Clean energy is our demand

June 30, 2011

BURLINGTON, Vt.--About 70 people turned out June 23 to oppose a court ruling that would allow the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to remain open while the owners of the plant sue the state of Vermont.

That lawsuit could drag on for years, leaving the reactor operating indefinitely. Rallies outside the Brattleboro federal courthouse and Burlington's City Hall gave voice to the strong public opposition to the continued operation of Vermont Yankee, especially after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March.

Entergy, the owners of Vermont Yankee, signed a memorandum of agreement when they purchased the reactor in 2002, granting the Vermont legislature final say over the continuing operation of the plant. In 2010, the legislature voted 26-4 to shut down the plant when its license expires in March 2012.

Now, Entergy wants to void Vermont law, claiming it is unconstitutional, and in the meanwhile is asking the federal court to grant an injunction that would keep the plant open while Entergy files suit against the state. A ruling on the injunction is expected in mid-July.

In Burlington, activists from Pax Christi, and the International Socialist Organization demanded an end to not only Vermont Yankee, but nuclear power everywhere. Speakers noted how Fukushima could be the worst industrial accident in human history and that Japanese workers are still at least a year from bringing the meltdown under control--while the reactor continues to spew radiation. The area around Fukushima is now uninhabitable, and radioactive fallout is circling the globe.

Also important for the anti-nuclear movement in Vermont was a significant turnout from United Academics, the professor's union at the University of Vermont. The support of organized labor in shutting down unsafe reactors is especially important, because Entergy has embarked on a propaganda campaign designed to appeal to workers concerned about unemployment.

To this end, seven employees of Vermont Yankee have also recently filed suit against the state of Vermont for possible loss of employment--despite the fact that the decommissioning process would take years, if not decades, and require the same workforce to shut the plant down.

Mention of successful anti-nuke movements that led Germany and Italy to abandon nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster brought loud cheers from the crowd, as did the demands for 100 percent clean energy to replace Vermont Yankee, green jobs and mass transportation. Protesters then marched through Burlington's downtown, chanting "Hey Entergy, ready or not, clean up your mess and leave Vermont!" and "From Vermont to Japan, no more nukes is our demand."

Gaining members throughout the march, there was a tangible sense of optimism that the ascendant anti-nukes movements could unite the broader environmental movement and stop the so-called "nuclear renaissance."

Following the march, many protesters marched to the Federal Building in support of's solidarity rally with the political prisoner Tim DeChristopher, who was arrested for driving up the price of public land in Utah and then refusing to pay, thus keeping the land public.

VERMONT YANKEE is a key battleground in the national movement to close old nuclear reactors. The nuclear industry, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Obama administration have tried to ignore the implications of Fukushima and move forward with plans to expand reliance on nuclear power.

In March, the NRC re-licensed the 39-year-old plant for another 20 years, even though the GE Mark 1 reactors, which are the same models as those that melted down in Fukushima, are designed to last 40 years and have been condemned by their original designers.

What's more, Vermont Yankee has a reprehensible safety record. A cooling tower at the reactor collapsed in 2007 without warning, and tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, has been leaking from underground pipes that Entergy tried to claim didn't exist. Tritium was later found in the nearby Connecticut River.

The current injunction and the trial that will begin in September are being fought over the narrow legal grounds that only the NRC, not the Vermont legislature, has jurisdiction over nuclear safety, and that Vermont's refusal to re-license the plant is invalid.

Our movement should not rely on the courts or politicians to do the right thing. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, while bravely opposing Vermont Yankee, has signed an agreement to buy power from Seabrook nuclear facility in New Hampshire. We don't need better nukes; we need to demand an end to the insanity of relying on radioactivity for electric power, especially when renewable energy is more viable than ever.

Activists are planning the Vermont Anti-Nuclear Conference for July 23 at the University of Vermont, with nuclear whistleblower Arnie Gundersen, the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, Dan DeWalt, Chris Williams, and more. Several rallies and film screenings are planned for Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days in early August.

For more information, call 802-490-3875.

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