New Hampshire Views: New Hampshire officials still need to step up on Vermont Yankee
When the year ends and it comes time for those annual “top stories of the year” lists in the Monadnock Region, undoubtedly one of the stories we’ll consider will be the August announcement that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., will be shut down next year and, eventually, mothballed.
The story is important not only because it signals the end of decades of fighting over the wisdom of nuclear power, the safety of the plant’s operation and who will be on the hook to pay for it all, but also because the livelihoods of hundreds of workers are directly affected – as are the taxes and fees paid by plant owner Entergy Corp., its various contributions throughout the region and the implications of actually decommissioning the plant.
Of course, all these issues affect those on the western shore of the Connecticut River more than in Cheshire County, but we’re struck somewhat by the difference between talk and action on these issues among those elected and appointed to state government.
So far, Vermont state officials have been far more proactive in dealing with the fallout from the news of the impending shutdown. Of the 623 Vermont Yankee employees, 238 live in Vermont, while 210 live in New Hampshire, mostly in Hinsdale, Chesterfield and Keene, according to Entergy. The rest are in northern Massachusetts.
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan was quick to issue a statement on the shutdown and subsequently created a “working group” of officials whose aim is to “ensure the safety of our communities, protect our natural resources, and assist displaced workers” as the plant readies to close. There’s been little word yet on what that group intends to do to meet those goals, beyond “monitoring” the situation. It’s also noteworthy that the goals she named do not include addressing the economic impact of the plant’s shutdown on affected communities.
Meanwhile, two committees from the Vermont Legislature have already met with residents in Vernon to hear their thoughts on the loss of jobs, taxes and more. And the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel has been active in pushing Entergy to choose the faster method of cleaning up the site once the plant is deactivated.
This is nothing new, of course. During its planning, construction, and 41-year life, Vermont Yankee has always drawn far more interest from Vermont officials. Hinsdale’s selectmen, for example, have long waged a spirited campaign to interest Granite State leaders in addressing the futility of the state Office of Emergency Management’s approved evacuation plan for the town in the case of a meltdown or other emergency at the plant. Maybe they’ll get some love by the time the plant is decommissioned and cleaned up.
And former New Hampshire congressman Charlie Bass once issued a statement regarding “Vermont Yankee Power Plant in Brattleboro,” which we guess is an easy enough mistake to make if your exposure to the plant is limited mostly to, say, correspondence from Entergy’s regional corporate office in that town.
Not that New Hampshire has completely ignored Vermont Yankee. State Sen. Molly Kelly of Keene is among the local legislators who have a good record of listening to and discussing issues related to the plant. And when radioactive contaminants were found in water nearby after several leaks at the plant, the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services responded by testing fish far and wide for strontium-90 levels.
But the news that the plant will soon be closing, 600-plus jobs will be lost and plans must now be made to clean up the site – including disposing of tons of high-level radioactive waste stored on site – is a pretty big development. We’re sure people in Keene, Chesterfield, and especially Hinsdale – which has a great view of the nuclear plant across the river – would be delighted to see the same kind of action now that residents of Vermont are seeing from their officials.
At that recent meeting in Vernon, according to the Rutland Herald, Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the Vermont House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, told the gathering he had a “greater appreciation of what’s going on down here. That’s a big accomplishment.”
“You’re not just a nondescript face any more,” he said. “We have heard it first-hand and we have a greater appreciation of what needs to happen.”
We could hope for that same realization soon from our leaders in Concord.