VERNON -- An 82-year-old New Hampshire man and his 57-year-old wife, who is legally blind, were among the nearly 40 people arrested Sunday afternoon at the gates of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
Scott Nielsen, of Claremont, N.H., walked underneath the rope barricade with his wife, Nelia Sargent, their arms linked, surrounded by the musical chants from the 300 protesters who were thanking them and the 38 others who purposely trespassed for their cause.
"A real danger to us all"
"This plant is a real danger to us all," Nielsen said when asked why he was willing to get arrested. "All you have to do is look at the disaster at Fukushima. We cannot let something like that happen here. It would leave New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont a wasteland."
Nielsen said he and Sargent have been fighting nuclear power since 1970 and will continue to do so.
The nuclear plant had been operating at about two-thirds of its normal power output after one of its two motor-generator sets malfunctioned. The protesters said that’s just the most recent example of why the aging reactor needs to be put in decommission.
Vermont Yankee spokesman Rob Williams said the repairs have been made and the plant is fully operational again.
"We appreciate those who support the plant and respect the right of plant opponents to make their opinions known," Williams said. "Our focus is on operating the plant safely and reliably."
As people crossed the no trespassing threshold, many held cardboard solar panels and some dressed in costume, including Sally Shaw of Gill Mass., who wore a cow outfit to coordinate with the protesters’ 600-pound handmade "Trojan Cow."
One of the protest organizers, Chad Simmons, said the day was a huge success as they celebrated their independence from the plant’s owner, Entergy.
"Today is an amazing example of what we’re all about and what we’re going to continue to do until Entergy decides to close this place down," Simmons told the Reformer. "Today’s energy and peaceful, non-violent demonstration paints a clear distinction between what the citizens want, what we’re going to do, and what Entergy wants."
Simmons said one of the reasons the protest was such a success was the ability to work with the Vermont State Police.
"We’re very appreciative of their cooperation," he said. "This is a model of how action should be taken across the country. We’re here for the state and so are they."
Capt. Ray Keefe of the Vermont State Police said there’s been a long relationship with the organizers and various police agencies to ensure things run smoothly.
"They understand the state is doing its due diligence to shut the plant down and us as troopers are agents of the state and it’s our due diligence to uphold the law," Keefe told the Reformer. "They’re exercising their rights and we’ll treat them as so. Although we as troopers don’t have an opinion on the plant’s continued operation or its politics, we understand the protesters’ desire to express their rights."
Keefe said of the 40 people arrested, a dozen or so were asked if they wanted to be cited and released at the scene if troopers thought there might be health concerns or if people were suffering from the heat.
Only Nielsen and Sargent, due to his age and her being legally blind, were given citations to appear in Windham County Superior Court Criminal Division at a later date to answer the charge of trespassing. The other 38 were transported via bus to be processed at the Putney Fire Station before they were released, Keefe said.
In preparation for the protest, more than a mile stretch of Governor Hunt Road, starting at the Town Offices and well past the nuclear plant’s entrance, was closed off to traffic by massive cinderblocks. Vernon Police Chief Mary Beth Hebert said the reason was merely precautionary.
"We weren’t sure the number of people who were going to be here for the protest so it was easier to provide better public safety by closing this portion of the road," she said.