The disturbing recent decision by the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to plow ahead with relicensing Vermont’s troubled nuclear reactor turns a blind-eye to the unfolding tragedy in Japan. Simply rubber stamping license requests for older nuclear plants is irresponsible. The NRC should have pressed the “pause” button. Instead, the NRC rejected requests from Vermont’s Congressional delegation, and issued a decision at odds with Vermont’s wishes.
The events in Japan highlight the problems with the older vintage nuclear plants. Both Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim, in Plymouth, MA are of the same vintage and have the same container systems as the reactors in Japan. While tidal waves and earthquakes of the magnitude just suffered in Japan are unlikely in our region, our plants are vulnerable to the floods and power outages that struck Japan’s nuclear reactors, and caused the cooling systems to fail.
Showing a prescient lack of faith in the federal relicensing of nuclear plants, Vermont law requires the independent approval from the Vermont Legislature and the Vermont Public Service Board before allowing continued operation.
The events in Japan confirm the soundness of the Vermont Legislature’s decision last year to close down Vermont Yankee on schedule, at the end of its current license. Vermont has been watching Vermont Yankee closely for years. The Legislature’s vote last year was not a surprise. The plant is old and has been leaking and plagued with problems. The public has lost faith in the facility.
Hopefully the events in Japan will prompt a much, much harder look at the safety of our older nuclear fleet. Meanwhile, Vermont sets a good example for responsible oversight and decision-making about how we meet our energy needs.