Saturday, March 26, 2011

From Japan to Our Local Nuke Plant: What's a City Council To Do?

I read with sadness the Keene Sentinel‘s March 22 article entitled “Reactor damage worse than thought.” I am so moved by how Japan’s dedicated nuclear plant workers in are risking their lives to keep the rest of Japan as safe as they possibly can. This is real heroism. I’m grateful to all such workers around the world who work so hard to make sure this potentially dangerous technology does not cause the worst damage it can. I think, too, about our nuclear plant workers in nearby Vernon, Vermont, who are trying to keep us safe from the worst that could happen at Vermont Yankee–a plant which uses the same design as the failing and increasingly radioactive plants in Japan.

Witnessing this kind of dedication in the current crisis situation only makes me more concerned that the majority of the Keene City Council recently refused to sign on to a letter approved by several other towns in the evacuation zone around the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant supported by the Safe and Green Campaign (and an Antiioch Advocacy student who works part-time for them). This “controversial” letter, as one councilor called it, did not even take a position on whether or not nuclear energy should be part of the mix in our energy future. It simply called on the Entergy Corporation to provide full support to our citizens and the local workers at their Vermont Yankee plant as the State of Vermont implements its plans to close the plant once its current license expires next March.

What was “controversial” in the proposed letter put before our City Council? Was it that the letter asked “that Vermont Yankee workers, many of whom live in our towns and cities, be given first preference when workers are hired for the multi-year decommissioning and site clean-up process?”

Was it that the letter asked “that when the reactor’s radioactive components will be dismantled and removed or stored on site, workers remaining on the site receive the maximum protection from radiation exposure?”

Was it that the letter asked “that those workers whose jobs are discontinued or who choose not to accept employment during this post-shutdown period be guaranteed a generous severance package of pay and benefits as well as opportunities for retraining for available jobs at decent wages, including jobs in the rapidly expanding ’green energy’ sector?”

Or, perhaps, it was that the letter asked “that there will be extra attention to maintenance and repair of all systems associated with the reactor, coupled with heightened inspections, monitoring, and testing to minimize the possibility of a major accident and ensure that people, animals, and the environment are not exposed to an additional risks of breathing, drinking, or otherwise ingesting radioactivity?”

Usually, I am very impressed by our City Councilors, who have repeatedly shown themselves willing to take strong and creative stands on protecting or improving our community. However, I think that they missed an important opportunity this time to state clearly their strong public support for the decent treatment of the dedicated workers at Vermont Yankee and the public health interests of all area citizens.

In light of the events going on now in Japan, I hope that our Council will revisit this issue and stand up clearly for both the health and safety of our citizens and the workers at Vermont Yankee who risk their lives for us everyday to avoid the worst outcomes that are possible with a potentially deadly technology like nuclear power.

I don’t think that is too much for the citizens of Keene to ask. Do you?


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