Vermont Yankee is closing!

Let’s celebrate, unify allied struggles, and focus on fights to come

By Ben Grosscup

The announcement this week that Vermont Yankee – the 41 year old nuclear power plant in southern Vermont that has been an object of derision for decades for anti-nuclear social movement activists – will be closed is an opportunity for climate justice and anti-nuclear movements to clarify that our fight is not only against this particular form of extreme energy. Rather we need to focus on the social arrangements that produce the need for these destructive technologies – a set of arrangements that both further and depend upon the ever-growing extension of corporate profits and state power.

On the one hand, we should remember that when the ruling classes are defeated in small or big ways, they never willingly acknowledge the role of people’s movements in their defeat. That part is up to us. Still, people’s movement victories are never complete victories. That means we need to celebrate our achievements in shifting the political and regulatory climate to facilitate this closure, but without deluding ourselves or others into complicity with the newly reformed environment that we’ve helped to bring about. At the same time, we should give credit to the many dedicated and thoughtful organizers and activists who – through decades of struggle – have helped bring about a situation where, by the end of 2014, VY will no longer be actively running.

On the other hand, I think that one of the reasons Entergy gave for closing VY was entirely plausible and correct, even if incomplete. They pointed to the fact that the enormous glut of fracked natural gas that we’ve seen in the last decade in the United States has radically transformed the economics of electricity generation. We also know that, at least in the U.S., many coal plants are shutting down, and we have to be honest and clear that a big part of the reason for this is that resource extraction is shifting away somewhat from coal right now and rapidly increasing with the calamitous practice of fracking for shale gas. This process, unfortunately, is more subject to the vicissitudes of the capitalist market than to the initiatives of environmental movements.

Capitalist energy production is proving itself to be very flexible in a historical moment where energy companies are contending with resource bases that they have substantially depleted. Our movement’s critique must cut to the heart of that underlying system and not be limited to the horrors of each particular technology.

But our claims of victory also must acknowledge that there are many more fights on the immediate horizon – not only about the threat of nuclear power in general, but of Vermont Yankee in particular. As Arnie Gundersen explains, there is not enough money available in Entergy’s decommissioning fund to safely shut down this power plant. The fundamental problem is that to be profitable, this industry must cut corners on safety. Doing otherwise would clearly undermine their lavish profits. So the anti-nuclear movement is left with the urgent and difficult task of forcing the same company that has been profiting all these years by cutting corners on safety to pay to contain the unspeakable dangers it has created. This task is inextricably connected to denying the company the right to set the basic terms for how the decommissioning proceeds, because the company has a financial incentive to distort the safety picture to reduce their financial liability.

So far, I draw the following specific conclusions from this week’s announcement about VY’s immanent closure:

1) We need to celebrate this victory in a measured way that still takes credit for what the anti-nuclear movement has been able to accomplish.

2) We need to renew a strategic focus on stopping fracking, which seriously threatens the northeast United States, and do so as part of a broader program of contesting extreme energy projects in all their forms, including nuclear power, mountaintop coal, tar sands, mega-dams and all other new forms of destructive energy extraction as well.

3) We need to illustrate that the very most important demand we still need to win in the fight to shut down Vermont Yankee is to force Entergy to pay to pay for containing the nuclear waste it continues producing. This work proceeds with full knowledge that taking full responsibility for their long-lived nuclear waste will likely bankrupt the nuclear industry once and for all.

The tough road in front of us and the strength our adversaries maintain should not stop us from taking pride in our achievements as a movement.


8 Replies to “Vermont Yankee is closing!”

  1. The movement for alternative renewable energy has to move onto the global stage along with Friends of the Earth, AVAAZ, Greenpeace, SumofUs, and others so as to fight the attempts to continue to pollute and contaminate the biosphere.
    So called experts are promoting nuclear energy in Iran; in Japan,and other countries, pretending that it is safe, and concealing that it is indestructible and an eternal pollutant.
    In the UK at this time, licenses for fracking of shale gas are being issued by the Government. The importance of fracking is being promoted by MPs and government departments. What is more, the statements about the ease of fracking are based upon favourable reports in the USA. Corporations and Departments are determined to declare fracking trouble-free!despite the facts that show that fracking is a serious threat to the local environment [go to “Social Ecology and Sustainability”/Oil well in the Garden]
    The followers of the Social Ecology movement need to join with groups across the world who are developing specific campaigns as well as general Social Ecology campaigns.
    The movement must be determined to protect the environment in the light of the demands by local communities.In situations where the local communities know more about the destructive effects of energy exploitation, they must be listened to and given support.

  2. Jkelvynrichards, you are going to be drinking used fracking liquid (like in Kentucky where it overflowed into a river and killed the fish) long before you can replace the reactor with enough windmills and solar panels. Your blanket comments about nuclear power contain untruths (should I say slander?) which reveals a lack of knowledge in this field.

  3. Charles Riley
    it would be good if you could send your observations about fracking to the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, so as to reduce his enthusiasm for shale oil/gas.
    I admit that my knowledge about nuclear power is limited. Are you proposing that nuclear energy generation is safe under all situations? that it is destructible and easy to remove? that it is a limited pollutant? and not to be worried about?
    If governments had spent as much money on research into alternative power as they have on nuclear energy, we might be operating on solar power by now.

  4. @ jkelvynrichards,

    The folks at Institute for Social Ecology declined to approve my long comment describing the futility of Wind & Solar. It’s on-line at – the Blog page.

    Like so many of us, they won’t listen to a message that conflicts with strongly held preconceptions.

  5. Timothy Maloney’s submission was far too long to post here as a comment, and we urged him to post a link, which he has done. Readers can decide for themselves, but the claim that nuclear power is more environmentally sound, based on a lifecycle analysis, than solar or wind is thoroughly lacking in credibility to us at the ISE.

    As social ecologists we strongly advocate for renewable energy, but also do not believe there is any purely technological solution to the problems of excessive consumption and waste that are inherent to advanced capitalism. There is no ecologically sustainable way to produce the quantity of energy that both fossil fuel boosters and nuclear boosters want us to believe we “need.” But it is clear that the experimental nuclear technologies T. Maloney and his allies are advocating for would represent a giant step in the wrong direction.

  6. I have just been reading accounts about Chernobyl, and Fukushima. The BBC reports that there is a 20 km exclusion zone in Fukushima.The roads in the zone are totally radioactive.Authorised visitors are told to leave after 5 hours. The water tanks are so radioactive that they can kill any worker who remains near them for 4 hours [announced yesterday]
    The Fukushima event led to the removal of thousands of people to all parts of Japan.
    How can this source of energy be approved? applauded? or considered harmless? It disrupts, comtaminates, pollutes the environment of land many km around.
    People were polluted by Chernobyl, even though they did not know where it was, nor that they lived downwind of the nuclear power plant.

    What about the damage of nuclear power? It cannot be part of a sustainable nor ecological way of living. It is a clear marker of the environmental damage committed by humans in their search for growth, for profit, for consumption, for long term production of energy.And their disregard for waste and pollution.
    If only imagination and innovation had been devoted to the design of solar power and wind power, and water power.

  7. Guys and gals, I agree with you that there’s no ecologically sustainable way to support 7 Billion humans, and growing.

    Our job right now is just to avoid wrecking the ecosphere for the next century or so. By then we’ll have turned away from consumer capitalism and expanding population – one hopes.

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