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Activists rally against nuclear waste transport

  • Citizens Awareness Network parks a 32-foot-long wooden mock-up of a radioactive waste cask outside of Hawks and Reed in Greenfield during a tour event Thursday. Staff/Dan Little

  • Citizens Awareness Network parks a 32-foot-long wooden mock-up of a radioactive waste cask outside of Hawks and Reed in Greenfield during a tour event Thursday. STAFF/DAN LITTLE



Staff Writer
Friday, September 21, 2018

GREENFIELD — In a lot of ways it was like a party, celebrating the accomplishments of the past few years: The closures of the Vermont and Rowe nuclear plants. 

Between free-styling on an electronic harmonica beside the accompaniments of the Wildcat O’Halloran Band, “Downtown” Bob Stannard belted the lyrics: “Yes I’ve heard about you baby … I’ve told you before, you’re heading out the door.” 

In a lot of ways, incidentally, his lyrics echoed what the speakers for the anti-nuclear Citizens Awareness Network said as they, too, came to the stage at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center Thursday night for an evening of “Nuclear Blues.”

The theme of the night? The high-level nuclear power plant waste being stored in Rowe and Vernon, Vt., must go — but only once the right and final safe place for it is decided. 

“I haven’t bothered you for three or four years at this point,” leader of CAN and Rowe resident Deb Katz said. “But we’ve come back to our community to say: We need to be involved again. And I wish it wasn’t so.”

Katz and CAN just begun a tour of New England, and after spending their first two nights in Vermont, they came to Greenfield Thursday. On Friday, they will take the tour to the Statehouse on Beacon Hill.

Currently, the anti-nuclear activists are rallying against a bill that could allow for the high-level nuclear waste in Rowe and Vernon, Vt., to be shipped in canisters across the country to Texas or New Mexico. It would place the waste in what CAN is calling “parking lots” that are seen as more temporary holdings than anything else, but could be pitched as helping tthe economy in these regions in the Southwest of the country. 

“Why shouldn’t we just say ‘yes, wow. Thank you so much’? The trouble is this is a really bad idea,” Katz said. “We all want the waste off the site, but we want it done right. And we want it done once.”

The bill could also re-open the door to moving the nuclear waste to Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, where for years the federal government explored building but never built an underground depository for the spent fuel rods of the nation’s reactors. The owners of decommissioned nuclear plants would prefer to pass off responsibility to store and protect spent fuel rods to the federal government as has been envisioned over the years. But so far no central, long-term solution has been developed or approved.

The bill, HR 3053, easily passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in May and is slated to go before the Senate after the November midterm elections. Congressman Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, was the lone representative from Massachusetts who voted against the bill; Congressman Richard Neal, D-Springfield, voted in favor of it. 

At the moment there isn’t a distinct solution on where to move the high-level nuclear waste, but Katz and fellow lead organizer Chris Williams of Vermont advovated for more science to figure out the best solution to storing waste that remains toxic for thousands of years.

“It took a lot of hard science to create this mess,” Williams said. “To get rid of this stuff properly, we’re going to have to apply real science and not just political expediency.” 

The goal is to look to scientists to find the place for “deep geological storage,” Williams said. 

Preaching to find a better, scientific solution was organizer and activist Kerstin Rudek from the Peoples Initiative, based out of Germany, where her neighbors have faced similar issues. 

“It’s an international thing,” Rudek said, pointing to the lack of answers of what to do with the nuclear waste and the need for answers. “It’s not just a local thing.” 

The meeting, which Williams described as a “little more lively than your usual nuclear waste meeting,” also included the speaker Leona Morgan, from the Navajo Nation and an Albuquerque, N.M. resident. 

“It’s great news when we hear a nuclear power plant has been shut down, but it makes me nervous because it makes the push for these false solutions even harder,” Morgan said. 

She described the political climate in New Mexico as pitching to residents that moving the nuclear waste there would be good for their economy, creating jobs, but ignoring the will of the residents who might be affected by it most. 

“I’m here tonight to tell you we don’t want it,” Morgan said. “We don’t want this waste.”

In one of the first meetings in years, and the first time CAN has gone on tour in over a decade, Katz said, the mood jockeyed between celebratory and concerned as the activists and the few dozen in the room set their sights on their next political steps. 

“We were organizing, kicking ass, and winning, but the down side sometimes is when you win, people move on,” Williams said. “We’re back. It’s not over.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264