Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A New York State of Mind

Dear God,

The New York Times headline of August 26 was "Indian Point Plan Could Tax Taxpayers," and that sounded like bad news for the citizens of New York. But really what was being announced was good news, far better stated by The Journal News headline of, "Indian Point Spinoffs Won't Cost New York Taxpayers, Attorney General Says." The JN text: "The plan by Indian Point's operators to spin off into a new company its nuclear reactors there and in three other states will not cost New York taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, as had been feared." The reason: Entergy announced on August 25 that it had agreed to pay the New York Power Authority as much as $3232 million in the revenue sharing it had originally promised.

Dear Lord, do you think such a thing could happen here? Could Entergy, for example, agree to top off the Decommissioning Fund as originally promised? $432 million would just about do it. I remember that the Vermont legislature passed a bill specifying that the Decommissioning Fund be fully funded by Entergy before the spinoff could be considered--and that Jim Douglas, the governor of Vermont, vetoed the bill, fearing that Entergy would get mad, take its football, and go home. I guess he should have just held out, because clearly Entergy is in the mood to play ball, or at least to write checks. Or, actually, at least to promise yet again to write checks that it either will or won't write.

Maybe if we whined appealingly?

Which brings to mind ... well, I was going to say "a joke" but I've probably offended people with my jokes. Actually, what has come to mind is a vivid metaphor.

Man walks into a bar. He growls to a woman (no, she's not necessarily a blonde), "Yum. Everything about you looks good. I'm going to rape you and take your boots."

The woman whines, as appealingly as she possibly can given her abject terror, "Oh, no, sir. Please don't rape me and take my boots."

Man says, "Ok. You can keep your boots."

If only Entergy would let Vermonters have the fully funded Decommissioning Fund they once promised. Then we could probably get the license renewal, and that is, after all, where the bulk of our lust is directed.



Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Seven Immutable Laws of Numbered Lists

Dear Lord,

Why am I so drawn to stupid prayer titles? Anyway, this is actually just a seven-item to-do list that I'm going to iterate here.

I've got to:

1. Get a hold of the guy from Gretna who calls himself "Who Knows." After the PSB meeting last Monday, he wrote insults about Brattleboro area anti-nuke activists on the Reformer's news blog. What he wrote was this:

I was at the hearing last night and now have no worries whatsoever about VY not being successfully relicensed. The anti-nuke crowd is a literal freak show of the marginally employable. It'd be nice if you could heat and power your home with ignorance and paranoia since there was a limitless supply of it there last night.

That guy's a walking PR nightmare for Vermont Yankee. We're trying to play down the Louisiana link here, and we don't want to be seen as filled with scorn for ill-dressed Vermonters.

I've found some information that might put the point of view of "Who Knows" from Gretna, Louisiana in perspective. First of all, Gretna is the location of Entergy's primary data center. Second, some people dislike Gretna intensely. This is from Really.

During the aftermath of hurricane Katrina people were told to evacuate New Orleans by crossing the bridge that lead from New Orleans to Gretna. The bridge spans the Mississippi river linking New Orleans to the west bank city of Gretna. If you were black or in the company of blacks you were blocked from evacuating New Orleans by the Gretna police.

Gretna Police Chief Arthur S. Lawson, Jr. ordered his officers to kill any black people that tried to cross the bridge that lead into Gretna. His officers shot at blacks or people in the company of blacks that tried to cross the bridge….

The Gretna police blocked the evacuation route for days. Shooting in the air and above the heads of blacks who were trying to get out of New Orleans during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. These gun shots from the white police officers of Gretna were mistaken by rescue workers in New Orleans as sniper attacks. This lead to the grounding of ambulance helicopters that thought they were being fired at when in reality it was the Gretna police shooting in the air and over the head of black people trying to cross the bridge. Much, if not all, of the reported shooting in New Orleans was actually coming from the Gretna police shooting off their guns and assault riffles at the black victims of hurricane Katrina just trying to get out of the city of New Orleans.

I don't know what of any of this is true. For example, here's a comment left at that interprets those incidents differently:

Racist against whites, blacks, hispanics….who? ALL were kept from the city in the aftermath of Katrina-EVEN GRETNA CITIZENS/PROPERTY OWNERS. So, its “racist” to keep looters out of the city? [Why else would they try to come in??…there were no stores or shelters open and no services available] After the entire city of New Orleans had been cleaned out, Mayor Nagin gave those criminals “permission” to cross the bridge and “take what they needed”. He didn’t, however, tell them to go to his house and take what they needed!! NONE of the Gretna citizens wanted those criminals here….white, black, hispanic, asian…you name it. Too bad that we have a bunch of sour grapes criminals and liberals, who are seeking their 15 minutes of fame, getting involved in things that they know nothing about. If they’re so insulted by the actions of Gretna, why don’t they give their names and addresses out so those criminals can “take what they need” from THEIR houses!! Good job Gretna!!! This is a great place to live!!

Needless to say, even though I work for Entergy I have no idea what actually happened during Katrina in Gretna. But it's not going to work to our advantage if people up here realize that the guy we may have brought in from Gretna is hurling slurs at them. And it certainly isn't going to get those activists to dress any better when they attend the following meeting:

September 22, 2008
7 PM
Docket 7440 - Petition of Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, LLC, and Entergy
Nuclear Operations, Inc. to Extend License of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power

Meeting held via Vermont Interactive Television at the following sites.

Bennington -- Mt. Anthony Lodge, 504 A Main Street, Basement
Brattleboro -- Brattleboro Union High School, 131 Fairground Road, Room 125
Castleton -- Castleton State College, Stafford Academic Center, Room 142
Johnson -- Johnson State College, Bentley Hall, Room 211
Lyndonville -- Lyndon State College, 1001 College Road
Middlebury -- Hannaford Career Center, 51 Charles Avenue, 2nd Floor
Montpelier (broadcast site) -- Vermont Department of Labor, 5 Green Mountain
Newport -- North Country Union High School, 209 Veterans Avenue
Randolph Center -- Vermont Technical College, VIT Studio, Morrill Hall
Rutland -- Stafford Technical Center, 8 Stratton Road, Room 222
Springfield -- Howard Dean Education Center, 307 South Street, 2nd Floor
St. Albans -- Bellows Free Academy, 4 Hospital Drive
Waterbury -- State Office Complex, Stanley Hall, 103 South Main Street
White River Junction -- Community College of Vermont, CCV Upper Valley, 145
Billings Farm Road
Williston -- Blair Park, 451 Lawrence Place

Well, Lord, it turns out that I actually don't have another six items to place on this to-do list. "The Seven Immutable Laws of Numbered Lists" was just a (misleading) way to call attention to an important meeting. Guess I fooled you this time, didn't I?



Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ignorance is Bliss

Dear God,

If the Vermont Yankee plant needs an overhaul of its entire crumbling cooling system, who do you think will pay for that?

I ask because, in New York, the governor is demanding an answer to the "who buys a new cooling system?" question, and he is asking it regarding the two Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants that are owned by Entergy (and are, like Vermont Yankee, targeted for spinoff to Enexus). According to today's New York Times, if the Indian Point plants become the property of Enexus:

Entergy could ... be insulated from more than $1 billion in costs related to a potential overhaul of the cooling system at Indian Point.

God, back when Entergy bought the Vermont Yankee plant, the answer to a question about who pays for a new cooling system for it would have been "Entergy." This year, though, Entergy is arguing that it doesn't own the plant. Logically, this suggests that this year's answer would be "Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, never mind that it's a wholly owned subsidiary." By 2009, if the spinoff of assets to Enexus is approved, the answer would be "Enexus," only there is no evidence that I know of that Enexus has an extra billion dollars lying around. Neither (I'm guessing) could it borrow a billion dollars, given the newly disastrous state of the credit market. If the cooling system could not be replaced, the plant might have to be shut down, which means the state of Vermont would be looking at an extraordinarily dangerous asset that it would need to guard and decontaminate, pretty much all on its own.

Yes, by saying "all on its own" I may be exaggerating. Surely there is some money left in the Decommissioning Fund after this week's stock market roller coaster. How much, Lord? I ask because I believe that this is the kind of question your omniscience is supposed to be good for.

And I ask because, with all of the cooling tower problems we have had since August of 2007, I'm increasingly worried about the integrity of the entire cooling system seems. So, apparently, is the Department of Public Service.

Note to self: This week's two videotaped statements (this one and that one) have gone over great gonzos. Soon I should prepare a videotaped statement on the subject of "who pays for a new cooling system" but I shouldn't use it--not yet. My sole task should be to get everyone to think about Sarah Palin. I'll keep them in blissful ignorance about the obvious probability of deep, possibly disastrous decay until after the spinoff to Enexus.



Friday, September 19, 2008

I Came, I Saw, I Thought 'No Big Deal'

Dear God,

I told you a blonde joke once before, Lord, when I thought it relevant to our dire PR situation here at Vermont Yankee. You gave no celestial sign of having been offended, perhaps because I specifically asked you to substitute the term "trusting Vermonters" wherever you saw the word "blonde." So I will risk telling another blonde joke. This time, as before, please substitute "trusting Vermonters" for the word blonde, and throw in an obsequieous reference to people living nearby in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

On a flight from New York to Paris, soon after take-off the pilot announces: "I'm sorry, but we have lost one of our engines. Subsequently, we will arrive in Paris approximately half an hour late."

A few minutes later, he comes on again:

"Hate to disappoint you folks, but another engine is down. Don't panic - we've still got two going, but now we'll be about 2 hours late."

After another few minutes, he comes on again:

"Look, I am really sorry about this, but somehow we have lost our third engine. Still nothing serious to worry about, but we will be about five hours late to Paris."

After hearing this, a blonde turns to the guy sitting next to her and remarks,

"If we lose the other one, we'll be up here all night."

Which is all a long way of introducing the reason for today's prayer. Dear Lord, we've discovered today for the third time that beams in one of our cooling towers are on the verge of collapse. The first time, you'll remember, a tower actually collapsed. The second time our maintenance team got there with hammers, nails, and "permanent fixes" before things got photogenically calamitous. We've been fortunate again, Lord, and I thank you for that. Because not only did we discover the problem before we had to shut the plant entirely down, but the regulators from the NRC and DPS and, most importantly, the trusting people of Vermont (and nearby Massachusetts and New Hampshire) have found comfort in our assurances that cooling tower problems are not safety related.

But you've gotta wonder, Lord: When, oh when, will the regulators and public understand that, if all of the non-critical components of this aging plant are beyond our control, some of the critical components might be?

In the meanwhile, the control room operators and I are going to spend the day playing whack-a-mole. Let my phone ring; I've got to boost my own morale so I can help my employer boost everyone else's. And, anyway, I've already arranged for a reassuring video message to be played for the public. Like yesterday's message after the 60 gallon-a-minute leak was discovered, it's not actually me on the videotape. (This time it's a blonde; think "trusting Vermonter, etc." when you see her.) And, like yesterday's message, it's not exactly about nuclear power. But in talking about maps, the blonde does aptly convey my corporate optimism. Things will get better here at Vermont Yankee, because anything less would just not be fair.

That, and if this plant were an airplane, we'd have fallen out of the sky by now.

Miss Teen USA 2007 - South Carolina Answers a Question



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nobody But the NRC Says "Boo" About Safety

Dear God,

I'm right about that, aren't I? Nobody but the NRC gets to assess our safety record or put into place new regulations? Thank you, thank you, thank you for this blessing!

Because as of this afternoon people are going to want to regulate the hell out of us. Even the DPS may feel "disappointed." As you probably know (in your all-knowingness you saw this coming, right?), just a few hours ago we discovered that the plant is leaking again, prodigiously. And since we at Vermont Yankee are not as omniscient as you, we have only just figured this out, and we have yet to determine exactly how many leaks there are. Could you consider giving us some hints? Like maybe if I spun around three times and kept my eyes shut really tight while holding an 8 ball between my knees and saying three Hail Marys backwards in Pig Latin you could miraculously cause a few of my fingers to levitate, such fingers signaling a precise count of how many leaks we've sprung? One or two? Three?

Please, Lord. I need to know because I need personally to assure the public that we're ahead of the curve on this, our third leak in a very short while. I need people to know that we are normally very good at routine maintenance, or at least that we're trying harder since the NRC scolded us for being really bad at routine maintenance.

Truth be told, Lord, I've got a special PR problem regarding all of this. See, it's quittin' time. That and it's been a long day. It's even been a long week, what with the PSB hearing on Monday. I wish I'd prepared a videotaped statement regarding this new leak, but, frankly, I was too tired to do that. So I'm thinking I'll use a generic videotaped statement that I have on hand. It's not actually me in the videotape, and the person in the tape is not actually talking about a leak--or even about a nuclear power plant. But, God Almighty, he makes the very same sort of denials and assurances that I'll make tomorrow when I get to the office. So I hope to use it, but first to edit in a subtitle. Whenever the guy in the videotape says "ship," I'll have the words "cooling towers" appear in the lower third of the screen.

Created by Barrels of Sea

I dunno. I think it's good enough for government work. 'Cause I'm right, yes? Nobody but the NRC gets to say "Boo" about safety!



Tuesday, September 16, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Dear God,

Last night I went to the Public Service Board's hearing on Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee's petition for a Certificate of Public Good. It was held in the gym at Vernon Elementary School. The crowd was far larger than is usual for hearings like this, and I don't know if this was because last night's hearing would be one of Vermonters' last chances to be heard or if it was because the good citizens of Vernon have strong opinions about the nuclear power plant that sits across the street from the elementary school. If it was the second, I'm guessing that their opinions are largely negative about VY, for opponents of the plant vastly outnumbered its supporters.

Perhaps because we at Entergy failed to really control the message in the room, I found the evening exhausting and depressing. But I'm going to do my best to find positive things to say about it in this prayer. First and foremost, I was impressed by the gym's d├ęcor. Slogans like "Dare to Be Different" and "Do Your Best" hung on the walls, and as I took my own seat I hoped that we could all find inspiration therein. "Aim High; Work Together." "Don't Bunt. Aim Out of the Ballpark."

But nothing inspired or even inspirational happened. It almost did. It had the smidgen of a chance. For example, I was surprised and delighted when I first entered the gym and saw that prominently over the PSB table was a sign that said "Twisting Twirlers." What a great idea someone had had to arrange for the Babes of the PSB to host the hearing! But, no. The commissioners sent by the PSB were three John McCain look-alikes who turned their caring ears to each and every sob story they heard. The pro-VY'ers wailed about safety, reliability, and (damn, I can never remember the third one) … right. Greenliness. But easily 2/3 of the people in the room wanted VY closed. (I'm thinking that may also be about the percentage of Vermonters in general who'd favor closing the plant.) For the anti-nukers, the only difference between last night's meeting and all other public input nights was that, last night, not all their speakers were older than 55. Indeed, one speaker was 11 years old. Two of the most powerful speakers were mothers of young children, and they were mad as hell and clearly not in the mood to take anything anymore from Entergy.

Note to self: Make sure we give money to some rec league or something those two mothers and that kid like, and pronto. And in the meanwhile, unplug the energy to their subdivisions so they can judge for themselves how they like the reality of taking nothing from us.

There were a few exhausted bunnies in the crowd (Really! People in Playboy Bunny outfits! What will those protesters think of next?), looking so bedraggled that even though my views on energy and Entergy are different from theirs I kindly pointed out to them the one truly helpful platitude on the gym walls: "Injured? Remember RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)." Anything I can do to make a friend at this point, I'll do, conscience be damned. If I make inane overtures about first aid when it's not actually needed or if I make empty promises to help the community near Vermont Yankee flourish, it will be no worse than what my bosses have done, promising to fully fund the Decommissioning Fund, to actually fix the cooling tower problem a year ago August, to prepare the plant to handle a 20% power boost safely, to help create workable evacuation plans, to allow the oversight panel enough time to do its work well, to scale back operation if ever the fence line radiation exceeds 20 milli-Roentgens, and, of course, to shut the plant down in 2012.

And besides, making empty promises about safety, reliability, and greenliness has wonderful precedent. It's what Daniel Day-Lewis won the Academy Award for Best Actor for last year in There Will Be Blood. Sure, he robbed those communities of their vigor. Sure a few people died, and he was really a monster in the end. But look at the good side. He got a lot of applause turning into a monster. I think it's safe to say that he fulfilled a lifelong dream.

"If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It." Another of the inspirational slogans on the gym walls last night. Truth be told, it was my favorite.



Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name

Dear God,

God, this prayer is going to be my second prayer about Sarah Palin. I know that I normally pray about nuclear power, but this Sarah Palin obsession I'm developing is not really as "off topic" as it might seem.

Lord, I've got an unnatural attraction to news stories about this woman. And not in a positive way. It's a problem how upset I can get about her. Which is weird, because I'm not even a Democrat. Or a Republican. Or an anything other than a uniformly agreeable PR flak for a major world threat. And so, up until this morning, I couldn't understand why I am focused so intently upon her.

And now I know. Sarah Palin created something of a reputation for herself as a Christian book banner in Alaska. Rumor has it that one of the books she wanted banned was Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

OMG! you might say, except that you're God so you wouldn't.

I'll bet that I'm unnaturally upset about Sarah Palin because somewhere in my subconscious I knew that she would, if given half a chance, heap her trademark scorn on me, my Are You There, God? prayer diary, and every last one of my prayers to you.

So right now, in order to distance myself emotionally from this increasingly distrubing person, I am going to list the many ways in which Sarah Palin and I are nothing at all alike.

  • Sarah Palin claims experience in foreign policy because she lives near Russia. I live near-ish Canada, and claim no such expertise, though I do make a great Baked Alaska.
  • Sarah Palin is dressed for the 70s. When I go to public input PSB or WRC meetings and the like, I am dressed for any era in the woods, all in an attempt to subliminally assure everyone that, like them, I'm a real Vermonter even though I live in Massachusetts.
  • Sarah Palin was for the "Bridge to Nowhere" before she was against it. (She didn’t oppose the “Bridge to Nowhere” until after her support for it helped reap Alaska a blank check for $223 million in US taxpayers’ money.) My waffling requires fewer words to explain: I wasn't against topping off the Decommissioning Fund until someone suggested that it be done.
  • Sarah Palin defends her own pregnant daughter’s right to reproductive choice even as she would deny the independent choices of all other women. I take no public position on issues that concern women other than to wish them all the best in evacuating their children if anything goes wrong here. (See my Ten Handy Evacuation Safety and Sanity Tips.)
  • Sarah Palin shoots moose. I shoot beaver. (Actually, that's a gross overstatement, and I got my genders all mixed up. What I should say is that I had at one time hoped to engage in a discreet photographic session in which Philip Baruth and The Dudes would take pictures of me draped in a towel, posed in front of the Vermont Yankee plant. And even though Philip promised his wide readership to one day post "a bold and courageous series" of nude pictures of me, as of today he continues to be one big romantic disappointment.)
  • Unlike our current Vice President, if Sarah Palin shoots you in the face, it's going to be because she was aiming for you. My actions might kill you, but I won't mean anything personal by it and it won't be entirely my fault. Furthermore, if things actually got that bad, my actions would probably help kill everyone else in this area (probably even me) and so I'd never be held personally accountable.

God, Sigmund Freud said that all fears are concealed wishes. I fear Sarah Palin, God. I even loathe her, which is probably a sin. Could it be that I actually love her?

(Cue lightning.)



Sunday, September 7, 2008

Nuclear Fart Bear

Dear Lord,

"Wasn't me." That's what we say here at Vermont Yankee when someone creates an awful smell in a crowded elevator. And then someone else always makes a remark about how at least we know it's not a radiation leak, because radiation has no odor.

"Wasn't me." That's also what we say here at Vermont Yankee when someone does something stupid that causes an emergency. I'm talking about events like security breaches, the failure of the crane break earlier this year, and the emergency shutdown of the plant last September. According to the Rutland Herald, there have been so many of these that "the NRC's regular midcycle report to Entergy Nuclear dated Sept. 2 pointed out the utility had received six inspection findings in one year with the 'cross-cutting' problem of human performance."

"Safe, clean, and reliable" is another one of our favorite expressions at Vermont Yankee. I'd rank it right after "Wasn't me." Granted, as VPIRG pointed out, "safe, clean, and reliable" may smell about as pleasant as one of our famously fragrant elevators, considering our ongoing record of human error.

Hey, Lord, here's another "Wasn't me"--maybe my favorite. I didn't ask Sarah Palin to be the Republican's vice presidential candidate. No one here at Vermont Yankee did! Though I do thank you, Lord, for putting that bug in John McCain's ear. Because that announcement preoccupied everyone in the media during much of the very week that VPIRG announced it was suing Entergy for engaging in deceptive advertising. VPIRG got about four inches of frantic newsprint for that lawsuit, and then everyone got distracted. "Sarah Palin." "Sarah Palin." "Sarah Palin." Thank you, Lord. I'd rather read that than "Shut the damn plant down!" over and over.

Just like New Orleans dodged the bullet of the hurricane, we here at Vermont Yankee dodged VPIRG. And while I wish I could take credit for how quickly that crisis evaporated, I have to admit once again that it …

Wasn't me.

Anyway, Lord, the control room operators and I have been playing this cool Nuclear Fart Bear game that I found on the Internet. It's plenty clean, safe, and reliable, and lots of innocent butterflies die.

Amen, and thanks again for a great week,


Monday, September 1, 2008

Attack of the Bad Fad

Dear Lord,

We all know that Entergy and the Department of Public Service are coming under fire for not allotting enough time for the State Legislature's special oversight panel (tasked with overseeing the comprehensive reliability assessment of Vermont Yankee nuclear power) plant to do its work,...

And we all know that Stephen Wark, spokesman for Vermont's Department of Public Service, has assured the public that there is enough time between now and December for the panel to do the work, ...

And we all know that the Department of Public Service and Entergy have long been accused of "being in bed together."

What we didn't know 'til now is that they got out of bed—not because they developed moral qualms, but because they had some place to go that would be more beneficial to the public they serve. Hoping to calm a growing anger about having created a situation in which 20,000 person hours of work needs to be completed, reviewed, and written up by December, they attempted to imaginatively dramatize that time is just an illusion.

The demonstration, unfortunately, focused on space (time's counterpart in the time-space continuum.) Dressed in large fur coats, straw boater hats and two-toned Oxfords, 34 middle managers from both Entergy and the DPS crowded together into a single telephone booth, ate live goldfish and sang "Boola, boola." Unfortunately, someone in the press called the Humane Society.

As have most claims from Entergy and/or the DPS, the claim of 34 people in that one booth fell prey to doubts about its credibility. Stephen Wark, however, adeptly and subtly countered all doubts. "This is not really a question of numbers," he explained. "Rather, it is about innovation. Today we have discovered clear evidence that DPS and Entergy together are willing and able to give apparently un-solveable problems the old college try."

When personally scolded before rolling BCTV cameras by the Humane Society for failing to protect innocent goldfish, Wark assured the nearly hysterical animal protection advocate, "Safety and environmental effects are the purview solely of the federal government."

In the meanwhile, environmentalists have added goldfish to the list of species endangered by the slowly ticking radioactive time bomb.

More on this, later, Lord.

Boola, boola!