Vermont Yankee – our state’s contribution to adapting to global climate change

By Milton Eaton

Many commentators on Hurricane Irene’s connection to global climate change suggest that we can modify the world’s atmosphere by somehow forcing everyone to change their own independent actions.

I agree that the climate is always changing. Up or down temperatures, earthquake shifts and volcanic action are a part of our world. I lack the certainty of belief shared by others that puny man, with his small share of total gas generation, can significantly affect the climate and weather.

Over many years, I have heard learned scientists carefully explain what they don’t know about clouds and their effect. What they don’t know about El Nino and La Nina, cosmic rays, volcanic ash.

If, after years of study and research we can’t answer those questions, how can we be certain about CO2 effects over hundreds of years? After all, the whole is made up of the parts and moisture is the largest greenhouse gas of all. What is certain is that wealthy nations, with available money to invest, can plan, prepare and invest for change.

Compare the effects of flood, pestilence or earthquake where public health, dikes, stronger building or warning systems exist such as Japan or the United States. Look at Haiti, Indonesia, Pakistan or Turkey. The only help is international and when disaster strikes it is usually with great loss of life.

We all want to help, but, neither Vermont, the United States nor the world, has unlimited wealth. Spending must be prioritized to get the greatest bang for the buck. To address the world’s problems, we must stop wasting our resources on useless, expensive, unproductive government programs. It is strangely true that private programs that are a waste usually quickly disappear – unless those spending the funds are not supplying the money.

With inexpensive energy we can adapt to what Mother Nature gives. I said adapt not moderate. Let me digress a moment and talk about water. 95% of the world’s water is salt or brackish. Of the remaining, over 70% must be pumped to be used by man. Irrigation and intensive agriculture are two of the tools necessary to adapt to global change and population growth. But, cheap energy is what is needed to supply the water and sewage treatment necessary for modern living.

When I look around Vermont I see zero-emissions Vermont Yankee. VY is the source of over 70% of all electricity generated in Vermont. It is either used locally or used regionally to supply New England. It is baseload generation meaning it actually produces 24/7 except for periodic refueling and maintenance outages. At those times, higher cost supply (much of it with emissions) must be imported from outside the state and/or outside the country. VY exists and is monitored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to assure its safe, reliable operation. The necessary transmission transfer stations and lines are in place. All that is needed to continue this clean, economic source of supply are staffing, fuel and maintenance. No new building and clearing, no additional licenses and rights of way.

There is nothing, economically and environmentally speaking, that makes more sense than continuing to safely operate Vermont Yankee until new technology demonstrates a better, more affordable, cleaner alternative. Higher cost energy will only deny a better life for the poor and reduce our job opportunities.

Milton Eaton

Brattleboro, 802-254-6853

Former Vermont Secretary of Development & Community Affairs

U.S. Dept. of Energy Far East Representative to the Kyoto Conference