Granola politics rules in the green mountain state
It's drop your jaw time in Vermont, again, in response to the latest antics of Vermont State Sen. Peter Shumlin (D-Windahm) over the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The Rutland Herald reports Shumlin, working with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gaye Symington, jammed two anti-nuclear critics on to what is supposed to be an impartial state oversight panel.
Hostility to the Vermont Yankee plant runs deep among "green" politicians in Vermont. It's got all the momentum of a runaway train and there are perils for those who fail to heed the warning signs. The most significant one will be the sky high fossil fuel prices Vermont citizens will pay for electricity if the reactor is shut down.
The two new appointees are Arnold Gundersen of Burlington, a former nuclear industry executive, now a critic, and Peter Bradford, of Peru,VT, who is a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and board member of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The UCS is hard over in its campaign against current and new nuclear power plants.
Gundersen and Bradford join Lawrence Hochreiter, a former Westinghouse nuclear engineer, and now on the faculty of Pennsylvania State University.
The selection of two high profile, anti-nuclear activists, to the state panel drew an immediate protest from Vermont Governor James Douglas. Gov. Douglas said through a spokesman, Stephen Wark, of the Department of Public Service, that the appointments of Gundersen and Bradford "are needlessly political."
"These appointees clearly have a bias against nuclear power. This [panel] is not a referendum on nuclear power."
Wark added that Gov. Douglas purposely chose someone with technical expertise who was politically neutral.
A special inspection is being organized of Vermont Yankee to help the state legislature make a decision whether to endorse continued operation of the plant. It's license expires in 2012. The panel must submit its report by January 2009. While the State of Vermont has no legal authority over Vermont Yankee's NRC license, it has taken upon itself a review capacity as if it does.
Panel's tilt may be unrecoverable
Gundersen rejected Stark's complaint and said he is a nuclear engineer first.
"I predicted the cooling tower collapse. I predicted the decommissioning fund would be short, and I predicted cracks in the barrel. If that makes me anti-nuclear I don't know what to say."
He also criticized the appointment of Hochreiter for not having experience with the type of reactor at the Vermont Yankee plant.
The three panelists are to choose a fourth member, which, with the deck stacked by Shumlin and Symington, doesn't look good for dispassionate analytic skills. Gundersen said he expects to work full time on the inspection panel.
All of this may be moot when it comes to the NRC's decision about Vermont Yankee's license to operate. State government can't legally trump the federal authority. Legal issues aside, thumping Vermont Yankee makes for great partisan politics, and Shumlin and Symington see the plant's future as grist for the granola mill from now until the election next November.
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