Three miles north of the Massachusetts state line and less than 56 miles from Springfield sits a Darth Vader of technology: Entergy Corporation’s Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
Vermont Yankee has a history of safety issues going back at least to 1974 (when the plant was quite new), and is under state order to shut down in March. Yet Entergy just spent $50 million on new fuel and committed another $42 million to installing that fuel, knowing full well that the state will consider any operation beyond March, 2012 illegal. And this doesn’t count $100 million in post-Fukushma upgrades that will be required in the next few years.
The issue of whether Vermont Yankee will be bound by state law and forced to shut down March 21, 2012 will be adjudicated in court this September: a lawsuit brought on by Entergy’s attempt to torpedo its 2006 agreement to abide by the state’s decision, once it became obvious that the vote was not going Entergy’s way.
Add to this a few other factors:
- Vermont Yankee is one of 23 reactors in the US that use essentially the same design as Fukushima; it’s not out of the question that the federal government could unilaterally shut all those plants down.
- The year-long Associated Press study on nuclear power safety showed glaring holes in the entire industry; a new citizen action network, like the one of the late 70s, could revitalize the safe energy/no nukes movement and bring enormous pressure to close all the nuclear plants in the US.
- In New England, opposition to nuclear power is already deeply entrenched and fairly well organized. It was New England’s Clamshell Alliance, after all, that gave birth to the national nuclear shutdown movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Even if Entergy manages to win in court, it’s obvious that any attempt to keep the plant running will be met with massive citizen opposition including very public protests and civil disobedience. This will inevitably make keeping the plant open a very expensive and slow proposition.
Entergy will probably raise an argument on the order of “you can’t make us shut down, we just spent $92 million to refuel.” Since the company knew full well that this money could be completely wasted and went ahead anyway, we have to hope that Judge Murtha not only refuses to consider that line of “reasoning,” but makes sure the entire cost is borne not by innocent taxpayers and ratepayers of Vermont, not even by stockhoders who had nothing to do with this decision, but by the members of the Board of Directors who voted to squander this money, and to the executives that pushed for this vote.