Vermont Yankee–the other side speaks

A 2007 cooling tower collapse at Vermont Yankee didn't exactly reassure Vermonters that the plant was well-built or well-operated.

A 2007 cooling tower collapse at Vermont Yankee didn’t exactly reassure Vermonters that the plant was well-built or well-operated.

GreenWorld seems to have garnered a lot of new readers this week–not that we expect them to stick around long: rather, there’s been a jump among nuclear power advocates and industry members. On Monday, we published a piece titled Nuclear industry goes hysterically ballistic over Yankee shutdown. It quickly became one of our most-read posts ever–in just two days it would have made our Top Ten Stories of 2014 list.

The post prompted some comments from the pro-nukers, a few of which we published Tuesday, and then a whole raft more. And then we started getting complaints (within about 12 hours or so) that we hadn’t published these comments yet–as if we’re a 24/7 operation staffed to the gills here (hint: we’re not). I’m it, and I don’t even work on GreenWorld full-time, I have a lot of other responsibilities too: like fundraising, running our website, writing our Alerts, and a lot more.

So, no folks, I don’t always publish comments promptly. Sometimes I don’t publish them at all. I’ve rejected many comments, from all side of the spectrum, that I found offensive, or that were overly rhetorical, or just added nothing new to a piece or discussion.

And yesterday I didn’t publish anything. You see, it was Christmas on the Orthodox calendar, which means the family was off to the Ukrainian church for service, lunch, and a little performance that my two youngest daughters were part of. In other words, it was a holiday for me.

I should perhaps point out that this is an anti-nuclear, pro-clean energy blog; I don’t write it for the pro-nuke audience (as they don’t write their blogs for us). I strive, whether it’s me writing a post or editing someone else’s article, to be accurate and credible. But we make no pretense of being objective. We don’t have to do the “he says, she says” thing that too often serves to obfuscate than illuminate an issue. We believe, with every fiber of our beings, that a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system is precisely what our nation and our planet both need and deserve. Only such a system will effectively address our climate crisis, and provide us with the safe, clean and affordable power the 21st century requires.

Given who we are, and who we write for, we also feel no obligation to post pro-nuke comments just because they are submitted. We often do post them, so people who choose to can debate, but we don’t feel obligated to. Still, today, I thought I’d let the other side have their shot. Instead of just posting their comments in the comments section, I’m putting them in this piece. A few of these I might not ordinarily publish, but thought I’d include them so you can get an idea of what has been coming in. I’ve added a few brief points at the end, but I’m not replying to them all (and some of them are just repeating points I already replied to and discredited). You can reply if you’d like.

If there is one theme here, it’s that many people just don’t understand the changes that are underway in the generation and distribution of electricity; changes that make the concept of baseload power–whether from nuclear or fossil fuels–obsolete and indeed cause it to interfere with the clean energy sources of the present and future. Although we’ve written a lot about these changes last year, we’ll continue to do so in the coming year: it’s clearly something that is not yet well understood, perhaps the same way that cell phones–and the enormous changes they would bring to our lives and culture–were not well understood at the beginning either (perhaps for good reason, the idea that people carrying around shoebox-sized phones to make staticky phone calls would lead, within a generation, to more computer power in our pockets than high-end PCs of just a few years ago, could be seen as laughable if one didn’t know what was coming).

A 2004 transformer fire was another blight on Vermont Yankee's record.

A 2004 transformer fire was another blight on Vermont Yankee’s record.

Another common thread in these comments is the clear anguish many of these people feel over Vermont Yankee’s shutdown. I get it. While Entergy portrayed the shutdown as a purely economics-driven decision, it was in essence a political decision, just as former Governor Mario Cuomo’s actions to prevent the completed Shoreham reactor from ever operating was a political decision. Cuomo was skeptical of nuclear power to begin with (as his son Andrew is as well) and with 80% of the public on Long Island opposed to Shoreham, there was no way he could let it operate. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of Vermonters were opposed to continued operation of Vermont Yankee, including virtually all of the state’s political establishment (who, of course, were responding to that overwhelming public majority). Entergy could have tried to keep VY running, but it would have faced continual and expensive challenges in the courts, the legislature and the streets. Add those pains to the reality that the reactor couldn’t generate electricity competitively in the present marketplace, and Entergy’s decision was easy.

Political decisions have winners and losers. The winners feel good, the losers feel bad. Like I said, I get it, and probably everyone reading this has experienced that too.

I remember vividly how I felt, as a young editorial assistant at the American Bar Association’s Washington lobbying office, coming to work the day after Reagan was elected the first time, sweeping in a new Republican majority to the Senate. I was crushed. My immediate boss, a pretty tough woman, was near tears all day (even more so when she realized we would have to put a photo of new Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurman on the cover of our next issue). Most of the people in the office spent the day walking around like sudden PTSD cases. At least the very few Republicans there (the ABA is non-partisan after all, and had to keep good relations with both parties) weren’t into gloating.

Political battles bring winners and losers. This time, the protestors are the winners.

Political battles bring winners and losers. This time, the protestors are the winners.

And I’ve been on the other side too. The only time I’ve ever bought a case of champagne was in preparation for an Election Night 1992 party at my house. My then-wife, whose family hailed from Arkansas, had no doubt Clinton would win, and I was pretty sure too. After twelve years of the GOP in the Oval Office, it was time. It was a big noisy party, and when the networks declared Clinton the winner, we brought out the champagne and got even louder. Our next door neighbors, Republicans, came over and congratulated us. It was a thoughtful gesture, but I could see in their eyes the pain of losing.

We repeated that party again in 2008, at the same house. There were new next door neighbors, African-American women who, since I didn’t live there anymore, I didn’t know. But when victory was declared for Obama and he began his Grant Park speech, I ended up jumping up and down and hugging one of them for nearly his entire talk. I never did get her name. That’s the joy of winning. And there is similar joy in seeing Vermont Yankee finally close. I make no apologies for that.

So here are some comments from the losing side; your responses are welcome:

The rise in the “operating costs” of nuclear power plants has little or nothing to do with the fact that they, like you and I, are “aging.”

As Ken Silverstein pointed out in his Forbes column today (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kensilverstein/2015/01/05/can-nuclear-energy-compete-in-todays-energy-markets/), the main culprit is the rising cost of alterations forced onto the industry.

What Silverstein did not say is that those alterations are the result of political pressure by activists — or competitors — who seem to believe that every world event is a good excuse for new regulations on US nuclear plants.

Terrorists fly into office buildings – impose new security requirements on nuclear plants, including Aircraft Impact Assessments on projects whose contracts have already been signed and whose state regulators have already approved the project cost and schedules.

Rivers rise in the midwest – impose lengthy shutdowns and modifications.

A tsunami damages the backup power supplies for coastal plants located in the ring of fire – increase requirements on inland US plants that have already been modified in ways that would have prevented the damage.

An off-gas condensate with a few microcuries of tritium/liter leaks – impose clean-up programs far in excess of EPA requirements and send the Chairman of the NRC to visit with local antinuclear activists to see what else can be done to add more costs.

What you and your friends seem to have overlooked is that electricity that is not generated by nuclear plants that are forced off of the grid “for economic reasons” is almost 100% generated by fossil fuel combustion.

Though you claim to be opposed to fossil fuel, the biggest financial beneficiaries of your actions are people involved in the fossil fuel value chain.

You repeatedly point out that the nuclear fuel cycle requires some fossil fuel burning. Do you think that similar amounts of fuel are NOT required to mine the concrete, steel, copper, glass and rare earth materials associated with wind turbines and solar panels, to transport those large collectors to the remote sites where their energy sources are most available, and to return to those remote locations regularly to conduct equipment cleaning and other maintenance?

Let’s get together and talk about this stuff again. You really need to remove your antinuclear blinders and start to recognize that the technology you have been fighting is one of the tools we all need to achieve a better world.

Rod Adams

I think Rod Adams actually said that the closure was not justified on economic grounds. The plant is not making a loss. I think the closure makes sense from the owners point of view. With energy scarcity, plant operators can drive up profits, and customers will end up paying more. Capitalists can make higher profits with less reliable more scarce electricity. We saw what electricity scarcity could do 14 years ago during the California energy crisis.

Mark4asp

I don’t think “hysterical,” “ballistic,” or “near unanimous” mean what they think you do. Your excerpted comments seem quite rational and measured, and I know plenty of people around here who are not happy about this, especially as we are opening $200 electricity bills every month.

Anyway, good luck getting us to carbon free without nukes. It just isn’t gonna happen no matter how hard you wish.

Greg

They way you have talked about some really good people in this piece is rude and ugly.

The general tone of this piece is horrible. To have quoted Meredith’s lament about job losses as something to crow about is insensitive in the extreme.

To suggest nuclear is not low-carbon is completely and utterly wrong and you are at odds with the IPCC and about 60 studies of life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions in saying so.

At this juncture of the climate challenge it is utterly absurd to be lobbying, and encouraging others to lobby, to close hundreds and thousands of megawatts at a time of low-carbon generation; all scarce resources of time, effort and funding that are badly needed in the fight against coal, oil and gas. To be all-but-ignoring the transformative nature of the gas developments in the US and pretending all change is about renewables right now is foolish. ANYONE currently involved in energy knows you have the order of those things backwards

Suggesting renewables alone have the climate/energy challenge in hand is denial of the highest order, as speaker after speaker made clear at the recent launch of the World Energy Outlook energy projections to 2050 in Canberra. There is no excuse for this deliberate blindness

This “21st century grid” you refer to will be interesting, but the type of advances Cooper refers to will be making dramatic and important improvements to network operations at the margins, they will not be displacing the value of stable electricity supply from stable suppliers. The proof is the determined effort to use storage to enable renewables to provide supple more like nuclear provides it in the normal course of operations.

This piece is divisive, inaccurate, and biased. It is blinkered in its view, unsophisticated in its analysis, and aggressive in tone. It is deeply unpleasent in the way it has chosen to characterise people who are hard working, people you are free to disagree with in ways that still respect them as sincere individuals. This piece is criminally irresponsible in the vigorous advocacy of closing large amounts of low-carbon supply.

It ought not be beyond any of us to be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of different technologies to build a clean energy future together, as I have done here in the Australian context. Many of my friends in the renewable industry, who are sincerely concerned about climate change, feel the same way.

http://decarbonisesa.com/2014/10/27/nuclear-and-renewables-in-the-name-of-national-interest/

How unfortunate it is that people like you seem to think the success of renewables is somehow tied to working to grind nuclear out of existence. It’s galling.

Decarbonize SA

And the energy costs in the northeast take a sharp turn upward.

Troy

Jeez!
I didn’t know your solar panels worked at night.
What brand did you buy?

Mark Cojuangco

So basically the supply of electricity was reduced and jobs were lost. In addition a supply of carbon free reliable base load electricity was lost. This is not a good thing.

Solar and wind cannot replace nuclear because although all produce power one is controllable and reliable (nuclear) and the other two are (solar and wind) not controllable and not reliable.

Until power is priced on its value ,whether it be carbon and/or reliability the market is skewed.

jdoyle

congratulations on shutting down Vermont’s #1 source of CO2 free green energy. I hope the funding that your organization gets from the natural gas lobbies helps you sleep at night.

Andrew Dodson

A few brief comments:

Andrew: We get zero funding from any fossil fuel industry. We believe in a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system, which doesn’t provide much incentive for fossil fuel interests to fund us–since we’d just turn it around and use it against them.

Mark: Ever hear of electricity storage? You would if you read GreenWorld regularly. It’s the fastest-growing sector of the electricity business.

Decarbonize: Other than a shot at Forbes’ James Conca, who can take it, we didn’t characterize anyone in any manner, much less one that was “rude and ugly.” If quoting people accurately is somehow disrespectful to them, that’s their problem, not ours. We never said nuclear is not low-carbon. It is. We object to calling it carbon-free. It is not. We did not “crow” about job losses; we said nothing about jobs in our first piece, but in later comments to those posted by Yes Vermont Yankee, we sympathized with plant workers and we laid the blame on Entergy for knowing it would be closing VY and not acting to develop new clean energy projects that are both needed and that it could retrain VY workers for. Renewables employ far more people per megawatt/hour of power produced than nuclear. However, like most Vermonters and people throughout New England, we do not believe saving a few hundred jobs is justification for keeping a dangerous and expensive nuclear reactor open. It is the nuclear utility industry that is trying to roll back Renewable Energy Standards and fight against renewables precisely because it understands, unlike you, that the two ultimately are not compatible. As we have pointed out repeatedly in these pages, the old concept of baseload power works to prevent full deployment of renewables into the grid (not that we’re near that point in most states now, but some European countries actually are nearing that point already).

Rod: Bad analogy. As I age, it costs a lot more to keep me alive–about $200k last year in chemo alone. The same is true for nukes; as they age, their capital costs increase. You are just about the only person I’ve ever seen actually advocate for not implementing safety improvements based on lessons learned from nuclear accidents and other experience. I have no qualms in saying I’m very confident the vast, vast majority of Americans would disagree with you here, as do I.

“You really need to remove your antinuclear blinders and start to recognize that the technology you have been fighting is one of the tools we all need to achieve a better world.” Not gonna happen. I’d make the opposite argument to you. If we can achieve a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system, as we are convinced we can, why wouldn’t we? The prevention of lethal radioactive waste generation alone would be ample reason to go the clean energy path. Removing the threat of meltdown that hovers over far too many Americans–and people across the globe–would be another. There is simply no reason to accept either the routine or more catastrophic accidental risks that nuclear power poses when there are safer, cleaner and cheaper ways of providing the power we need.

Your turn, readers.

Michael Mariotte

January 8, 2015

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2015/01/08/vermont-yankee-the-other-side-speaks/

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7 thoughts on “Vermont Yankee–the other side speaks

  1. Jo Kirkpatrick

    “I should perhaps point out that this is an anti-nuclear, pro-clean energy blog; I don’t write it for the pro-nuke audience (as they don’t write their blogs for us). I strive, whether it’s me writing a post or editing someone else’s article, to be accurate and credible. But we make no pretense of being objective. We don’t have to do the “he says, she says” thing that too often serves to obfuscate than illuminate an issue.”
    Thanks, Michael, for taking an unambiguous pro-stand for clean energy production and avoiding the ‘on the one hand this, on the other that’ stance, cultivated by the allegedly objective mass media that are controlled by the big energy money.

    Reply
  2. micheletkearney

    You write: ”

    “If there is one theme here, it’s that many people just don’t understand the changes that are underway in the generation and distribution of electricity; changes that make the concept of baseload power–whether from nuclear or fossil fuels–obsolete and indeed cause it to interfere with the clean energy sources of the present and future.”
    That is an interesting comment, albeit more than just elitist, and it begs the issue of economic justice for developing countries. The urban poor just can’t pick up, move to rural Vermont and hope to live off the grid. its also short sighted when dealing with large cities – and maybe not in the US, but in China, India, Pakistan etc. anywhere there are substantial clusters of population. The comment discriminates against the urban poor anywhere in the world, and discourages economic development in those countries. Some might also suggest that it is racist point of view. But then the environmental community has not been known to be particularly concerned with income inequality.

    Reply
    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      I have to say this is probably the most bizarre comment we have ever received at GreenWorld. Exactly how is it racist, or even elitist to report on the reality–a reality that is under discussion in any number of energy-related blogs and publications–that technological advances are changing the nature of the electric utility business? The 20th century model of reliance on large baseload power plants is ending in favor of a more distributed generation approach. This is a monumental development, and one that speaks to the entire reason we created GreenWorld: to help people understand the nature of the generation and distribution of electricity and how that is changing–more rapidly and fundamentally than most people yet understand. These changes can, and we believe will, usher in a new era of clean energy. Moreover, the new clean energy system will be more reliable and affordable (when large baseload power plants go down for whatever reason, they must be replaced by other large baseload power plants, which is both inefficient and costly) and cleaner (large baseload power plants tend to be fossil or nuclear fueled; distributed energy-oriented renewables are cleaner than both). No one is suggesting that people pick up and move to rural Vermont (we suspect most Vermonters wouldn’t exactly welcome such a population infusion….), nor is that even remotely necessary. The advantages of the 21st century electricity system work equally well in cities, and its benefits work globally (and are being implemented globally). Indeed, such systems are far more suited to developing countries than the current system, and will lead to more affordable electricity there as well. The full shift to this new nuclear-free, carbon-free system hasn’t happened yet, of course, and it could still be derailed by the vast amounts of money and power wielded by nuclear and fossil fuel interests, although we believe those interests ultimately will fail in their efforts to hold back innovation and progress. Reporting on this transition and helping people understand it is the primary purpose of GreenWorld. To call our reporting racist or elitist is simply bizarre.

      Reply
      1. micheletkearney

        From sub-Saharan Africa to China, leaders from developing and industrializing nations have made clear that greater access to cheap energy – whether clean or dirty – is a top priority. Breakthrough Institute’s Report “Our High-Energy Planet” argued that the global poor would require far greater levels of energy to achieve their development goals, and that institutions ought to plan for a high-energy planet. Some environmental organizations continued to promote far too modest energy access levels: a Sierra Club report implied that the world’s poor would consume just 0.15 percent of the average Californian. Low-power and expensive renewables like solar may serve to only perpetuate energy poverty, wrote Fred Pearce in New Scientist, and, as evidenced by the US-African Leaders Summit, world leaders are under no such illusion. “If some people have taken a position where we say no coal, no nuclear, no hydro, then we’re really not serious,” said World Bank President Jim Kim.
        So to characterize my comment as bizarre demonstrates your lack of understanding of the economics of development in underdeveloped countries. And to foist your views through NGOs in the developing world is in fact racist and elitist – ie. keep Africa in its place, the Stone Age.

        Perhaps you might care to see some of the research:
        Michele Kearney’s Nuclear Wire: The Left vs. the Climate …
        Sep 25, 2014
        The Left vs. the Climate Why Progressives Should Reject Naomi Klein’s Pastoral Fantasy — and Embrace Our High-Energy Planet. Over the last few years, leading progressives have argued that solving global warming …
        http://michelekearneynuclearwire.blogspot.com/

        Decoupling: A New Ecomodernist Paradigm for Humans and Nature
        http://theenergycollective.com/kirstygogan/423121/decoupling-new-ecomodernist-paradigm-humans-and-nature

        Making nuclear energy cheap: The view from the Breakthrough Institute
        See also #highenergyplanet
        http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/2014/06/20/making-nuclear-energy-cheap-the-view-from-the-breakthrough-institute/

      2. Michael Mariotte Post author

        Let me explain: reporting on developing trends in the electricity sector is not racist or elitist. Neither is advocating such trends, especially when they will serve to bring safer, cleaner and cheaper power to the world. The World Bank is not, in our view, a worthy source on energy–we have conflicted with them numerous times; they are set up to serve big energy interests, not the world’s poor. And the Breakthrough Institute, not to mention your own blog, have zero credibility. Since you cannot seem to submit your views without name-calling, you are banned from further comment on GreenWorld.

  3. Brian

    I will first admit that I have not read any other article on the site besides this one. This is America and I understand everyone has the right to advocate for what they wish. However with the climate close to a catastrophic tipping point, why advocate so negatively against nuclear which could be part of the solution. I don’t think there many nuclear advocates that don’t welcome as much renewable energy as possible. We can debate later after fossil fuels have been significantly reduced which technology is better but for now why can’t we look at all of them. I know many are scared of a nuclear accident and while I believe nuclear power is safe why not help push for investment in the next generation nuclear options that have been designed to be even safer than the current fleet, as renewable energy people often state that we need to push for new technology and energy storage options. Why can’t people accept a middle ground and compromise as I wish our Congress would do more strongly once in a while. I would hate to live in a world where the politics got in the way from solving one of the biggest issues we will face in our lifetime, climate change.

    Reply
    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      Perhaps if you would read some of the other articles on GreenWorld, you would learn why nuclear power is not only ineffective at addressing climate change, it is counterproductive and its continued use hinders our ability to implement genuine climate solutions.

      Reply

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