Homer Simpson Wasn’t Available

In the deep winter of New England, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is leaking radioactive tritium into the groundwater.

This is bad timing for Yankee’s owner, Entergy of Louisiana, because the Vermont legislature is currently considering Entergy’s request to extend the 38-year-old plant’s license to operate for another 20 years. (Vermont is the only state in which the legislature has the power to intervene in a nuclear plant’s license.)

Even Governor Jim Douglas, who has been an unabashed Entergy supporter until now, demanded the firing of Entergy Vice President Jay Thayer. Mr. Thayer swore under oath that Vermont Yankee has no underground pipes. Then it was discovered that the tritium was leaking from – underground pipes. (Still a friend to Entergy, the governor has also called for a “timeout” to allow the corporation to rebuild the people’s shattered trust. After all, you wouldn’t want to decide whether or not to go ahead and get married after you catch your intended in bed with your best friend, you’d want to give it time to rebuild trust.)

It’s unclear at this point who is the dog and who is the pony in this dog-and-pony show, but Entergy did get rid of Mr. Thayer. (Which is not to say he was fired. He was placed on “administrative leave” pending investigation, which means he goes on vacation until this whole thing blows over; when he returns with a tan, he’ll be sent off to tell whoppers about some other Entergy facility.)

The new face of Entergy in Vermont is Curt Hebert, Jr., Entergy’s vice president of external affairs and former head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Mr. Hebert is known as a lifelong opponent of government intervention in energy markets. (Then why was he the federal government’s chief energy regulator, you ask? He was appointed by George W. Bush.)

So up here in Vermont, the public, press and politicians are seriously cheesed off at the out-of-state corporation that has mismanaged the state’s only nuke since it bought it in 2002 and has been caught passing misinformation again and again. What’s Entergy’s response? To send a bitter foe of government intervention to the one state where the government has more power to intervene than any other. It makes one wonder if Entergy’s CEO Wayne Leonard might be spending too much time in the radiation room.

Mr. Hebert’s greatest claim to fame is that he presided over the federal government’s deer-in-the-headlights inaction when the 2000-2001 energy crisis caused rolling blackouts in California. (Heckuva job, Curty!)

According to published accounts, Mr. Hebert – acting on Dick Cheney’s orders – covered up the market manipulation by Enron and others that led to the California and instead encouraged California to cancel its environmental regulations. Now his kind ministrations will be visited on Vermont. Oh boy.

To paraphrase Lord Acton, power corrupts and nuclear power corrupts absolutely.

© Mark Floegel, 2010

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