Let’s Have At It

Entergy, the Louisiana-based company that owns Vermont Yankee, announced Monday it will sue the state of Vermont in federal court, asking for a judgement to allow the nuclear plant to continue operating past March 21, 2012, the day its certificate of public good (CPG – a.k.a. state operating permit) expires.

The company held a “conference call” in which a PR suit with a South African accent (always a nice touch) announced Richard Smith, a management suit (with a vaguely southern accent) would make “remarks” but would not answer questions, “because today’s subject matter is now in litigation.” Always on the high road, these people. (How is a one-way transmission a “conference”?)

Last month, ten days after the tsunami that touched off the Fukushima catastrophe, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), issued Vermont Yankee a 20-year extension of its federal operating license, despite knowing Vermont Yankee is of the same flawed design as the reactors at Fukushima and despite the fact that its spent fuel pool (50 feet off the ground) is jammed with highly radioactive waste, far beyond its design capacity.

Everyone expected Entergy to file suit. Mr. Smith said doing so was Entergy’s “least favored approach,” but was the “appropriate and responsible” thing to do. From my experience with Entergy, these people wouldn’t know “appropriate and responsible” if they ran up and bit them in the leg.

Since it bought the plant nine years ago, Entergy has lied (often under oath) to the citizens of Vermont, its managers have cheaped out to the point that some parts of their facility collapsed from lack of maintenance and others caught fire for no apparent reason. The rust bucket has leaked – and continues to leak – radioactive material into Vermont’s pristine groundwater. This lawsuit merely represents the latest example of bad-faith dealing from a company that appears to know no other way of conducting itself.

Tuesday, full-page ads appeared in nine Vermont newspapers featuring an open letter from Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard, again regretting the need for litigation, then proceeding to piss all over the notion that Vermonters might have a say in who conducts uncontrolled nuclear experiments in our state. An Entergy spokesuit said the ads were purchased because Mr. Leonard “wanted to have a conversation about the issue with the people of Vermont.” No questions, please.

I, for one, welcome this lawsuit.

In 2002, when Entergy purchased Vermont Yankee, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the state, agreeing that the state’s Public Service Board (PSB) can decide whether or not the plant may continue operation after March 2012.

Monday, Mr. Smith said the company’s lawsuit is premised on the notion that a state cannot prevent a federally-licensed nuclear facility from operating. If that argument is true, then it was true when Entergy signed the Memorandum of Understanding in 2002.

So, number one – I look forward to hearing Entergy attorneys explain that one – that they’re filing this suit out of deep concern for a process that did not seem to enter their minds in for the past decade.

Mr. Smith argues Entergy need no longer honor the 2002 MOU because in 2006, the Vermont legislature directed the PSB to withhold action on a CPG until both bodies in the legislature approve of the action. That was a deal-breaker, Mr. Smith said today.

If that’s true, why didn’t Entergy sue in 2006? Why wait until now? (In 2006, Entergy spokesuits said they supported the legislature’s participation.) And why sue on grounds of federal pre-emption? It seems a breach-of-contract suit is the proper means to seek judicial relief. But I’m not a lawyer, so I welcome this suit, so I can understand the issues better.

I welcome this lawsuit as a kind of spring training for state governments in New York and Massachusetts, because they have serious questions about the operation of Entergy nuclear plants in their states (at Indian Point and Pilgrim, respectively). (Here’s a hint: the NRC has no jurisdiction over taxes. Why don’t states help balance their budgets by taxing the living crap out of spent fuel that nuclear industry refuses to take out of dangerous storage pools and place into safer dry casks? Or tax the crap out of flawed, Fukushima-style reactors?)

Finally, I welcome this lawsuit as a much-needed public forum in which to hold a full and vigorous debate on the desirability of nuclear power in the United States in the post-Fukushima era.

Let’s have at it.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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