Amelia Shea: A long-term view of Vermont Yankee site

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Amelia Shea, of Brattleboro, who is a member of New England Coalition, a peace and environmental activist and has worked at Green Living Journal since 1991.

Some environmentalists, in reference to the current practices of factory farming, overfishing and methods for energy extraction such as fracking, have called the western industrialized view towards the environment as a war against nature.

This view applies to the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon as well. Over its 42-year history tons of radioactive waste have been stored on the land there and the Connecticut River has been used as a repository for Vermont Yankee’s heat and waste.

In terms of environmental stewardship Vermont has an opportunity to raise the bar on the endgame of the site.

The New England Coalition is concerned that the Vernon site, having apparently been written off as a used industrial site, is not being accorded appropriate respect and long-term vision. A simple web search shows that the Connecticut River watershed is humming with conservation and restoration activity and the Vernon site should be seen in that context. For example, Connecticut River Paddlers Trail organization, in cooperation with 40 state agencies and nonprofits from the Canadian border to the Atlantic, maintains more than 40 riverside campsites and over 100 river access points. Included in that group are Dartmouth College, the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, Vermont Fish and Wildlife, Vermont Land Trust and Vermont River Conservancy. The site is not only a place of great natural beauty but also is culturally and religiously significant to the Abenaki people as it is the place of their ancient burial, dwelling and ceremonial practices.

All of the radionuclides that polluted Chernobyl and Fukushima are present at Entergy Vermont’s Yankee site. NEC is advocating for intensified environmental stewardship of the land which will protect the residents and the biotic community of the region for the next seven generations. And to make sure the harbingers of genetic disease, cancers and birth defects are reduced to levels as low as can practically be achieved.

The coalition is also advocating for the New England standard be upheld in considering cleanup at the site. NorthStar would leave one and a half times more radioactive contamination onsite than what has been allowed at the other New England nuclear power plants. There is no reason Vermont deserves less.

Any discussion of the decommissioning process including financial assurance, disposal of demolition debris, remediation, wetland restoration and residual radiation will be best served if we know upfront exactly what end state the owners are proposing.

The New England Coalition proposes that the best outcome for the Vernon site would be to allow it to lie fallow as a nature preserve and to restore itself over time. All radioactive nuclides decay and lose their energy over time. Time is the only irreversible path to reducing the intensity of residual radiation.

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