There was a time when I lived in a large western state famous for producing a wide variety of fruits and nuts – both literally in their large agricultural sector and figuratively in their sadly amusing political sector. Since I was only a temporary California resident while attending graduate school, I did not get too concerned about the politics. I knew that the short-sighted, self-destructive policies would not affect my children’s educational opportunities or their ability to live productive lives with reliable sources of energy that made as little impact on the environment as possible.
It is with the same kind of detached interest that I keep up with the silly statements emanating from Montpelier, VT, where there are leaders who have somehow determined that leaking approximately one gallon of nearly pure water that contains picocuries of a few radionuclides is an environmental catastrophe. Those leaders are so jealous of the political power potential reflected in the often repeated mantra of “never let a good disaster go to waste” that they have literally attempted to put that incredibly tiny leak onto the same plane as the Deepwater Horizon gusher.
Yes, believe it or not, there are elected officials in Vermont who believe there is some kind of legitimate comparison between a little burp that dampened a few bucketfuls of soil on the grounds of an industrial facility and a continually growing oil slick contaminating hundreds of miles of fragile coastline and millions of acres of productive deep ocean waters with millions of gallons of gooey, nauseating and potentially deadly petroleum.
Meredith, the writer at Yes Vermont Yankee, is a polite gentlewoman who lives in Vermont and restrains her comments so as not to cause too much conflict among her neighbors. She merely called the offending leaders “crazy”. I am not so restrained; I think they are freaking nuts who are a menace to the people who entrusted them with governmental responsibilities.
If Peter Shumlin, Tony Klein and Shap Smith do not somehow get a clue from their constituents, their actions will force the shutdown of a carefully maintained, valuable facility that produces enough electricity each year to supply 85% of the total amount of electricity used in the state. Vermont Yankee performs that task without producing any greenhouse gases and without requiring much drilling or fuel transportation. Vermont Yankee performs its important task quietly and steadily, no matter whether it is day or night, calm or windy.
Vermont Yankee is, like all other electrical power plants that supply our vital grid, an industrial facility that includes a complex maze of pipes, valves and pumps. To untrained observers, it is a confusing and perhaps even messy place. People who have never worked in a power plant or a factory cannot seem to understand that pipes occasionally leak, pumps occasionally fail and valves occasionally need to be adjusted or repaired. There is a reason that a facility like ENVY employs about 600 people in rotating shifts to monitor and operate the plant.
No industrial facility runs perfectly; all need attention. That is okay; the product of the plant has plenty of real and even lifesaving value so that selling that product pays the cost of operating the plant and making the needed repairs. If Vermont Yankee is forced to shutdown, the replacement power would most likely come from a facility like the Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown, CT, where a leak during construction caused six deaths and dozens of injuries.
Sometimes I wish that certain leaders in our country were not so darned isolated from all of the hard work that is required to keep society sustaining systems running. It would be great if each of them could have the experience of crawling around in basements, running wires in attics, walking through sewers, inspecting storage tanks, and digging ditches so they would understand a bit more about the basic technologies that enable them to live comfortably. Maybe then we would not be subjected to a downright stupid statement of suggesting that all pipes be put above ground, even when the purpose of some of the pipes is to allow gravity to drain fluids that have accumulated through condensation in system low points.