January 15th, 2008

Shumlin Takes on Word-Ninja Rob Williams (Now With Pot-Laced Nuclear Update!)

by Philip Baruth

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin may be tough to follow down the legislative playing field with the naked eye. His abrupt reversals may occasionally defy protocol, or logic, even physics. But on one issue he has remained a consistent and surprisingly aggressive force: oversight of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant.

shumlin works the crowd

And now Shumlin’s got his teeth in Entergy’s ankle again.

Shumlin and fellow Windham Senator Jeanette White, capitalizing on momentum following last summer’s cooling tower collapse, have begun drafting legislation detailing and requiring an Independent Safety Assessment of the sort that led to the shuttering of Maine Yankee a decade ago.

And they want it signed into law by the end of this session. Douglas has indicated that he’ll do so.

But not so fast: the Senators and the Governor will need to get by indefatigable Entergy spokesman Rob Williams first.

Williams, of course, is a nuclear corporate spokesman, and as such he will tear the actual fabric of time-space before admitting that any action or inaction on the part of Entergy requires even a particle of additional oversight.

Not weighed down by a conscience or a constricting set of ethics, Williams remains a linguistic will o’ the wisp.

His take on the need for an independent assessment is a shining example for all budding spokes-children everywhere.

“The lessons learned [in the Maine Yankee assessment] have been incorporated into the present federal oversight. To impose a Maine Yankee style inspection here would be a step back in terms of safety benefits compared to resources expended.

Read that last sentence again, and watch the word-ninja work. Would an independent assessment be a “step back” in terms of safety benefits? Clearly not. Rather, it would be a step back only in terms of safety versus “resources expended.”

In other words, safety benefits would go up, but corporate profits would go down.

vermont yankee

A step back for Entergy executives looking to buy that third home out in Baja California, indeed.

We have our fun with Shumlin, and the signature broken-field running he uses to lead the Democratic Caucus. But make no mistake: he is serious about Yankee, and bringing Entergy to heel.

He is serious too about putting the plant on the radar screen of Northern Vermonters, who now have the luxury of ignoring the issue even as they benefit from Yankee’s energy output.

When we interviewed Shumlin a year ago, he floated a Modest Proposal: trucking dry-casks of Yankee waste up to the northern end of the state for a while, in the interest of fairness.

Tongue in cheek, of course.

Or maybe not. The Windham Senators are now also drafting a bill to “consider alternate locations” for the plant’s waste, and White wasn’t shy about where she might stop the trucks: “We have some nice open fields in Chittenden County that aren’t on the waterfront.”


Late Update, 8:37 am:

Oops, seems like Yankee’s got more troubles: apparently the control-room operators have gotten into the pot-laced brownies. And that’s no Simpsons-style humor. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was tipped to Brownie-Gate through random drug testing.

No word yet on whether there are compromising MySpace photos. (”Dude! We were so baked we tried to tap the dry-casks! We thought there was beer in there! LOL!”)

But if you’re worried about stoners in the Boom-Boom Room over at Yankee, rest easy. Asked about the cock-up, Rob Williams said “the random test that caught Picard’s drug use was proof the program worked.”

Imagine VDB’s relief.