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August 28, 2013

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant Announces End of Operations

Vermont_Yankee_Nuclear_Power_PlantYesterday, the Entergy Corporation announced its plans to close and decommission its Vermont Nuclear Power Station located in Vernon, Vermont. The station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and move to shut down in the fourth quarter of 2012.

This announcement marks the fifth reactor this year to permanently end operations.  Earlier closure this year includes the Kewaunee nuclear power plant, in Wisconsin; the two-unit San Onofre facility, in California; and Crystal River, in Florida. In addition, a new plant slated for Iowa was mothballed due to economic concerns.

Each closing is further proof that the price and safety costs of nuclear energy are too high for the energy source to be competitive with other sources. To quote the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, "Vermont Yankee's decision has the most in common with Kewaunee, in that a primary determining factor, according to its operator, was changes in the electricity marketplace..."

In other words, the plant was not competitive. Furthermore, we believe that the Yankee's operators couldn't justify spending $400 million in operational costs to keep the dinosaur plant running. The continuing costs to operate and maintain our ageing nuclear reactor fleet, don't make sense in the current market of low renewable energy prices.

These nuclear power plants aren't only expensive, they are also very dangerous. The reactors put the cities they lie in, and the workers inside them at risk. There are also serious problems associated with the waste. We haven't, despite almost fifty years of reactor operation, really found a safe permanent way to store the radioactive waste that is produced by the reactors. We also have concerns about how the waste is stored at the reactors. Many of the reactors have more used highly radioactive fuel rods in their cooling pools than they were originally designed and licensed for. This condition could lead to a lethal pool fire in the event of a meltdown.

Most of the reactors that have announced closure have been offline prior to their announcements. In San Onofre's case, it was over a year. And guess what: the surrounding communities did not have brown outs despite industry's claims. There was sufficient back up power in the grid to keep the lights on.

The nuclear reactor closures are further proof that it is time to invest in safe, clean and cheap energy sources like wind and solar. We need to be able to continue to have affordable energy and at the same time, keep our families safe by investing in alternative sources. Renewables and energy efficiency costs a fraction of what nuclear energy costs and don't come with safety hazards. We need to move away from nuclear power and towards clean energy.

-- Radha Adhar, Sierra Club Associate Washington Representative; and Leslie March, Sierra Club "No Nukes" Campaign co-chair. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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