By Harvey Wasserman
In a huge victory for the grass-roots movement for a green-powered earth, Entergy has announced it will shut its Vermont Yankee reactor by the end of next year.
“It’s fantastic,” says longtime safe-energy activist Deb Katz. “This is such a win for the people, for the state of Vermont and for democracy.”
The Green Mountain State’s only commercial reactor was recently relicensed to operate another two decades. Entergy spent millions in legal fees to establish a right to resist Vermont’s attempt to shut Yankee on safety grounds. Announcing this shutdown just two weeks after an apparent victory in federal court indicates the legal battle was really a holding action to protect its other reactors.
But the decision also opened Entergy to other challenges, especially in front of Vermont’s Public Service Board. “Hidden in the federal ruling Entergy ostensibly won was a confirmation that the state, through the PSB, had the right to reject Vermont Yankee’s continued operation on reliability, economics and more.”
And, says Katz, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission accepted our petition to pry open Entergy’s finances.”
This is the fifth shutdown announcement since 2013 began with 104 licensed U.S. reactors. Barring other closures—which now seem more likely—Yankee’s demise will bring us to 99. Nebraska’s Ft. Calhoun is still down after being flooded. As many as seven more proposed U.S. reactors have been canceled since January, turning the much-hyped “nuclear renaissance” into a rapidly rising rout. Upgrades at five other reactors have also been canceled.
Entergy’s double-reactor complex at Indian Point, north of New York City, is now under intense political fire. Water and other permits there and at the upstate Fitzpatrick reactor are being bitterly contested in Albany.
Entergy’s embattled Pilgrim reactor at Plymouth, south of Boston, recently had to reduce power due to global-warmed Cape Cod cooling water. Its Palisades reactor on Lake Michigan has been linked to heightened local cancer rates.
Entergy says Yankee’s closure will add more than $100 million to its cash flow over the next few years. Wisconsin’s Kewaunee has been shut for financial reasons by Dominion Power. Nuclear experts like Arnie Gundersen warn that funds set aside to decommission these dying reactors may be inadequate and that the process could take far longer than we are being told.
With gas relatively cheap and renewables dropping in price while rising in efficiency, the financial vise is tightening around the world’s remaining reactors.
As Amory Lovins has shown, Germany’s decision to shut its nukes and transition to renewables looms large over a technology whose credibility has been decimated by the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima.
Any talk of nuclear power being a solution for global warming has exploded with that disaster and the rapid deterioration of the U.S. industry.
As Jon Wellinghoff, chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, puts it, solar power is about to “overtake everything.”
The regional nonviolent movement to shut Vermont Yankee stretches back four decades. This victory was preceded by the 1990s closure of the nearby Yankee Rowe reactor, the cancellations of construction downwind at Seabrook Unit Two, of two proposed units at downriver Montague, and much, much more.
Thoroughly linked with national and international activism, the Yankee shutdown derived from the tireless work of seasoned campaigners who have never stopped. Like the recent victories at San Onofre and elsewhere, this New England campaign has been built around countless individual actions, organizing meetings, public hearings, marches, concerts, rallies, picket lines, nonviolent civil disobedience and a savvy, in-it-for-the-long-haul dedication from people for whom ridding the world of nuclear power is the only end point.
It stands a model for peaceful democratic social change that has cleared a visible path to a sustainable, socially just and ecologically sound planet on which to live.
Harvey Wasserman edits www.nukefree.org. He wrote “Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth” and hosts the “Green Power and Wellness” show at Prn.fm. This article is dedicated to Tony Mathews.
The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station sits along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vt.