Deb Katz: Focus on the public good

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deb Katz, the executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network.

We must keep our focus on the public good for the citizens of Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire as Vermont Yankee is powering down and working toward closure in December. The Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ) is a critical way to keep that focus sharp.

The nuclear industry makes many claims about the safety and security of its plants, including Vermont Yankee. However, we must acknowledge the potential vulnerability of the fuel pools to terrorism and accidents. A National Academy of Science Report in 2005 confirmed the concerns of both state governments and local citizens. This report preceded the ongoing Fukushima disaster that included the melting of fuel in two of its Mark 1 reactor pools.

Until all the fuel is in dry cask storage, it is essential that the EPZ remain in place.


Vermont Yankee is a GE Mark 1 reactor. GE Mark 1 and 2 reactors are the most vulnerable reactors structurally in the country. Vermont Yankee’s fuel pool is filled to capacity (over 530 tons) and elevated (seven stories above ground outside of containment). These factors pose an unacceptable risk to those who live around the plant. Millions of curies of high level waste are stored in this above-ground pool with a metal roof. An attack on the pool that causes the fuel cladding to catch fire could result in a 25,000 square mile area being uninhabitable for decades. An accident involving the loss of water from the pool could have the same consequences. The National Academy of Science Report on fuel pool vulnerability states that such a fire could lead to the dispersal of radioactive plumes up to 100 miles.

As long as the fuel is in the pool, we must keep the Emergency Planning Zone.

Unfortunately, we have no good choices when it comes to nuclear power’s toxic waste. We have only better choices over really bad ones. This bind is in itself unacceptable and intolerable. The threat of terrorism only makes it worse. Citizens Awareness Network has worked for years to raise consciousness about fuel pool vulnerability for our tri-state community.

Until all the fuel is in dry cask storage, it is essential that the EPZ remain in place. A way to pay for protecting our citizens? The Vermont Legislature should levy fees on Entergy for each canister stored on site.

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  • Howard Shaffer

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the state of Vermont, Entergy and the employees at Vermont Yankee will continue to focus on the Public Good, as they always have. There is a difference of opinion about what makes up the public good and how it should be achieved.

    The physical fact is that once the reactor shuts down for the last time, the hazard from the used fuel continually decreases, due to the radioactivity of the fuel. The radioactivity produces heat which continually decreases.

    As the hazard decreases, the area affected by possible accidents decreases. It is logical and proper to shrink the Emergency Planning Zone. As long as there is used fuel or radioactive material on the site there will be an Emergency Planning Zone, just smaller than when the plant is in operation.

    In a year or so after operation ends, the zone can be just inside the fence. There will also continue to be plans for fire, personnel injury and all the right safety measures for a large deconstruction activity.

    Maintaining the zone needed during operation will waste decommissioning funds, possibly resulting in a longer process.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    The lesson we continue to learn over and over again is that nothing can ever be thrown away. It can just be moved from one place to another.

    Back in the 1950s, when I was working at GE Large Stream Turbine, topics such as this were never discussed.

  • Greg Brede

    Katz make the profound statement, “Unfortunately, we have no good choices when it comes to nuclear power’s toxic waste. We have only better choices over really bad ones”. What does this mean? It appears that no matter what solution that is presented of has been previously technically developed is a bad solution.

    Are readers aware that the original designed plan was to chemically reprocess the spent fuel and REUSE it? That means that long term storage is not needed as the fuel will be fissioned many times and the long term byproduct elements will have a greatly reduce half-life. Chemically reprocessing is not a better choice over really bad ones it is sound solution and the original direction nuclear power was to follow.

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