Business & Economy

A thousand people gather at Vermont Yankee protest; dozens arrested

Police arrest the first protestors to cross the line onto Entergy property in Brattleboro. Photo by Alan Panebaker
Police arrest the first protesters to cross the line onto Entergy property in Brattleboro. Photo by Alan Panebaker

The show goes on at Vermont Yankee, and not just the power plant.

More than 1,000 people turned up in Brattleboro to march the 3.5 miles from the town common to Entergy’s offices. Dozens trespassed on the company’s property and were arrested.

Thursday was a monumental day for residents of the tri-state area near the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.

Forty years after the plant opened, its license expired Wednesday, but the plant continued to operate pursuant to a federal court order.

Longtime opponents of nuclear power, like Scott Nielsen from Quaker City, N.H., converged on Brattleboro’s town green to create a hoopla of music, colors and civil disobedience.

Nielsen, 82, donned a sign reading “THE 1% OWN ENTERGY CONGRESS FEDERAL COURTS NRC.” Next to him, Jenny Wright wore a sign reading “BUT THEY DON’T OWN US FIGHT LIKE HELL.”

Police later arrested the two when they entered Entergy’s property without permission.

“I’m opposed to Vermont Yankee,” Nielsen said. “I think it’s dangerous.”

He said he is concerned with the amount of deadly radiation produced by Chernobyl and Fukushima.

“I don’t want it to happen here,” he said.

Nielsen said he was a strong supporter of nuclear power until the 1970s, when, he said, he learned of the dangers it poses.

He lives within the 50-mile radius of the plant but, Nielsen said, “I’m 82. I’m concerned for my grandchildren.”

A single-file line stretched for what looked like a mile and a band led the march to Entergy’s offices, where law enforcement awaited.

Signs with messages like “time’s up” and “Entergy corporate greed” spotted the ant-like line along the road. The spectacle made its way through town before converging on the corporate offices where protesters chanted “shut it down” and some crossed the line to awaiting police.

The plant’s continued operation sets a precedent nationwide in the nuclear as well as in the legal realm.

Earlier this year, federal Judge J. Garvan Murtha issued a ruling finding two Vermont laws requiring legislative approval for the plant to continue operating were unconstitutional as pre-empted by federal law.

The plant hasn’t received a new license to replace the one that expired this Wednesday. The Vermont Public Service Board has yet to issue an order on the new license and no one has ordered the plant to cease operating in the interim.

Meanwhile the state and Entergy have appealed Judge Murtha’s decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Legal experts say the case could have national ramifications.

The plant’s continued operation on an expired license is a first of its kind also, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Dave Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the organization, said this is the first time a plant has expired and it has continued to operate “on grace.”

Brad Hartley of Ferrisburg holds a sign protesting Vermont Yankee's continued operation outside Entergy's offices. Photo by Alan Panebaker
Brad Hartley of Ferrisburg holds a sign protesting Vermont Yankee's continued operation outside Entergy's offices. Photo by Alan Panebaker

Lochbaum said in the 1980s the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would issue provisional licenses that allowed plants to operate at partial capacity. Plants have ramped up to full capacity on these types of licenses a handful of times, but none has kept operating after its license expiration date without a new permit in hand.

Entergy does have a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but its state license is expired. The company argues state law allows it to operate while the Public Service Board proceeding to approve a new license goes on.

For some Vermonters, like Court Dorsey of the SAGE Alliance, say the legal struggle has gone nowhere, and it is time for Vermonters to take to the streets.

“The legal system is demonstrating its unwillingness or inability to stop the continued operation of this plant,” Dorsey said.

The alliance led trainings for people to learn to engage in civil disobedience this week.

“There are people who feel very strongly that Entergy is a rogue corporation, and they need to exercise their citizen power to stand in the way of the continued operation of this plant,” he said. “They’re doing that by going to the headquarters and placing themselves on that property and telling Entergy that they need to leave and that their time is up.”

For some, like Lisa Winter of Wendell, Mass., the protest was a homecoming of sorts.

Winter was arrested more than 30 years ago at the plant in Vernon in protest.

She opted out of getting arrested this time given the family responsibilities that she’s acquired in the past 30 years, she said. But her fierce opposition to the plant remains.

“The technology exists to not have to use it anymore,” she said of nuclear power. “Given how it is so dangerous. It’s kind of a no-brainer.”

Winter said she was disappointed that Gov. Peter Shumlin did not come to the protests.

The governor did issue a statement.

“I am very supportive of the peaceful protesters gathered today in Brattleboro to express their – and my – frustration that this aging plant remains open after its agreed-upon license has expired,” it read. “We’re doing all we can so that Vermont can move on from this old plant and move towards an energy future that sends Entergy Louisiana back to Louisiana.”

One member of the Legislature, Sen. Phillip Baruth of Burlington, did show up — and got arrested.

Baruth said he felt it was the right thing to do.

“I swore an oath to my constituents and to the state to protect the safety of Vermont,” he said. “The federal government is of the opinion that I should sit down and be quiet, and I’m not going to do that.”

As of Thursday afternoon, police were taking the 163 arrestees to jail in Brattleboro.

Capt. Ray Keefe, incident commander for the plant for the Vermont State Police, said Brattleboro Police handled the majority of the arrests.

“The Brattleboro Police did a great job, and the protesters handled themselves very well,” Keefe said.

While the protesters made noise and created a spectacle, subtle signs lined many lawns in Brattleboro supporting the plant, which provides 650 jobs directly and around 1,000 including contractors.

And a few groups held signs saying “VY 4 VT” as the parade marched by.

Gwen Shaclumis, an attorney from Brattleboro, stood across the street from the common while the protest ramped up.

Shaclumis said opponents of the plant neglect the fact that it is a crucial part of the regional economy.

“Vermont Yankee’s always been good to Windham County,” she said. “Entergy is very generous with donations to nonprofits. They donate hundreds of thousands of dollars. When they go, who’s going to replace that? No one talks about it.”

Shaclumis said, while the opponents of the plant’s operation make a lot of noise, she thinks most people support it because it’s a big income producer. As for protesters comparing the plant the the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan that had a meltdown, “there’s no tsunami danger here,” she said.

Nancy Doyle, Shaclumis’ legal assistant, said she supports keeping the plant open as well.

Doyle grew up 45 minutes south of Brattleboro in Rowe, Mass.

When the Yankee Rowe nuclear plant shuttered in the 1990s, many of the businesses in town left with it, she said.

“The last big business in the town where I lived was a nuclear power plant, and it closed,” she said. “People packed up and left.”

Doyle said she is concerned the same thing would happen to the region surrounding Vermont Yankee.

The Vermont Energy Partnership, a coalition that supports keeping the plant operating, issued a statement expressing economic concerns over the plant’s closure.

A statement by Brad Ferland, president of the partnership, said, “Last week, business and community leaders in Windham County revealed the results of a study on the effects of shutting down the Vermont Yankee power plant in Vernon, the state’s largest baseload manufacturer of electricity. The findings validated what many in Southern Vermont already feared: Vermont Yankee’s closure would likely result in the loss of more than 1,000 jobs, a 15% decrease in residential property values, and a massive hit to the community’s safety net.”

A spokesman for Vermont Yankee declined to comment on the protests Thursday.

Just what becomes of the plant, for now, is up to the Public Service Board and the federal courts, neither of which has stated when they will rule on the pending proceedings.

Protest on March 22. Photo by Alan Panebaker
Protest on March 22. Photo by Alan Panebaker
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Alan Panebaker

About Alan

Alan Panebaker is a staff writer for He covers health care and energy issues. He graduated from the University of Montana School of Journalism in 2005 and cut his teeth reporting for the Ashland Daily Tidings and Mail Tribune newspapers in Southern Oregon where he covered education and the environment. A dedicated whitewater kayaker and backcountry skier, he later wrote a weekly outdoors column for the Anchorage Press in Anchorage, Alaska, and continues to publish freelance work for Canoe & Kayak magazine. Alan took a three-year hiatus from journalism to attend Vermont Law School. After passing the bar, he decided to return to his journalism roots and start chasing stories again. He lives in Montpelier.

Postscript: Alan died in a kayaking accident on Sept. 19, 2012, shortly after he took a job with American Whitewater. We here at VTDigger mourn his passing.

Email: [email protected]

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  • Alex Barnham

    Vermont Yankee feeds Entergy’s $11.2 Billion bottom line.

    Entergy has hefty insurance if Vermont Yankee blows up.

    Why else would they be running it 20% over rated capacity at the end of it’s life?

    Those of you who want to continue to endanger the lives of others for the pittance you are offered should get counseling.

    None of the mistakes made operating nuclear power plants were planned to happen. NONE. However the results were highly predictable.

    Gambling with your own life is your business…gambling with the lives of others is criminal behavior. Depending upon how much money you have will determine who gets arrested.

  • Renée Carpenter

    About Rowe, MA– Maybe some people left, but others stayed….Maybe there are no more BIG businesses, but there are several small businesses… community-based businesses, healing businesses…. It’s a lovely New England town, healing from decades of corporate nuclear use….

    The Vermont legislature is working to support economic development post-Yankee. Transition and transformation away from potential threats of disaster are clearly the way to go.

    I’m disappointed that Mr. Panebaker leaves out crucial facts about the dangers of GE Mark I nuclear plants and the history of Vermont Yankee’s mis-management, and both reliability and safety issues. The article is skewed by its omissions. Lay out the facts. We can live with small local businesses, but radiation kills and contaminates for generations…. the contamination zone of the Fukushima Daichi disaster covers more than half of Japan. Radiation travels through Pacific Ocean currents and the atmosphere, raining down on all of us with unknown affect over time.

    I have to agree that, “Gambling with your own life is your business…gambling with the lives of others is criminal behavior.”

  • Jim Christiansen

    “Gambling with your own life is your business…gambling with the lives of others is criminal behavior.”

    Are we talking vaccines or nuclear power?

  • Mike Kerin

    The people who own Entergy are running the plant 20% over its previous capacity while they are putting band aids on big problems. That is “gambling with other peoples lives” because they are NOT in the area. They are safe and sound in Louisiana
    collecting their FAT pay and bonuses.

  • Brian Tokar

    My favorite sign along the march yesterday was taped to an old-style VW van, saying, “Want to run this at 85 miles an hour for the next 20 years?”

  • I wrote an article about decommissioning. For this article, I interviewed people in Maine, Connecticut and Chicago, as well as reading industry reports on costs and planning for decommissioning.

    I talked to people in small towns where a nuclear plant had closed. I tried to talk to ordinary residents. I asked questions like: Did your friends get hired for decommissioning? Did you know people who were hired for decommissioning? How has the plant closing affected your life? Etc.

    My conclusion: I would not describe any of those towns as “healing” after the nuclear plant closed. I would describe them as “hurting.”

  • Howard Shaffer

    Mr. Lochbaum says the plant is running “on grace.” I thought they were running under the law.

    Federal law says they have a 20 year license extension granted by the only legally competent authority, per our Federal system.

    Vermont law says that if you have a Certificate of Public Good and have applied for a renewal, AND the Public Service Board has not acted-come to a final decision- then you may continue to operate until a final decision is reached. A decision is not final until all court challenges have been completed.

  • Michael Mann

    Vermont Yankee is providing clean, safe, electrical power today the same as it did yesterday and has since it was opened. How many residents have been injured from the plant? How many people have been prevented injury from the fact that millions of tonnes of pollutants that would have been dumped to the atmosphere from a coal fired plant and millions of tonnes of carbon were never released? If you’re an environmentalist you should be protesting to keep Vermont Yankee operating, not trying to shut it down.

    • Mike Kerin

      Where are you from Michael Mann? Who do you work for? If you care about the environment you have to be against what has happened in Japan. All the people displaced forever. Loss of lives and property just to enrich corporations that are from a thousand miles away and doesn’t care about Vermont!

  • Alex Barnham

    Thank you very much…can I get you anything else…you want me to carry those big heavy casks of nuclear waste for you? Oh you want to leave them here? I don’t think I agreed to that, did I?

    • David Mohre

      Alex, the federal government took that responsibility and collected fees to implement that solution. Complain to your federal representatives about their failure to follow through with their legal responsibility

  • We live in a land that abides by the rule of law.

    Vermont Yankee follows the law and is thus still operating. Protestors violate the law and are thus in jail.

    Vermont Yankee deserves the right to continue producing and selling its product while complying with all legal requirements. They are doing that and thus should be allowed to operate.

  • Alex Barnham

    Yes and by law, you get nothing if your property is contaminated and you get sick. Good deal.

  • John Greenberg

    Howard Shaffer argues: “Vermont law says that if you have a Certificate of Public Good and have applied for a renewal, AND the Public Service Board has not acted-come to a final decision- then you may continue to operate until a final decision is reached.”

    As a general rule, that’s true. Nevertheless, the Public Service Board, after carefully examining the specific wording of Entergy’s CPG and of its own prior decisions concluded that this is NOT the case here, that VY’s permits HAVE expired (except for decommissioning) and that VY is therefore NOT operating in accordance with Vermont law.

    Here’s the pertinent quote from the PSB: “… we deny Entergy VY’s first requested declaratory ruling because, for the reasons set forth above, 3 V.S.A. § 814(b) does not provide authority for Vermont Yankee to continue operating, and storing spent nuclear fuel derived from such operation, while Entergy VY’s petition for a new or amended CPG remains pending.” (p. 25)

  • James Greenidge

    I wonder what science education in schools is teaching besides the breeding habits of sea turtles. Despite hard real-life fact and uncolored international evidence that nuclear isn’t the Darth Vader movies and media play it out to be — even in its worst rare accidents, fear is king, immune and implacable to reason and fact. There are right now real life — not speculated or “potential” — but real hundreds of thousands of fossil fuel pollution victims yearly yet I yet seen those health-conscious citizens march on those facilities. Along with the fear, the health hypocrisy is rampant. If the media _truly_ gave nuclear a fair shake, we wouldn’t see such a legion of jitters. They WOULD be helping to save thousands and thousands of lives then.

  • John Skalecki

    We have to occupy VY until Entergy cant stand the hassle anymore and leaves. VY is not selling power to VT anymore. All you people who thought your power rates would go up 300% were wrong. And for all the folks that work there, its just the breaks. You knew VY was scheduled to close in 2012 when you took your jobs there. Deal with it. The whole plant is a ticking time bomb. Its just a matter of time before something bad happens. When you leat expect it is when it usually happens. Say we have a once every 50000 year earth quake. Just big enough to rupture that spent fuel pool sitting right on top of the reactor. Then what? Wont all you pro-nuke people be proud then. Its old, its dangerous, close it.

    • David Andersen

      How do propose to occupy VY? Are you really going to occupy someplace that you are so certain is going to contaminate a 50 mile radius? Are you actually going to try to occupy the area inside the security fence?

  • I don’t want to go back to the Stone Age nor do I want to live around oil refineries or coal plants. None of you seem to consider what the full costs of alternative replacement capacity is going to look like. And you clearly don’t care about jobs. If NRC thought there were a safety issue with the licensing renewal, it wouldn’t have renewed it. Its clear that going forward, the age question will be addressed on a case by case basis. But its NRC’s job to make that determination, not yours.

    • Asaph Murfin

      Wouldn’t it be nice if we could rely on the “regulatory” agencies to actually be working to protect our citezenry? instead of being revolving door supporters and protectors of the industries they are supposed to regulate? Unfortunately it is increasingly obvious that the NRC is a supporter of and apologist for the wealthy power production and military industrial corporations whom they supposedly regulate. By what principle of American Democracy does the Federal Government tell us that we have no voice in the concerns for safety in OUR OWN communities?

    • ion jean

      So let someone put your family in a 1969 Dodge Dart and drive the Autobahn…same thing as letting the NRC, whom Bernie has called out for the industry whore its become, subsidizng the greedy deadly nuke power industry with tens of billions of taxpayer dollars while the taxpayer disposes of their nuclear waste for them by breathing, eating and internally storing the Cesium, Strontium, Tritium, etc…My dear, you have a lot to learn about the dangers of even low level radiation…

      Start With,, Wikipedia, on YouTube visit Nuclearvault’s channel (archive of govt atomic films), watch Chris Busby videos, do a search on geiger counters and you’ll see all the folks across the country reading Fukushima fallout…Meltdowns Are Forever (Michio Kaku)

  • Rick Michal

    I could never understand the problem with a large-scale energy producer sequestering its waste. Would it be better if it went into the atmosphere like fossil-fuel power plants do and we inhaled it? Plus, even if VY were shut down now, the spent fuel would remain onsite. The federal government was supposed to begin taking spent fuel from nuclear plant sites decades ago, but that never happened. This conversation could lead to the benefits of reprocessing spent fuel, but that is probably an argument for another time.

  • The USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, recently celebrated its 50th birthday. The stresses and strains of rapidly responding to propulsion and steam catapult launchings is far greater than the strain of producing a constant amount of power for months to years at a time. At forty, the Vermont Yankee nuclear heated steam plant is only middle aged compared to other steam turbine power plants.

    I cannot help but think that many of the politicians who have established positions against continued operation of VY are supported by competitors that want to sell electricity. Pushing a power plant that produces about 5 billion kilowatt hours per year out of the market frees up a lot of sales opportunities.

  • Shutting down VT Yankee means burning more fossil fuels. That means more air pollution, more greenhouse gases, more CO2. The natural-industry has managed to persuade various groups that natural gas plants are clean and safe.

    In 2010 two power-related natural gas accidents killed 14 Americans–6 when a gas power plant blew up in Connecticut and 8 when a pipeline blew up in California. In the US there have been zero deaths from the operation of commercial nuclear reactors in the five or so decades they’ve been contributing to the grid and doing so from a small environmental footprint and without emitting pollution. Today commercial reactors run at 95% or more capacity 24/7.

    Wind power and solar power require huge environmental footprints and only produce electricity about 25% of the time, if that.

    Keep the Green Mountain State green: keep VT Yankee providing most of the state’s clean energy.

    • Mike Kerin

      Ms. Cravens VY does not make any of the electricity that is used in Vermont!

      As for solar having a huge footprint, if we had panels on all government, school, and many private buildings there would be zero footprint from those. Mine have a small footprint but they are in my back yard and adjustable four times a year. Well worth my investment as I don’t pay for my power (almost 4 years now)

  • michael longo

    why aren’t the states rights proponents all over this. this is vermont getting bullied from corporate/government monied interests. how about big govrnment concerns? if big government didn’t prop up the entire nuclear industry we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.