Vt. plant concerns City of Northampton

Vt. plant concerns Northampton
Tuesday, March 07, 2006

NORTHAMPTON – Warned that an accident at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant could make Hurricane Katrina look like a shower, the City Council last week authorized Mayor Mary Clare Higgins to convey the city’s concerns to the Vermont Public Service Board.

Several residents, including at least one who has been arrested for trespassing at the facility, took issue with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision allowing the plant to boost its output, or “uprate,” by 20 percent.

Over the weekend, vibrations detected in the steam system at the nuclear power plant prompted Entergy Nuclear to hold off on further increases in the plant’s energy production.

The company had completed a 5 percent boost in its electrical output when analysis required by the NRC concluded additional increases should be delayed so the vibrations could be further evaluated.

“That’s built into the plan and the NRC is overseeing this,” Yankee spokesman Robert Williams said yesterday.

Vermont Yankee has been in operation since 1972, making it one of the country’s oldest operating nuclear facilities. Entergy Nuclear, which purchased the plant in 2002, has also applied for a 20-year extension on the plant’s license.

“As elected representatives of an area only 31 miles downwind from Vermont Yankee, we feel we have an obligation to ask for an independent Safety Assessment,” Higgins wrote last week.

Larry M. Smith, manager of communications for Vermont Yankee, yesterday defended the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision , noting that it came after 4½ years and 11,000 hours of review.

In her letter, Higgins expressed concerns about the storage of nuclear waste in casks on the banks of the Connecticut River. Smith said the government has reneged on its promise to dispose of spent nuclear fuel, forcing Vermont Yankee and some other 30 nuclear power plants to store waste on site. “It’s safe and the environmentally safe thing to do,” he said.

Although there will be a three-year process of inspecting plant equipment and studying aging issues, Smith said Energy is confident the facility can run safely for another 20 years.

Some Northampton residents were not as sanguine about their safety, however. Frances Crowe, who had trespassing charges against her dismissed last year after protesting at Entergy’s headquarters in Brattleboro, warned the council that the plant could endanger thousands of area residents.

“Residents in Western Massachusetts live downwind from a problem nuclear reactor, yet are being treated as if they have no legitimate voice in decisions regarding its operation,” she said.

Crowe described the reactors as “aged, brittle and cracked,” and questioned whether it can handle the boost in power.

Dr. Henry Rosenberg of the Pioneer Valley Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility pointed out that the citizens of New Orleans were able to throw a Mardi Gras celebration just six months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city. A nuclear accident will offer no such recovery, he said.

“When catastrophe occurs, we’re going to have to evacuate our city,” Rosenberg said, “and we will not be coming back.”