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Cutting more deals

I don't want to be unsympathetic to the plight of people in Vernon, Vt., but the fact that a poorly run nuclear plant is important to the economy of a 2,100-person town is really not that important a consideration in whether that plant should stay open.

Of course, that's easy for me to say, as I don't live in Vernon. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong. Rather, I think it's an argument for becoming more comfortable with directly compensating people who are adversely affected by important policy decisions. Sometimes, something that's really good for a lot of people is really bad for a couple of people, and given the amount of cash at stake in the transaction, we could simply give them money rather than just saying "tough" and hoping we can steamroll their objections. And why not? The folks who bought a house in Vernon didn't know that the guys running the nuclear plant were lying to regulators. Why should they be punished?

By Ezra Klein  |  March 4, 2010; 10:22 AM ET
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It would seem to me that the best course of action for the majority of people both in Vernon and outside of the town is to ensure that plant is run better. I don't know that the government buying off the people of Vernon is a good way to do business.

Posted by: amaranthpa | March 4, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

We compensate people whose property is taken through eminent domain. Tangible, quantifiable, containable. Start tossing money around to compensate for adverse affects of policy decisions and where will it end?

But I bet the folks who live in lower Manhattan would dearly love to be compensated for the adverse affects of the Gitmo trials.

Posted by: bgmma50 | March 4, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Instead of closing the plant outright, they should rebuild the plant into a breeder reactor plant, along the lines of the EBRII design. Since breeder reactors have the capacity to use spent fuel from existing reactors, you would have the capacity to reduce long term radioactive waste products and still use an existin facility with the power grid already in place.

Posted by: markgoede | March 4, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Money doesn't fix the problem. The people should be punished for (a) not taking the time to uncover the truth and (b) electing the people [who didn't take the time to uncover the truth] who put the regulators [who also didn't take the time to uncover the truth] in place.

Citizens are not subjects; rather, each citizen is at the helm of government and regulations. They had every opportunity to review safety records, but failed to do it. They had every opportunity to invest in infrastructure, but failed to do it. Would these people ignore the smells coming from the ovens in a nearby camp, never wondering why so many people enter the camp but none come out?

Why pay off people for failing to take civic responsibility?

Posted by: rmgregory | March 4, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I believe that the plant should stay open. I have heard of no reasonable plan from the people in the legislature who want to close it, on how to replace the energy it creates once the plant is shut down. I have heard them talk about renewable sources like wind, but how many windmills and solar panels are you going to need to replace this base load energy. The people in the legislature who want to shut this plant down say its a saving grace for the environment. Well, once you shut it down where are you gonna get the power for Vermont. Renewable sources will not provide electricity, so what are you gonna have to resort to? Getting power from out of state which will probably be electricity produced by coal. The plant provides, I believe from the last time i checked the Dep. of Energy's website, that Vermont Yankee nuclear provides 73% of Vermont's overall electric needs. And nuclear does not have the polluting affects of coal or other fossil fuels. As for the safety concerns, one of the "major" problems is that part of a cooling tower collapsed spilling everywhere. Now, this collapse is not a good thing, not at all, but the fact is that the cooling tower is in no way linked to the reactor and could have never caused anything bad to happen. Even if it some how affected the reactor, the reactor would have SCRAMed itself and powered down. Another "major" problem was the tritium leak. While tritium is a pretty bad substance there was NO TRACE of tritium was FOUND in local drinking water and thus is no threat. It would also take a ridiculous amount of tritium for adverse affects to happen to your body. If this plant closes people in Vermont will be paying extremely higher electric bills. Keep Vermont Yankee open!!

Posted by: jriehl | March 4, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

If their plant is shut down they'll get unemployment benefits. Maybe we can make an addition to those benefits because it's based on direct government action, but I think that's opening up a big can of worms.

I think the much better solution is for the government to invest money in the town eithe refitting the plant or in some other project that will provide continuing jobs. Maybe poorly run power plants are a good place to try alternative energy experiments like charter school try experiments with education?

Posted by: MosBen | March 4, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

the 73% stat

Posted by: jriehl | March 4, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

On the other hand, the idea of requiring compensation for the adverse affects of policy decisions could have a great deal of merit, provided the expense of compensation was borne solely by those responsible for making the policy decision and not the body politic.

Posted by: bgmma50 | March 4, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

When it comes to bad news, the truth is ALWAYS worse than what they admit.

If there's a leak, then it's worse than they admit.

It is this tendency by the nuke & chemical & energy industries that leads me to be overly cautious in allowing new nuke/coal-sequestration plants. Until we secure a way to guarantee that all safety/environmental issues at all new plants are made public on a timely and responsible basis, I am opposed to new nuke/coal-sequestration plants.

Posted by: Lomillialor | March 4, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Maybe they could agree to shut down the plant on the condition that all the replacement power be generated within the state lines of Vermont. Wind, solar, coal, whatever, but the jobs and the environmental footprint stay inside the state. That should be fun to watch.

Posted by: tl_houston | March 4, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

People are drawn to live in Vernon because the property taxes are so much lower than in the rest of Vermont. Why are the taxes lower? There is a nuclear plant situated in their town, covering a large portion of the town's budget. The citizens of Vernon have been compensated, in a way that Hinsdale, NH (a few hundred feet across the river from the plant), or Northfield, MA, (just over the border), or Guilford, VT (just next door) haven't been, for 38 years and running.

Posted by: dukejcb | March 4, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

We're talking about a nuclear power plant in Vermont, *Vermont*, where most of the state residents (outside of Vernon) don't want it, the corporate management resides outside the state, most of the workers at the plant (two thirds) reside outside the state, the management has repeated lied to regulators and legislators, and the plant has suffered multiple radiation leaks, some right before the vote on its licensing. If you can't refuse to extend the license of the plant under these circumstances, then you basically can never do so.

Incidentally, I live a few miles from Vernon and pass by Vermont Yankee on the train at least once a month.

Posted by: dfhoughton | March 4, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

As to the source of future power (left unsaid in the article), Entergy was offering power to Vermont utilities at a rate far above market rates -- the price of Vermont Yankee electricity would have been on par with the (also overpriced) electricity readily available from HydroQuebec. Furthermore, it has been estimated that the electricity Vermont gets from VT Yankee could be replaced by retrofitting 100,000 Vermont homes to be more energy efficient.

Posted by: dukejcb | March 4, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

If the company couldn't run the plant properly with license renewal and a $3.5-billion spinoff plan on the line, that pretty much says it all about their competence and probity.

But on the compensation issue, we are comfortable compensating some people for the results of policy decisions, e.g. the NAFTA tribunal that can award damages for foregone profits to companies who want to do business in another country but won't meet its regulatory requirements. Just not flesh-and-blood people. (There used to be something called trade adjustment assistance for workers who lost jobs because of trade agreements, but somehow no one every seemed to qualify for it.)

Posted by: paul314 | March 4, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

The automobile industry would be healthier today if the feds had spent the auto bailout money moving and retraining workers instead of propping up GM and Chrysler.

Posted by: MisterSavannah | March 4, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Just so people understand, the plant will not be instantly closed in 2012 when the license is not renewed. Nor will anyone's lights go out.

Many employees - perhaps more than there are now - will remain at the plant for years and perhaps decades of decommissioning. Entergy has been required by law to maintain a decommissioning fund since it took over the plant.

And state utilities will merely buy their electricity from somewhere else, probably HydroQuebec, so it's not as though the whole state is going to go dark.

The issue of property values is certainly trickier, but the jobs are not going to be a problem for some very long time to come.

(BTW, I too live a few miles from Vernon, being the spouse of dfhoughton.)

Posted by: PJM2 | March 4, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Fact one, ‘King Coal’ kills over 25,000 Americans a year due to particulate pollution alone.-US EPA.

I would like to ask all the anti nukes who were against Vermont Yankees licenses renewal just how many Americans do they think they will be responsible for killing after Yankee closes down? There is no way the anti nukes can shirk their impending responsibility for the eventual death of hundreds if not thousands of American citizens. Fact two, once Vermont Yankee closes the Northeastern United States will rely more on ‘King Coal’ to produce its electricity.

With the closure of Vermont Yankee it will be impossible to reach the zero emission carbon levels that we need to achieve in the Northeast. In fact due to alternative energies expense and unreliability it is in all likelihood we will not be able to reach the low carbon levels that the Northeast currently achieves when Yankee is in operation. Yes the statuesque will change with the closure of Vermont Yankee. Unfortunately come the fall equinox of 2012 it will change for the worse.

Once again I ask the planet killing anti nukes to come out and take responsibility for future deaths that will be caused due to the closer of Vermont Yankee.

I would laugh about the insanity of it all if I were not already crying,


Posted by: jfarmer9 | March 4, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

As a Vermonter who was arrested in front of Yankee in 1980 and who helped work for the Senate vote on its scheduled closure, let me point out a couple of things:

Thing 1 - I have no idea where DoE is getting its numbers as to how much of VT's power comes from Yankee. Right now, it's about one-third, and that is slated to be reduced to about 11 percent if Yankee continues to operate after 2012. Oh, and we'd have to pay nearly 50 percent more for what we get.

Thing 2 - As to replacement power, I hope, as tlhouston noted, that we replace Yankee's poison power with renewables. In the short run, that may be difficult, but certainly not in the long. Our fifth-largest utility, btw, ended its purchases of nuclear and fossil fuel energy 8 years ago, and its customers haven't seen a rate hike since.

Posted by: scaypgrayce | March 5, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

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