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Charles Weed
State Representative
District 3

 

February 16, 2010

Representative Charles "Chuck" Weed represents Cheshire District 3 (Keene) in the NH House of Representatives.

Representative Weed is a member of the House Committee on Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services.

I am uneasy, but at the same time relieved, that our brothers and sisters in the Vermont legislature will have the final say on whether the Vernon nuclear power plant is allowed to continue for another 20 years. It is in its 38th year of an originally planned 40 year lifespan, and neighbors on both sides of the river have been barraged by news about failures of maintenance, failures in truth telling, and otherwise witness to the growing danger in our midst. Prior to their active debate and deliberations, there is plenty of available information about extending the life of nuclear power plants. For instance, in "Outdated Controls and Instrumentation in Nuclear Power Plants, Strategies for Extending Useful Life", by SD Sawyer, October 2003, he stated,

 "for 20+-year-old plants, eventually such custom systems become more costly to maintain and out of sync with today's technology. As a result, today's nuclear I&C maintenance departments are faced with outdated electronics, increased failure rates, and tight plant operating budgets." 

This certainly sounds like the description today about the plant across the river. An international symposium organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Shanghai in mid-October 2007 concluded, "with proper management, vigilance and safety enhancements, nuclear power plants can operate beyond the typical design lifespan of 30 to 40 years." On all three points, proper management, vigilance, and safety enhancements Vernon’s Entergy plant seems an exemplar of failures and mistakes.

It sometimes helps to use a model to understand different analyses and diagnoses of the problem. As a social scientist, I often use levels of analysis. 1st-The cause may rest with individual personnel, 2nd-with shortcuts and lack of consistent regulatory oversight, or 3rd with both of the economic and natural systems. Entergy tells us that they will be changing the management of the Vernon plant -- in other words throw the rascals out. If you doubt it can be explained at the individual level, there was an oversight panel often criticized by Entergy.

The current president pro tem of the Senate, Peter Shumlin appointed some watchdogs to advise the legislature about what was going on in Vernon. Vermont Yankee spokespersons complained, 

"the legislature has an important role in license renewal, but adding additional layers, in an already complex process, sounds to us like unnecessary second guessing of the Department of Public Service…  Yet another layer is unwarranted.  There, I said it.  Unwarranted." (Rob Williams, Vermont Yankee, 6/12, 2009). 

Despite the criticism of Shumlin’s appointee, Arnie Gunderson, it appears that that oversight panel, 

"months ago pointed out that the plant appeared to have underground pipes carrying radioactive material, though company representatives had told state officials it did not". The panel also "sounded an alarm about the plant’s cooling towers not long before they crumbled in 2007". The panel earlier announced that "Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning fund would fall short of the amount needed to eventually shut the plant down, a claim the company denied at the time, but later conceded it would need time to accumulate interest" (perhaps 20 more years?? My question) (Burlington Free Press, 2/15/2010 "Blowing-the-Whistle-on-Vermont-Yankee")

The third level of analysis makes us ask hard questions. Can a for-profit private nuclear power plant in a capitalist system devote the required resources to maintenance, safety, and full disclosure to assure its neighbors in a 30 mile radius of a genuine commitment to the public welfare and safety? There's a further question at this level that needs to be asked. Is it hubris that makes us think that ordinary men with all of the human weaknesses and failings in addition to our capacities for excellence can control such highly complex and dangerous processes of creating energy through the heat from splitting atoms without making deadly and costly mistakes? Our inability to solve the storage problem for nuclear waste for the last 60 years, may be indicative of processes beyond human control.

Personally, I am confident that Vermonters in the Legislature will act responsibly, and absolutely delighted that Peter Shumlin, who has a long track record of prescient skepticism of Vermont Yankee, is likely to be the next governor of the Green Mountain State.


Charles F. Weed, Representative Cheshire 3
Keene, New Hampshire 

Telephone:  603-271-3125
Email: cweed@keene.edu

 

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