Next year, Vermont Yankee will join Yankee Rowe in mothballs, two nearby monuments to the era of "too cheap to meter" nuclear power. Nuclear energy, at first oversold, is today underrated, the victim of industry mistakes, legitimate but overwrought fears and trendier forms of energy that also pose risks.
The 41-year-old plant on the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vermont, which borders Northfield, Massachusetts, is a victim of its antiquated design, lower power prices and booming natural gas production. Five other U.S. nuclear power plants are in the process of closing, and the Yankee Atomic closing will cost about 600 workers, many well-paid, their jobs.
Vermont Yankee is also the victim of the leaks at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and the disasters of Chernobyl and Fukishima, the latter just two years ago, which gave the industry a terrible image in spite of a generally good safety record. Every energy source has drawbacks, including natural gas (fracking, methane gas leakage), but those of nuclear power are dramatic and play into deep-rooted fears of anything "nuclear." Less reliance on nuclear power, however, means more reliance on fossil-fuel plants that pollute the atmosphere, as conservation and green energy won't make up the difference.
Ultimately, if the nuclear energy industry is doomed in America it will be because of Washington's refusal to make the hard political decision to put a national nuclear waste site in Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Yankee Rowe was decommissioned 21 years ago and all that remains on the site are 16, 100-ton casks containing spent nuclear fuel that would have been in Yucca years ago if not for baseless opposition from Nevada, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The 30-year-old Yucca saga was back in the news two weeks ago when a federal appeals court ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to stop stalling and take action on the mountain waste site. There is no political will to do so, however, and Washington inertia is draining the life out of what was once a promising industry.