Sunday February 21, 2010

BRATTLEBORO -- Thirteen national labor organizations are urging Vermont’s Senate to take a timeout and to not vote on whether Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant should be allowed to continue to operate after its original license expiration date in 2012.

"For the state Legislature to take action now is premature," said Scott Peterson, the vice president of communications of the Nuclear Energy Institute, which bills itself as the policy organization of the nuclear energy and technologies industry and participates in both the national and global policy-making process.

"NEI’s objective is to ensure the formation of policies that promote the beneficial uses of nuclear energy and technologies in the United States and around the world," according to its Web site.

"The governor has this exactly right," said Peterson. "Let all these emotions that are inflamed come down to a level where all the parties can address this issue reasonably and rationally."

The issue Peterson is referring to is an ongoing leak of tritiated water at the power plant in Vernon and the discovery that Entergy representatives may not have been totally forthcoming during hearings before the Vermont Public Service Board last year about the extent of buried and underground piping at Yankee.

Peterson admitted Entergy has given itself a black eye in the past few weeks.

"There’s probably not much of a question that Entergy has lost the trust of the people in Vermont," he said. "But the changes Entergy has made shows its commitment to get to the root causes and also to do a better job of reaching out to all the stakeholders to give them information as it goes forward."

But the Vermont Senate needs to be thinking of all the good things Yankee provides to the state before it votes on Wednesday, said Peterson.

That includes jobs, power and clean air, he said.

The main reason the 13 unions support Yankee’s continued operation is the 1,300 people who either work at Yankee or provide contract services to the plant, said Peterson.

Not only do 1,300 people in the tri-state area have jobs because of Yankee, he said, there are also a large number of people in the community who have jobs because of services that are provided to Yankee’s employers and its contractors.

"Let’s take the time we need to figure out what is going on, how to fix it and how to prevent it from happening again," said Peterson. "The plant is operating safely today. Even with these tritium issues, there’s no threat to the health and safety of the people living in the area."

As far as safety and performance indicators are concerned, he said, Yankee has received the highest marks from the NRC.

"Vermont Yankee has been for nearly 40 years, and will continue to be, an important part of Vermont’s energy, especially in a state that has a low-carbon footprint," said Peterson.

Several years ago the nuclear industry, under its own initiative, began a groundwater monitoring program to do exactly what is happening at Vermont Yankee, he said. That is, to detect leakage as soon as possible and prevent its spread from affecting the public health and safety.

"We worked very closely with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission when we produced their guidelines," said Peterson.

The unions in support of Yankee’s continued operation include Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, United Brotherhood of Carpenters, International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, International Union of Operating Engineers, International Union of Bricklayers and International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.