Douglas' remarks irritate neighbors (Brattleboro Reformer)

By BOB AUDETTE, Reformer Staff

BRATTLEBORO -- Gov. James Douglas is not making any friends in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Last week, Douglas said it was inappropriate for those two states to have any say in whether Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant should receive an independent safety assessment prior to its relicensing.

Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend its operating license from 2012 to 2032. Last year, it received permission to increase its power output by 20 percent.

Douglas was responding to legislation introduced by Vermont's Congressional delegation that would allow governors from those two states and Vermont, or their public utilities boards, to ask for such an ISA.

"Other states have the opportunity to seek party status before the NRC," said Douglas, in a telephone interview with the Reformer. Those states can also pursue action in federal court, he said, as Massachusetts' attorney general is doing by appealing a decision by the NRC to reject its contention that the agency should consider the dangers of spent fuel storage during Yankee's license renewal proceedings.

Massachusetts has contended that the storing of spent fuel for an additional 20 years would have significant environmental impacts. It submitted a petition for intervention challenging Entergy for failing to include an analysis of the long-term effects of storing spent fuel in its environmental report.

"It seems to me we don't need another federal law when opportunities are available now," said Douglas.

Though he said having the ability to request an ISA is a good thing for Vermont, he said it's inappropriate for other states to regulate activities outside their borders.

"We respect Gov. Douglas, but of course New Hampshire has an interest in the safety of Vermont Yankee," said Colin Manning, spokesman for N.H. Gov. John Lynch.

"We have no comment," said Rebecca Deusser, spokeswoman for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Not everyone in Massachusetts was as reticent to comment on the issue.

"That's just ridiculous," said Deb Katz, of the Citizen Awareness Network, an opponent to the relicensing of the nuclear power plant.

"We in New Hampshire and Massachusetts are far more affected by Yankee than people in Vermont," said Katz, who lives 16 miles away from the plant. "It's outrageous and inconsistent with his own policies," adding "it doesn't meet his needs to have anyone look at Vermont Yankee."

"We're within that 10-mile emergency preparedness zone," said Leland Stevens, the chairman of the Gill, Mass., Selectboard. "We should have some say. If something takes place up there, we are either going to be in a world of hurt or be running the other way."

In New Hampshire, Douglas' comments have also raised hackles.

"It just makes you cringe," said Jay Ebbighausen, chairman of the Hinsdale, N.H., Selectboard. "Gov. Douglas should take a little wider tour of the area and come down to our elementary school and high school where you can see the plant. Maybe he would change his mind. As the crow flies, it's closer than Brattleboro."

"It's absurd," said Ted Whippie, the chairman of the Winchester, N.H., Selectboard, about Douglas' comments. "I definitely feel New Hampshire, and Winchester in particular, should be concerned and involved in all of those transactions for the simple reason we are downwind of the prevailing winds."

The legislation is being pushed in Washington, D.C., by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

"Do I believe that adjoining states to nuclear power plants should have the right to be involved in safety issues?" asked Sanders. "Obviously I do. They should have a right to be involved. Gov. Douglas was appropriately involved when International Paper (in Ticonderoga, N.Y.) was spewing crap in the air from its tire burning factory. Other states should be involved in these types of conversations. Nuclear radiation and pollution is not a one-state issue."

And there's another reason for allowing states to have the ability to ask for an ISA, he said.

"There is a widespread concern that Washington is way out of touch with the needs of ordinary Americans," said Sanders. "If states feel the NRC is not doing what it should for them, it's appropriate for them to be involved and demand an independent safety assessment. We have to work together to do everything we possibly can to make sure Vermont Yankee is safe and that people who live nearby feel good about the regulatory process."

For his part, Douglas called the issue "a nuance."

"The whole notion of an ISA may be outdated," he said. "My public service department requested and the NRC agreed to the most expensive engineering assessment of a nuclear power plant (during the uprate hearings)."

That's just not enough, said Sanders.

"There is a concern all over the country that the NRC is representing the interests of the utilities and the industry, and not the needs of the consumers."

"I don't have a problem with a state having that authority," insisted Douglas. "My only request of our Congressional delegation is that we have a chance to explore these questions and act carefully in crafting legislation."

While Douglas has said nuclear power should play a part in Vermont's energy future, recent events at Vermont Yankee "do not inspire confidence in the operation of the facility. Plant management needs to hold itself to a higher standard. Safety is the most important consideration at nuclear power plants and we will do whatever is appropriate to ensure public health and safety."

"I understand where the Governor is coming from," said state Rep. Daryl Pillsbury, I-Brattleboro, who said he is neither pro- nor anti-nuclear power. But, he said, "when there is a big issue, such as tire burning, other states should have that right because they are immediately affected. Hinsdale would be more affected than Montpelier."

"For somebody who seems to lead tending toward risk aversion," said Sarah Edwards, P-Brattleboro, about Douglas, "I would think he would jump right on an ISA when relicensing is such a risky proposition when we are dealing with an aging nuclear power plant that knows no state boundaries."