“What the Fukashima?” and dozens of other anti-nuclear messages graced the bridges of the Interstate Highway from Northampton, Massachusetts, to Burlington, Vermont, reminding Columbus Day weekend leaf peepers that were passing close to the evacuation zone of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, still operating past its 40-year design life.
“What the Fukushima?” refers to the basic design of the 1972 Vermont Yankee, which used the same General Electric boiling water reactor technology as the 1971 Fukushima plants that failed in Japan in March 2011.
Vermont Yankee’s original license expired on March 2012, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already granted a 20-year license renewal to the plant’s owner, Entergy Corp. of Louisiana. The Fukushima #1 plant had been scheduled for decommissioning in 2011, but had been granted a ten-year renewal before the tsunami hit.
Although it continues to keep operating effectively most of the time, Vermont Yankee remains entangled in legal, political, and environmental disputes, in the context of a largely hostile public. The State of Vermont is fighting Entergy in federal court. The Vermont Legislature has already voted once to close the plant and has passed a tax bill to make up for revenue Entergy presently refuses to pay.
Environmentally, Vermont Yankee has suffered a long string of “events,” including the collapse of a heating tower, various leaks of radioactivity, and seasonal overheating of the water in the Connecticut River.
In September, Vermont started shipping low level radioactive waste from the University of Vermont and a Burlington hospital to Andrews County, Texas, by trucks using public highways. This is the first such shipment under an agreement approved 20 years earlier, the Texas-Vermont Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact. Vermont Yankeehas also shipped some its radioactive waste to the same dump, a 15,000 acre site in a poor area that straddles the Texas-New Mexico border.
The unguarded transport of nuclear waste on public highways has been controversial in the past in relation to nuclear weapons waste. In Texas, early alarms have been sounded about the safety of shipping this waste to the remote site owned by Harold Simmons, a Dallas billionaire and heavy Republican bankroller, as described in the Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The paper also reported: “In the past eight years, 72 incidents nationwide involving trucks carrying radioactive material on highways have caused $2.4 million in damage and one death, the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration says.”
The Texas dump expects to receive radioactive waste from 36 states, including Vermont, but this wasn’t the direct target of the holiday weekend banner drop along the Interstate.
“Shut down Before Meltdown” was the message on the bridge in South Royalton, home of the Vermont Law School. “You Are In A Nuclear Reactor Zone” is said on the Bridge in Bernardston, just over the Massachusetts border from Yankee’s location next to the Connecticut River in Vernon. Yankee is Vermont’s only nuclear power plant.
The bridge banners were the work of anti-nuclear affinity groups from both states, part of regional resistance to nuclear power older than the plant itself. Members of the Sage Alliance, the affinity groups’ names include “Shut It Down,” “Sunflower Brigade,” “Downstreamers” and the “VT Yankee Decommissioning Alliance.”