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Nuclear’s Demise, From Fukushima to Vermont August 31, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Japan, Nuclear weapons/power, Vermont.
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Fukushima showed us the intolerable costs of nuclear power. The citizens of Vermont show us the benefits of shutting it down

 

… And they did. (Photo: Greenpeace)Welcome to the nuclear renaissance.

Entergy Corp, one of the largest nuclear-power producers in the US, issued a surprise press release Tuesday, saying it plans “to close and decommission its Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon, Vermont. The station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and move to safe shutdown in the fourth quarter of 2014.” Although the press release came from the corporation, it was years of people’s protests and state legislative action that forced its closure. At the same time that activists celebrate this key defeat of nuclear power, officials in Japan admitted that radioactive leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe are far worse than previously acknowledged.

“It took three years, but it was citizen pressure that got the state Senate to such a position”, nuclear-energy consultant Arnie Gundersen told me of Entergy’s announcement. He has coordinated projects at 70 nuclear plants around the country and now provides independent testimony on nuclear and radiation issues. He explained how the state of Vermont, in the first such action in the country, had banned the plant from operating beyond its original 40-year permit. Entergy was seeking a 20-year extension.

The legislature, in that 26-to-4 vote, said: ‘No, we’re not going to allow you to reapply. It’s over. You know, a deal’s a deal. We had a 40-year deal.’ Well, Entergy went to first the federal court here in Vermont and won, and then went to an appeals court in New York City and won again on the issue, as they framed it, that states have no authority to regulate safety.

Despite prevailing in the courts, Entergy bowed to public pressure.

Back in 2011, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who called Entergy “a company that we found we can’t trust”, said on “Democracy Now!“:

We’re the only state in the country that’s taken power into our own hands and said that, without an affirmative vote from the state legislature, the public service board cannot issue a certificate of public good to legally operate a plant for another 20 years. Now, the Senate has spoken … saying no, it’s not in Vermont’s best interest to run an aging, leaking nuclear-power plant. And we expect that our decision will be respected.

The nuclear-power industry is at a critical crossroads. The much-touted nuclear renaissance is collapsing, most notably in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, compounded by the global financial crisis. In a recent paper titled “Renaissance in Reverse”, Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at the Vermont Law School, writes, “The problem for old nuclear reactors has become acute.” The costs to operate, and to repair, these plants have prompted operators to shutter five of the 104 operating power generating reactors in the US this year alone, leaving 99. Cooper has identified 30 more that he estimates will be shut down, because “the economics of old reactors are very dicey”.

The profound consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power accident are still unfolding, as this week the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Agency increased its assessment of the situation there to “level three”, or serious, on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. The original accident in March 2011 was rated a “seven” on that scale, the highest, most severe, threat. The nuclear fuel rods there require constant cooling by water. The spent cooling water is highly radioactive. The Tokyo Electric Power Co, which ran Fukushima and which has been responsible for all the cleanup, has been storing the radioactive water in hastily-constructed water tanks, which are now leaking. Gundersen said:

The surveys of the area determined that the radiation coming from the ground was five times more in an hour than a normal person would get in a year. Radioactive water is leaking out of this plant as fast as it’s leaking in. So, you’ve got something on the order of 400 tons to maybe even as much as a thousand tons of water a day leaking off of the mountains around Fukushima into the basement of this plant. Well, the basement is highly radioactive because the containment has failed and radioactive material is leaking out from the nuclear core into the other buildings. That’s being exposed to this clean groundwater and making it extraordinarily radioactive. … And the problem is going to get worse.

 

The Fukushima disaster has been compared to the catastrophe in Chernobyl, where a nuclear plant exploded in 1986, making the surrounding region uninhabitable. The radiation is spilling out of Fukushima into an ever-growing radioactive plume in the Pacific Ocean.

Fukushima shows us the intolerable costs of nuclear power. The citizens of Vermont show us the benefits of just saying no.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Single-Payer in Vermont, A State of Healthy Firsts May 26, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Vermont.
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Published on Thursday, May 26, 2011 by TruthDig.com

  by  Amy Goodman

Vermont is a land of proud firsts. This small, New England state was the first to join the 13 Colonies. Its constitution was the first to ban slavery. It was the first to establish the right to free education for all — public education.

Today, Vermont will boast another first: the first state in the nation to offer single-payer health care, which eliminates the costly insurance companies that many believe are the root cause of our spiraling health care costs. In a single-payer system, both private and public health care providers are allowed to operate, as they always have. But instead of the patient or the patient’s private health insurance company paying the bill, the state does.

It’s basically Medicare for all — just lower the age of eligibility to the day you’re born. The state, buying these health care services for the entire population, can negotiate favorable rates, and can eliminate the massive overhead that the for-profit insurers impose.

Vermont hired Harvard economist William Hsiao to come up with three alternatives to the current system. The single-payer system, Hsiao wrote, “will produce savings of 24.3 percent of total health expenditure between 2015 and 2024.”

An analysis by Don McCanne, M.D., of Physicians for a National Health Program, pointed out that “these plans would cover everyone without any increase in spending since the single-payer efficiencies would be enough to pay for those currently uninsured or under-insured. So this is the really good news — single payer works.”

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin explained to me his intention to sign the bill into law: “Here’s our challenge. Our premiums go up 10, 15, 20 percent a year. This is true in the rest of the country as well. They are killing small business. They’re killing middle-class Americans, who have been kicked in the teeth over the last several years. What our plan will do is create a single pool, get the insurance company profits, the pharmaceutical company profits, the other folks that are mining the system to make a lot of money on the backs of our illnesses, and ensure that we’re using those dollars to make Vermonters healthy.”

Speaking of healthy firsts, Vermont may become the first state to shutter a nuclear power plant. The Vermont Legislature is the first to empower itself with the right to determine its nuclear future, to put environmental policy in the hands of the people.

Another Vermont first was the legalization of same-sex civil unions. Then the state trumped itself and became the first legislature in the nation to legalize gay marriage. After being passed by the Vermont House and Senate, former Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed the bill. The next day, April 7, 2009, the House and the Senate overrode the governor’s veto, making the Vermont Freedom to Marry Act the law of the land.

Vermont has become an incubator for innovative public policy.

Canada’s single-payer health care system started as an experiment in one province, Saskatchewan. It was pushed through in the early 1960s by Saskatchewan’s premier, Tommy Douglas, considered by many to be the greatest Canadian. It was so successful, it was rapidly adopted by all of Canada. (Douglas is the grandfather of actor Kiefer Sutherland.)

Perhaps Vermont’s health care law will start a similar, national transformation. The anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Just replace “group” with “state,” and you’ve got Vermont.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

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Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

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