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With new scrutiny on nuclear power, Vermont's aging plant faces critics

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  March 14, 2011 12:52 PM

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The catastrophe at Japan's nuclear power plants has added new impetus to the debate over whether to extend the operating license for an aging plant in Vermont.

As Beth Daley and Theo Emery report today in the Globe, Vermont's governor, Peter Shumlin, favors closing the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee plant that supplies about one-third of Vermont's electricity.

Entergy Corp., the plant's owners, have applied to federal regulators for permission to extend the life of the plant another 20 years. Entergy also owns the aging Pilgrim Nuclear Station in Plymouth, where it has also requested a 20-year extension.

Debate over Vermont Yankee's future had simmered long before Japan's meltdowns, and emerged as an issue in last year's Vermont gubernatorial election, when Shumlin called attention to the plant's history of safety lapses.

A cooling tower collapsed in 2007. The plant was also found to be leaking radioactive tritium from underground pipes — which caused severe credibility problems for Entergy, whose executives had previously denied, sometimes under oath, that the plant had pipes of that type. Last year, the Globe editorialized in favor of shutting down Vermont Yankee unless its owners cleaned up their act.

Supporters, including business and labor groups, and the town of Vernon where the plant is located, point to the 650 jobs that would be lost. And some supporters of the plant raise an environmental argument: shutting down a carbon-free energy source, they warn, would only increase the state's reliance on fossil fuels.

Globe file photo: Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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