August 29th, 2007

VDB Begs to Differ: Herald Prejudices the Vermont Yankee Relicensing Discussion

by Philip Baruth

The Rutland Herald has an interesting Vermont Yankee editorial up in today’s edition, interesting in the bark-worse-than-bite sense. It’s called “Yankee Failure.”

vermont yankee

After some mild tut-tutting in the passive voice about the now-infamous water tower collapse (”Cutting corners seems to have happened”), the Herald goes on to predispose the 2012 relicensing question in its entirety:

“The company will be seeking to extend the plant’s operating license beyond its expiration date of 2012, and state officials and utility executives are all expecting that Yankee will continue to be a major source of power for the state.”

The only question remaining, as far as the editorial board is concerned, is the amount of money Entergy is willing to pour back into Yankee to restore the corners previously cut. The last line of the editorial warns that relicensing is “not a foregone conclusion,” but of course it is, at least within the structural assumptions of the editorial itself.

But to state the obvious, not all state officials are blithely assuming that Yankee must go on cracking and sagging into perpetuity. (See Paul Heintz’s piece in the Reformer today on the way the cooling tower incident may make its own impact on the legislature.)

Yes, Jim Douglas has made it clear that he sees no reason to shutter the plant, and thinks of it suddenly as a green energy option.

But Peter Shumlin has been outspoken in his opposition to the Yankee set-up as currently configured, particularly the storage of waste in-state, and most particularly on the banks of the Connecticut River.

Shumlin has also hinted that 2012 will be a key moment to either shutter the plant, or renegotiate Entergy’s deal in fundamental ways.

Still, the Herald’s editorial won’t be the last of its kind.

All of the major media outlets will enter the relicensing window framing the issue as a question of repair and upgrade, rather than one of outright licensing or refusal to license.

Not because they are corporate lackies, or in the pay of evil Entergy officials, but far more simply because it is very difficult to imagine a way to supply the state’s power needs without Yankee.

The sheer difficulty of the task, and the prospect of higher energy costs, will concretize the conventional wisdom. The question will narrow quickly to how to keep Entergy honest, a continuation of the cat-and-mouse watchdog games of the last twenty years.

Until such time as anti-Yankee protests become a statewide, rather than a Brattleboro-based, phenomenon. Until such time as responsive candidates come forward with aggressive proposals for reworking the state’s energy portfolio.

And they will. Why?

Because Vermont Yankee is an accident waiting, not very patiently, to happen.

Because it is an offense against Vermont values to ship nuclear waste elsewhere in the nation, and it is an offense against common sense to store it here.

And because Entergy has itself evolved into the anti-Yankee faction’s dream public relations team: their message that the collapse of “sagging and deformed” cooling towers is “not a safety issue” — and the way that media outlets have duly repeated the assertion — says all that needs to be said.

not so cool

As with the war in Iraq, we always seem to be making fine progress down at the Yankee site. We always seem to be on the verge of more and cleaner electricity, with no piper to pay for greatly increased strain on the clearly aging facility.

And in the same way that the Bush administration is now attempting to prejudice the September discussion of the Surge — by insisting that the most basic case has already been made prior to the discussion proper — the Herald seems to have made the default assumption that a nuclear-free Vermont is not an option, and hence the relicensing question is no real question at all.

VDB begs to differ.