Fukushima vigil held at Yankee as plant shuts down for refueling
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | March 11,2013
LEN EMERY PHOTO
Two anti-nuclear protesters beat drums, chanted and burned incense Sunday outside the main gate at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, in remembrance of the Fukushima nuclear disater in March 2011 in Japan.
VERNON — A group of more than 40 anti-nuclear activists held a quiet vigil outside the gates of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant Sunday morning, in remembrance of the Fukushima nuclear disaster two years ago.
About 12 hours earlier, the reactor had shut down for its regular refueling and maintenance outage, but from the outside, there were few clues that an extra workforce Entergy Nuclear says is in the hundreds were at work. In 2011, the company said it spent $65 million on new nuclear fuel alone for Yankee as part of a $100 million outage.
Entergy Nuclear spokesman Robert Williams sent out a press release early Sunday afternoon announcing the shutdown, saying the plant left the New England power grid at about 10 p.m. Saturday. The plant has been at reduced power for a couple of weeks, preparing for the shutdown.
But a special parking lot marked for outage workers, while plowed free of snow, was empty and showed no signs of traffic, and traffic was extremely light in and out of the plant’s main gate.
The morning, hour-long vigil, organized by the Safe And Green Campaign, is part of three days of activities to mark the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which unfolded after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, which killed thousands of people and triggered the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Vermont Yankee, like the Fukushima Daichi reactors, are General Electric Mark I containment reactors. There are 23 GE Mark 1 reactors in the United States, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff have proposed new safety systems at those reactors, something the nuclear industry is fighting tooth and nail.
Leslie Sullivan Sachs, a spokeswoman for the Safe and Green Campaign, said activists in several towns had “adopted” Japanese towns in the evacuation zone around Fukushima, to better learn what the actual impacts of a nuclear emergency and evacuation would mean.
She said Namie is a town outside Fukushima, similar in size to Brattleboro and within the 10-mile evacuation zone. Namie is, like Brattleboro is to Yankee, about five miles from the Fukushima reactors.
“Namie is now a ghost town, its 22,000 residents spread across Japan,” she said. People don’t trust the Japanese government or Tepco, the Japanese utility, to tell them the truth, and as a result people take their own radiation readings, she said.
“Hand-held dosimeters are now as common as cellphones,” Sullivan Sachs said.
“Namie’s lesson is that the unimaginable can happen, changing thousands of innocent lives forever, and a beloved community is no more,” Sullivan Sachs said.
Putney activists have adopted the town of Iitate, which like Putney is relatively near a nuclear plant but outside the evacuation zone.
Sullivan Sachs and another activist, Ann Darling of Brattleboro, said they were working to educate people in the towns surrounding Yankee about what has happened to the towns around the Fukushima reactors in the past two years.
Williams said the outage marked a strong run of 493 days without shutting down, since the plant’s last refueling outage was completed in November 2011.
While Yankee hadn’t shut down there were several times when the plant had to scale back power production significantly because of various problems at the plant during that time frame.
Chris Wamser, Entergy Nuclear’s site vice president, credited the Vermont Yankee workforce for the plant’s excellent reliability.
“Running for 493 consecutive days is a testament to the condition of the plant and the safety focus of our workforce. During this refueling, we will take the time necessary to carefully perform testing, maintenance and capital improvements which will position the plant for safe and reliable operation for years to come,” Wamser said in a prepared statement.
Entergy said the outage workers would pump $2.5 million into the local economy during their stay.
Vermont Yankee’s refueling outage came despite predictions from at least one financial analyst, UBS, which has been predicting Entergy Nuclear would be forced to shut down one of its smaller nuclear reactors because of the increasing financial pressures on nuclear energy. But despite the dire predictions from UBS, Entergy Nuclear ordered a new load of nuclear fuel for Yankee, which will mark its 41st year of operation later this month.
How long Vermont Yankee will be shut down for refueling is unknown, as the company says it is proprietary information. Outages typically last about three weeks or longer as one-third of the nuclear fuel is transferred out of the reactor core into the nearby spent fuel pool. The outage can last longer, depending on the amount of maintenance work to be done.