Friday, January 25, 2008

Physical Comedy 101

Just wondering, Lord,

Which of these stories is funnier?

Story One: The NRC proposed yesterday to slap Entergy today with a $650,000 fine "for its continuing failure to comply with NRC orders to fully implement a new emergency notification system (ENS) with back-up power" at Indian Point. That, according to the New York Times, is 10 times the normal fine. Entergy's response: "Entergy regrets the problems that repeatedly have arisen with the new, state-of-the-art alert system it has been designing, installing and testing for communities around the Indian Point Energy Center. We apologize to our neighbors in those communities for the delays that have occurred in making this new system operable…."

Story Two: In his first day on the job, Colorado State Representative Douglas Bruce stomped down on the knee of a photographer when the photographer took his picture during the House prayer. In a 62-1 vote, his colleagues censured him. In a post on his website in which he refused to apologize for his actions, he explained, "…Had the photographer been standing, I would have tapped his shoulder with my index finger. In modern society, that method of emphasis is not considered an assault."

These are two stories of behavior that might be considered unethical, of censure, and of response to censure. The second one is funnier because someone got hurt, though not terribly hurt, and physical contact involving indignity and pain can be funny. Just ask Laurel and Hardy if you don't believe me. Also it's funny that the state representative didn't apologize and didn't see the need to.

Whereas, in the first story, at least Entergy apologized, which was kind of a nice gesture. Also, no one got hurt, so it couldn't be funny in a physical comedy sort of way. And, come to think of it, if the backup sirens had been needed and they hadn't worked, the physical comedy would have been about either painful death that was relatively quick or cancer death down the line. This is for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people. And that's not funny.

Thanks for helping me think this through, Lord. You may not understand why I asked in the first place. See, it's part of a PR guy's job to be erudite and sophisticated and understand humor. And I think I understand humor.



Wednesday, January 23, 2008

So the NRC Won't Stop the Re-licensing Process. So What?

Dear Lord,

What, do I have to do everything around here? And do I have to do it twice?

People keep asking me if I'm surprised that the NRC denied the requests of certain activists to stop the re-licensing petitions of Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim Power Station in Plymouth and Indian Point nuclear generating units 2 and 3 along the Hudson River just north of New York City.

Well, duh! This is all just more of the same concern about the fact that the NRC's own Inspector General's office complained that applications for re-licensing typically lacked substance. And I've already discussed that little issue--twice! First here and then here (complete with a "Kind of Fun News Quiz") -- and I don't happen to feel like doing it again!

Can't everyone see that I'm having a bad day? If they're all so concerned about whether "substance-free" re-licensing applications might pose a danger to them and their loved ones, they can just refer to my Ten Handy Evacuation Safety and Sanity Tips. And if they happen to work for my PR group they can also check the Core Meltdown Do's and Don't's for PR Employees (For Internal Distribution Only). It's not like the Core Meltdown list is out-of-date or anything. I just posted it, like, this morning.

Jeez. Everyone should get a life!



For Internal Distribution Only

Dear Lord,

You're not a Vermont Yankee employee and it makes me nervous to break the rules and show you this document. But, tell me: In the event of a core meltdown, if the employees in our PR department were to follow these rules, would it amount to a plus or a minus for our image?
For Internal Distribution Only
Core Meltdown Do's and Don't's for PR Employees

Do be gracious and accommodating to each other while escaping, and, for heaven's sake, do remember to take pictures of calm consideration among employees. They will help in our post-meltdown press releases.

Do, as you leave, write a note saying where you've gone and where you can be reached. Put it in a ziplocked bag and tie the bag to a carrier pigeon's leg. Hope that the pigeon survives.

Do remember to grab your resume. There will be few desk jobs after the meltdown and you'll be too disheartened to join the cleanup crew.

Do take a last, good look around you just for the memory's sake. We had fun, didn't we?

Don't bother driving with your lights on. Unless there is fire involved, the stuff that is going to kill you won't darken highway.

Don't bother driving by your home to lock it. By the time anyone can enter your home, technology will have changed. Humans may no longer even be a species.

Don't use off-road shortcuts. The executives need those.

Useful Resources:

  • Can't find your insurance company's phone number? Doesn't matter. You weren't insured.

  • Need free legal advice? Get in line.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rich, Richer

Dear Lord,

Actually, I feel dumb, dumber. In my Honesty prayer I wondered whether Entergy is hiding profits in its Cayman Island subsidiaries.

What I really should have wondered is whether Entergy is hiding debt in its Cayman Island subsidiaries. The public recently learned that the decontamination fund is nowhere near as robust as Entergy claimed in testimony to the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel only a few months ago. What if Entergy's assets are nowhere near what they claim them to be?

One way for owners of a nuclear power plant to get rich is to avoid taxes. But one way to get really rich is hide corporate debt during a relicensing application. In that way, no one would know that insufficient money is at the ready to clean up any disasters created by pushing an aging plant well beyond its limit.

Of course, Lord, I don't know that Entergy's assurances about its financial health are false. Maybe Entergy is as rich as it claims to be in its relicensing application. Similarly, maybe it's as poor as it claims to be on its tax returns. Maybe Entergy isn't hiding anything in those Cayman Island subsidiaries except for maybe some beach umbrellas. Still, I wonder….


Sunday, January 20, 2008

National Wealth Mentality Month


I've been too busy to pray for a while, Lord, what with the Windham Regional Commission meeting and all the local fuss about economic development, health impact, and who is going to pay for what when and if this plant doesn't get its relicensing. And, to be honest, Lord, I'm an "up" kind of guy temperamentally, and I haven't known how to phrase any of my prayers in a positive way given my current despair. I mean, really, what am I supposed to say?

"Dear Lord, please make this Wackenhut security scandal go away and please make people forget that extremely low-level (itty-bitty) radiation exposure has been tied to childhood leukemia. And, as part of that, please make the American Cancer Society stop saying stuff like this:
Organs differ in their sensitivity to the effects of radiation. The thyroid gland and bone marrow are most sensitive to radiation, while the kidney, bladder, and ovary seem to be least affected. Some forms of leukemia, a type of cancer that arises in the bone marrow, appear to be the most common radiation-induced cancers.

"And please make the people of Windham County and nearby New Hampshire and Massachusetts stop imagining the scenario of a significant plume of bad stuff escaping from the plant and turning the children in local schools and day care centers into sitting ducks because there are not enough buses to evacuate all of them at once and the bus drivers, most of whom have taken the job because they have little kids in school and they like it that their work schedules can fit their wee ones' schools schedules so neatly, have panicked about the bus shortage and scampered off to load their own kids into their own private cars and drive like maniacs towards Canada?"

I just couldn't pray that kind of stuff, Lord. It's too negative.

Likewise, I couldn't pray, "Come to think of it, Lord, please make them imagine the 'no one to drive the buses even if there were enough buses' scenario 'cause we can seem somewhat reasonable when we assure them that it's kind of unlikely to be realized. But we can't seem reasonable calming them about the itty-bitty exposure thing because it's actually happening right now." Do you remember this letter of Hattie Nestel in the Vermont Guardian?

Hoping to clarify the issue for Rod and any others who may be unclear about the extremely dangerous side-effects that are created in the fission process of Vermont Yankee, I offer the following information.

Vermont Yankee was made by General Electric Company and is a Mark 1 boiling-water reactor (BWR). BWRs are prone to release radioactive gases under normal operating conditions more so than pressurized-water reactors, originally designed by Westinghouse for use in submarines. BWRs use a “single-loop” design; steam produced by uranium fuel goes directly to electric generator turbines. Pressurized water reactors, PWR, on the other hand, have two loops, one for hot water circulating through hot fuel elements and another for steam going to turbines. The second loop helps prevent radioactivity from reaching the turbines, where it can leak into the environment. Only pressurized-water reactors are used in submarines, and are less prone (though not completely immune) to radioactive leaks than Vermont Yankee.

Fenceline readings are taken around the perimeter of Vermont Yankee to measure these emissions. Bill Irwin, Vermont’s chief of radiological health, recently revealed that Vermont Yankee exceeded the state’s 20-millirem radioactive emissions limit in 1998, 2000, and 2004 and is expected to do so for 2006.

The United States National Academy of Science acknowledged in its 2005 BEIR (Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation) VII report that there is no safe level of exposure to radiation. Furthermore, every radioactive emission from Vermont Yankee raises the background radiation on the planet.

I mean, Lord, how much of an expression of joy in your goodness would a prayer like "please make them think about the buses" be? That's why I won't do it

In its lieu, here is my mid-January prayer.

"Dear Lord, January is National Wealth Mentality Month. Please help everyone who carps about duplicity on the part of Entergy relative to the cleanup fund and who worries about their children getting leukemia and their unborn children growing third arms in utero and all of that (including disaster movie scenarios fit only for drama queens) remember that Vermont Yankee pays significant taxes in the area and has a whole lot of people on payroll."

Because, Lord, January is also International Quality of Life Month, National Be On Purpose Month, and International Life Balance Month. And quality, purpose, and balance are really what life is about.



Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wackenhut Again

Dear God,

Does it bother you that the CEO of Wackenhut, the security firm guarding Vermont Yankee, has just resigned? He has done so in the wake of the scandal that broke when a New York TV station showed a video of an entire roomful of Wackenhut guards sleeping on-duty at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant. In the meanwhile, the NRC has confirmed that Wackenhut's guards have also slept at Florida's Turkey Point plant—and that at Turkey Point they routinely take turns sleeping and serving as lookouts for each other.

If it doesn't bother you that the company with the contract to protect our plant from terrorism apparently cultivates a culture of gross negligence among their guards and is only now beginning to have second thoughts about it now that their stock prices have fallen and people near Turkey Point are taking to the streets, Lord, I'm good with it, too.



Ten Handy Evacuation Safety and Sanity Tips

Actually, God,

Even though I hadn't intended to, I did go to the public meeting of the Windham Regional Commission and I was particularly moved by public concerns about evacuation plans. How will the town of Brattleboro evacuate when a single accident on the highway can tie up traffic thoroughly? Why should the public believe that schools, day care centers, the hospital, and the nursing homes can all be quickly evacuated by school bus when there aren't even enough buses to get kids to and from school except for in shifts? Have arrangements been made to notify people at the Austine School for the Deaf except by audible alarm? And, once they did understand that it was time to flee, how would deaf people understand evacuators' spoken commands?

Then, yesterday's Reformer ran an article about recent changes to the evacuation plan making people nervous, especially given the fact that we neglected to tell people about those changes.

I'm a little unnerved, God, on behalf of the public. And so in a supremely ecstatic 15 minutes of altruistic concern, I have drafted these…

Ten Handy Evacuation Safety and Sanity Tips

1. To beat the traffic, evacuate the day before an emergency.

2. Radiation exposure is especially harmful to children. Build up your children's immunity by programmaticly giving them x-rays beginning shortly after birth

3. Dress your child in a haz-mat suit for Halloween, just in case that's a bad day for us.

4. Always pack your child's lunch box with holy water.

5. Ask your doctor whether cancer is always as serious as you've been led to believe.

6. Remember that, even if your children are in a school in Guilford, Vernon or Brattleboro, no force in creation can stop a good parent like you from cowboying your way through police lines to get to them once they have been cordoned away from you and proclaimed a public health risk to others.

7. Appreciate the way that evacuation puts your life problems in perspective.

8. Try not to read too much into the little details like how in heaven's name you will ever rebuild your life even if you and everyone you love survive.

9. If you actually work at the Vermont Yankee plant, every day ask yourself, "Hmmm, does this coffee taste a little too potassium iodide-y?" Lousy coffee is a morale buster. During an evacuation, a bright outlook will go a long way.

10. Remember that heart disease is actually our nation's number one killer.



Monday, January 7, 2008

The Beauty Pageant of License Renewal

Oh, dear Lord!

A few months back, when Miss Teen South Carolina was asked why a fifth of Americans are not able to locate the US on a world map, she said:

I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uhmmm, some people out there in our nation don't have maps and uh, I believe that our, I, education like such as, uh, South Africa, and uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uhhh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, should help South Africa, it should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for our [children].

Tonight the Windham Regional Council took public input for its own input to the Vermont Public Service Board regarding the potential health and economic effects of Entergy's proposed license renewal. Buffetted by pointed questions (that came before and after her testimony) raised about Vermont Yankee's shoddy evacuation plans, decreasing margins of safety, radiation poisoning of the community, failing equipment, and collusion with the NRC, as well as to accusations of prevarication about decommissioning costs and funds and other blah-blah-blahs like groundwater contamination, perimeter radiation, and the fact that the insurance industry considers nuclear power too high-risk a business to ensure, a blonde Vermont Yankee employee said:

I want to think about positive learning opportunities for people, especially younger generation in the area. I read the paper. I see all the [unintelligible]. I would like to tell you about an organization called WIN. W … I … N. It stands for Women in Nuclear Power. You may have heard of it and you may not. But you can go online and it will open you up to a network. Not only globally, statewide, nationwide, internationally, and we're talking about women who work in the research fields, medicine, and nuclear … – you know, these brilliant young girls that didn't know their [unintelligible] and/or research, or do things that you heard about [unintelligible] you do what you can for your community and know what you can do with this. Um. [Long pause.] This is something you can think about, the reason you should be [unintelligible]. The answer to all your questions and anything you would want to know is out there. It depends on what version you want to read. I've worked in over 16 nuclear plants and I chose to work at this plant because I'll tell you what. My safety is my priority. What is there around here?

Coinky dink? Or does Miss Teen South Carolina work for Vermont Yankee? Either way, her testimony was a "win" for us -– as in Women in Nuclear Power, get it? (But come to think of it, wouldn't that actually be WINP?)

Truth be told, Lord, I am kind of stuck trying to figure out one thing. What did she mean by saying she has "worked in over 16 nuclear plants." Wouldn't that just be "17?"



Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Hard Workers Doing a Heck of a Job

Dear God,

For people wondering whether the NRC can be trusted to protect the people and property it is supposed to protect, I have some thoughts.

They start with a story about the Navajo people of New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona.

On October 24, 2007 the Los Angeles Times reported that "Navajo tribal officials asked Congress on Tuesday [October 23] for at least $500 million to finish cleaning up lingering contamination on the Navajo reservation in the American Southwest from Cold War-era uranium mining, an industry nurtured by its only customer until 1971: the United States government." From 1971 through 1986, the US government was joined by another major customer of Navajo reservation mining: the nuclear power industry. Then the mines were closed.

According to the LA Times, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Ca.), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called the negligence of the NRC and other Federal agencies that resulted in the poisoning of the Navajo reservation "a bipartisan failure for over 40 years" and "a modern American tragedy." He also instructed the NRC as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Indian Health Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to get back to him with a cleanup plan by December. (Cute moment, Lord: According to the LA Times, the EPA Regional Administrator protested that, "he needed 'time' to protect a Navajo community from a radioactive waste pile." Apparently, the 46 years that had already elapsed hadn't been enough time in which to get a plan moving. At which point, "Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) snapped: 'Time passes, Mr. Nastri. People get sick. They get bone cancer, they get leukemia while we wait.'"

People do get sick. The Navajos did. According to the LA Times, under the NRC's careful watch, "the mine operators often left behind open tunnels, shafts and piles of radioactive waste. Federal inspectors knew of the hazards but seldom intervened. Meanwhile, Navajo cancer rates doubled and certain birth defects increased."

What does this have to do with the question of whether the NRC can be trusted to protect the people and property it is supposed to protect? I think the answer is obvious. But what does it have to do with Entergy and, specifically, Vermont Yankee? By the end of January, the NRC will have received from Entergy a petition for a 20-year extension to the operating license of Vermont Yankee. The Windham Regional Commission gets to give input to the NRC about the potential impact of a license extension on regional development. And so, on January 7 at 6:30 pm, the WRC will meet at the Red Roof Inn on Putney Road in Brattleboro to listen to the concerns of everyday people. Which is a long way of saying that January 7 will be an opportunity for the people radiated by Vermont Yankee to help the NRC (via the WRC) do a better job for them than it is doing for the people on the Navajo reservation.

I'm not planning on attending because, if I do, health activists will just make snarky remarks that are ostensibly directed to the WRC but are really aimed at me about the increased job opportunities for oncologists in the area if cancer rates continue to be elevated in the area surrounding Vermont Yankee. Environmentalists will carp (pun intended) about death rates for fish in the Connecticut River and the impact of that on tourism and quality of life. I might get hammered by business people worried about the fact that losses from a catastrophic incident at the plant would not be covered by business insurance. Heck, I might even get yelled at by a homeowner or two because the lack of insurance coverage is a problem for homeowners, as well. Insurance usually doesn't cover such losses--and, by law, neither Entergy nor Vermont Yankee can be sued by homeowners or businesses to make good on any losses, either.

Another cute thing, Lord. You know all of those flaky websites that pop up and appear to give disinterested advice? Well, here's one called Own Home, and it's giving free advice, probably just so home owners will see the ads. (Click the one called "The Love Button: Push Me Hard" and use the Love Compatibility Calculator for a good time. Adorable, huh?) Anyway, Own Home does actually give some good advice. For example, it warns potential home buyers to check whether a nuclear power plant is in the area of the home they intend to buy—-and suggests that people considering buying a home in an area near a nuclear plant express their liability concerns to the owners of the plant. As if we'd listen. The web site also says, "Before purchasing a property, you may want to visit the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission website at to discover if an active plant is located in the area."

Anyway, Lord, a quick update on the Navajo situation. Remember that, in October, Henry Waxman was fed up and not going to take it any more? Well, now he is going to take it some more. On December 7 the LA Times reported that, unfortunately, not much progress had been made since October when Rep. Waxman specified a December deadline. The Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to resume testing for toxics on the Navajo reservation, but it and the other federal agencies involved have yet to come up with overall plans.

Lord, I'm just a lowly PR guy for one lousy nuclear power plant. I had one meagre moment in the spotlight in 2008. It was when I responded to the cooling tower collapse at Vermont Yankee. Actually, yes, there were two automatic shutdowns this year that set my phone to ringing. Oh, yes. There was the week when the White House announced it wanted to kill the potassium iodide program because the potassium iodide program was killing the nuclear industry's good PR. But mostly every day here in Vernon, Vermont is as boring as every other. I envy the Washington suits who do spin control on big issues like this for the NRC. I wonder....

...What will the suits representing the NRC, EPA, BIA, and other agencies possibly say when the incompetence of their clients appears so certain? That the agencies are staffed by hard workers who are doing a heck of a job? I think that's all one could possibly say. I'd say it. Then I'd go to lunch. Then I'd either run for president (I think you automatically get body guards when you do) or high tail it to the Cayman Islands for a much-needed visit to one of Entergy's beach-side offices.