Childs: An open letter to President Barack Obama

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Ned Childs, president of the nonprofit New England Coalition headquartered in Brattleboro.

An open letter to President Barack Obama on the occasion of his visit to Burlington, Vermont, March 30, 2012
From New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution

Dear President Obama,

On behalf of New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, its members and supporters throughout the region, I extend you a warm welcome to Vermont and thank you for your advocacy of a much-needed comprehensive national energy plan.

We believe, Mr. President, you will understand why we cannot support an “all-options” energy approach that is compromised by what we see as the chimera of “safe nuclear.” What nuclear utilities now propose depends on “tricked-up” 1960s reactor designs which have totally failed the test of the free marketplace since the 1975 fire at the two at Browns Ferry reactors in Decatur, Ala. Just as the marketplace recognizes its money is not safe invested in nuclear, we citizens recognize that our communities are not safe with uninsurable nuclear power plants nearby.

In the 21st century, this antiquated technology serves only to embezzle federal support and initiative from poison-free renewables and even robs the future of under-explored and advanced nuclear technologies, such as thorium-cycle reactors.

Despite launch of the so-called “nuclear renaissance” a decade ago, the only nuclear-generated megawatts added to the national grid have been gained by squeezing additional power levels and beyond design life performance from dirty, dangerous and obsolete reactors, including 24 boiling water reactors, identical in accident vulnerable features to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor.

Entergy Corp.’s Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, like those ripped apart and molten radioactive hulks in Japan, depends on (1) fragile, complicated, pressure-suppression system primary containments that cannot perform their safety function without exacting operator control and uninterrupted electric and water supplies, and (2) elevated and over-packed spent fuel storage pools that pose an untenable risk of nuclear fuel fire as they are vulnerable to aircraft impact, missiles, explosives, tornados and seismic shock waves.

Under Entergy Corp. ownership and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversight, Vermont Yankee has become a poster child for failed maintenance, design errors, and reduced safety margins at U.S. reactors. Vermont Yankee operates in violation of basic safety and design criteria promulgated to assure public health and safety. These safeguards have been watered down or left unenforced by NRC.

Many of Vermont Yankee’s outstanding violations of basic safety and design criteria are directly relatable to what went wrong at Fukushima Dai-Ichi.

For example, in Vermont Yankee’s Extended Power Uprate Application, Entergy initially proposed deliberately allowing primary containment pressure to rise during an accident in order to keep cooling water from boiling and disabling vital pumps. NRC approved. At Fukushima, reactor operators have been faulted for hesitating to vent containment until after conditions became extreme. Entergy Vermont Yankee entered the uprate period with failed, defective, and/or unreliable reactor internal components, including steam dryer, feedwater nozzles, core shroud, and control blades. NRC approved. Entergy entered this period without a required independent quality control/quality assurance program. NRC approved.

Literally on the eve of Fukushima, March 10, 2012, the NRC turned down New England Coalition’s final appeal of its decision to approve a renewed license of Vermont Yankee, a plant that could not qualify for a new license under today’s standards. Ironically, the issue identified in that appeal was placement of non-qualified, safety-related electrical cables and components in locations where they would be susceptible to moisture or submergence, a condition which contributed to the loss of power and control at Fukushima Dai-Ichi. Ten days after the Fukushima accident, over the protests of Vermont’s Congressional delegation, the NRC handed over Vermont Yankee’s renewed license to Entergy.

Mr. President, very recently a federal judge overturned Vermont legislation designed to give the state Legislature authority not to allow Vermont Yankee to operate 20 years beyond the expiration of its original license. The judge opined that Vermont’s law was “grounded” in concerns for safety and therefore, preempted. Vermont and its citizens were advised to take any safety concerns to the NRC, an agency that has clearly shown itself to have become a captive of the nuclear industry.

With all due respect, we have come to believe, with good evidence and the experience of many years of dealing with both the industry and the regulators that there is at present no “safe nuclear.” We ask that you prioritize the safety and welfare of the public and forgo the near term nuclear option which is a false choice for our energy future.


The New England Coalition Board of Trustees
Edward C. (Ned) Childs

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  • Ben Falk

    Well said!

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