades at other points, had something to do with it.”

As for the future, she added, “We will be there, persistently, as we have since the very beginning in 1971, pressing the issues that we feel are crucial.”

On the Web: www.necnp.org

You can reach Richie Davis at:
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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