Latest Discovery At Vermont Yankee Becomes Campaign Issue

10/11/10 5:50PM By John Dillon
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AP Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) The recent discovery of radioactive material in a former water supply well at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant has reverberated in the governor's race.

Republican Brian Dubie has been a strong supporter of Vermont Yankee. But now he's raising questions about whether the plant should continue operating beyond 2012.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Yankee was already front and center in this year's gubernatorial contest. As leader of the Senate, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin organized a legislative vote against allowing regulators to extend Yankee's license for another 20 years.

Republican Brian Dubie opposed the Senate vote. He's talked repeatedly about the hundreds of jobs that could be lost if the plant shuts down as scheduled in 2012.

But the latest news that radioactive tritium was found deep underground prompted Dubie to take a harder line. Dubie says the state Health Department and federal regulators need to investigate and assure the public that the plant is safe.

(Dubie) "Until these questions are answered, and public health can be assured I cannot support the plant's continued operation past 2012."

(Dillon) Tritium had been discovered in shallow wells last winter. The significance of the latest finding is that the radioactive substance is now in a deep aquifer near public water supplies. Yankee says the amount found was small and is not a risk to public health. 

Dubie says he's always stressed that safety is his top priority. But he's now concerned that tritium has been discovered at deeper levels than seen before..

(Dubie) "Trust of  Entergy needs to be re-established. It's incumbent upon them to re-establish the trust."

(Dillon) An anti-nuclear critic says Dubie hasn't really shifted his position. Bob Stannard is a lobbyist for Citizens Action network.

(Stannard)" It's perceived as a flip flop but I think it's very consistent with a pattern that we've seen over the last few years. Whenever something hideous happens at the plant - which happens all too often - there's this feigning of disappointment and concern and we should leave it up to experts when in fact all that really is being accomplished is to simply buy some time so the support can be reorganized and make a comeback."

(Dillon) Democratic candidate Peter Shumlin also used the latest Yankee news to highlight his record and underscore his concerns about the plant and its owners.

(Shumlin) "If an oil company were to dump oil into our groundwater, we would react, we would fine them. We would cry foul. We would require them to clean it up. Brian Dubie has been an apologist for Entergy Louisiana and their stockholders for years. I am not. I defend Vermonters."

(Dillon) But a pro-Yankee group says the tritium is not a threat to public health. Brad Ferland of the Vermont Energy Partnership - which supports Yankee re-licensing - says the decision should be based on science, not politics.

(Ferland) "We like to look at energy policy as a fact-based process. And it is difficult to have a fact-based process when there is politics and emotion involved."

(Dillon) But with radioactive tritium back in the headlines, Vermont Yankee is likely to be a big part of the political campaign right up until Election Day.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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