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Letter: Nuclear Safety and Economics Are Linked

Thursday, February 28, 2013
To the Editor:

In her Feb. 10 Sunday Valley News Perspectives piece, “Lawyers Can’t Rescue a Weak Case,” Meredith Angwin concludes that Vermont is likely to lose its case against Entergy because she thinks the state was not truly concerned with economic issues involving Vermont Yankee, but instead with safety, which is defined as a federal concern. This seems to me a distinction without a difference. In any system, especially in complex systems, and much more so in complex systems with a potential for widespread and long-lived safety and economic impacts, safety and economics are inextricably linked. Safety and economics are two sides of the same coin.

Is it possible that the law regarding regulation of nuclear power was designed to present the illusion of their separability in an attempt to eliminate the possibility of legal challenge by states and local communities?

Nuclear power sites remain radioactively contaminated when closed, requiring millions of dollars to render them safe. But far more costly than site restoration is safeguarding (for 8,000 future human generations) the thousands of pounds of high-level radioactive waste produced during the relatively short 40- to 60-year life (one or two generations) of a plant’s energy production.

Not only is it right that Vermont should be concerned about the future cost of Vermont Yankee’s shutdown, its continued generation of nuclear waste and the waste’s eventual safekeeping — it would be insane if it weren’t. This is especially true for a plant like Vermont Yankee plagued with a history of inept management, an admittedly faulty design, a history of lying to state officials about the existence of leaking underground pipes, maintenance failures and structural failures in the secondary cooling system.

Although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission claims it has us covered, it doesn’t. Insurance is capped at a small fraction of the costs of a catastrophic accident. And who knows the future of waste storage? Whether waste storage costs end up as federal or state responsibility, citizens will be the ultimate payers — without choice. Taxation without representation — for 240,000 years! Incredible!

Charles McKenna

Wilder




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