Anti-Nuclear Activists Treated as Experts

by Meredith Angwin

On April 18, Robert Alvarez spoke to the Vermont House Natural Resources and Energy Committee about spent fuel storage at Vermont Yankee. I attended a large portion of that meeting and I also collected his handout. The legislature is considering a tax on spent fuel.

At the meeting, Alvarez spoke at length about the dangers of spent fuel. He advised that, for safety, much of the spent fuel should be taken out of the fuel pool and placed in dry casks. He also spoke about taxing the fuel, and about decommissioning.

In other words, he gave the standard anti-nuclear talk. Upon questioning, Alvarez admitted that the organization he works for is opposed to nuclear energy, and further admitted that he has no technical degree, though he has been a politically-appointed “policy advisor” in the Department of Energy.

My first reaction was to wonder why the Vermont legislature had invited Alvarez to testify. My second reaction was to try to figure out what he was trying to say. Why did he talk about safety? Has safety got something to do with taxation? The NRC regulates safety at nuclear plants. Hopefully, Vermont does not plan to spend more money trying to regulate nuclear safety and then losing court cases. If the legislature was trying to figure out how to tax Vermont Yankee, it seems they need a tax expert, not someone who would tell them scary things about radiation in the spent fuel pool.

Why was our committee listening to these scare stories, with no engineer to testify in rebuttal? Anti-nuclear activists claim the spent fuel pools burned at Fukushima, but they didn’t. The new NRC commissioner, Allison MacFarlane, visited Fukushima in December and walked all around the unit 4 plant. She could not have done this if there had been fires and criticalities in the fuel pool.

And what does any of this have to do with taxation?

I would like our legislature to be more than a bully pulpit that gives anti-nuclear activists an opportunity to get press coverage.

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Meredith Angwin is a former Project Manager in the Nuclear Group at the Electric Power Research Institute, and currently Director of the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute.