Tuesday, December 30, 2008

All Male Strip Tease

Dear Lord,

You know that little marquee at the bottom of each page of this prayer blog? The one that flashes headlines regarding Entergy, Enexus, NRC, and Vermont Yankee? Well one of those headlines caught my attention. It's from Science News, and it reads,

EPA Should Test Demasculinizing Pollutants Collectively, NRC Says

When I saw it, I was like, "Whoa! Why haven't I heard about that before?" As it turns out, this story took me by surprise because "NRC" in this case is "National Research Council," not "Nuclear Regulatory Commission." Am I annoyed at the mixing up of non-nuclear headlines into my nice marquee of nuclear ones? Not at all. I see this as a God-given PR opportunity. See, demasculinizing pollutants get a lot of attention—but, to my knowledge, they have yet to be tied to Vermont Yankee or nuclear power. And that's news! That's the kind of news that makes the people of Vermont Yankee want to get up, get up, get up and dance!

And so, Lord, to make the most of this PR opportunity I have convinced a few of the great bods around here to form a little group -- The Demasculinizing Pollutants -- and do a little inspirational, feel-good dance. I give you the hotties of Vermont Yankee: Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard, DPS Chief David O'Brien, former Greenpeace "founder" Patrick Moore, Governor Jim Douglas, and Brattleboro Museum and Art Center Director Danny Lichtenfeld (who once testified to the Windham Regional Commission that, while he could not speak to the important safety, political, and economic concerns regarding nuclear power, he was grateful to Vermont Yankee for its corporate generosity), by which endorsement he finally gave the lie to the idea that "Entergy Can't Push Everyone Around".

Let's all give a warm round of applause to Vermont Yankee's Demasculinizing Pollutants!

Amen--and have a Happy New Year!,


Monday, December 15, 2008

Huge Madoff-Style Fraud Discovered at Vermont Yankee

Dear God,

The absolute worst has happened at Vermont Yankee, and it's not a meltdown, though that's what we've spent the last 40 years fearing.

The independent panel overseeing a comprehensive vertical audit of the reliability of Vermont Yankee's systems, structures and components has discovered that, just as Bernie Madoff ran an investment management company that was actually a Ponzi scheme, Entergy has been running a nuclear power plant that is actually a non-functioning collection of plungers, Roto Rooters, and rolls of Charmin.

According to the independent oversight panel, upon receiving the keys to the plant from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation in July, 2002, Entergy began secretly dismantling the plant and sending its tiniest radioactive parts by courier pigeon to nuclear weapons facilities around the world. As the pigeons became irradiated, they grew larger. Now, more than six years into the fraud, the pigeons are so large that they resemble 18-wheelers, and large sections of the plant easily find their way onto I-91.

So what is at Vermont Yankee if not a nuclear power plant? Initially, all that the independent oversight panel found was battle gear that I had bought the other day. But further sleuthing on the part of the panel has revealed a pneumatic tube flooded with southward-moving greenbacks and connecting Vernon, Vermont directly to Entergy's New Orleans headquarters at 639 Loyola Ave.

While the people of Vermont have long expressed dismay at the amount of cash that leaves the Vermont economy for Louisiana and Cayman Island coffers, they were aghast to learn just how quickly the out-of-state, out-of-mind transition is. Many were therefore pleased to hear that a second pneumatic tube running directly from 639 Loyola Ave. to the Department of Public Services office in Montpelier, Vermont was also discovered. In this tube the cash flows northward.

This week the collapse of Bernie Madoff's fraud led his dupes to wonder how Madoff had fooled so many for so long. Similar questions have already arisen in the Vermont Yankee fraud. Apparently this is a large part of the answer:

First, in typical Ponzi fashion, Vermont Yankee used some small percentage of its Vermont receivables to buy power from renewable power sources and redirect it into the New England grid. Second, Vermont Yankee had installed a 100-foot-high, 1200-gallon atomizer and programmed it to randomly spay radiation-laced steam into the air above the plant, thereby increasing fence line radiation levels at Vermont Yankee and ramping up the rate of thyroid cancers throughout the Northeast in a way that caught the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and, at the same time, reassured normally skeptical anti-nukers that there was a problem requiring their busy-bee activism.

Late Sunday night, the independent oversight panel detached the large squirty thingy that activates the atomizer, and the enormous cancer threat presented by Vermont Yankee is now a thing of the past. The panel's only remaining task is to catch those damn pigeons before the pigeons catch them, at which point Vermont will be delivered from its long nuclear nightmare.

To mix metaphors (and news stories) here, when informed by the Brattleboro Reformer that the nuclear power plant he had long defended as good for Vermonters had in fact been re-designed to harm Vermonters as well as rob them blind, Governor Jim Douglas seemed to be in denial. "I’ve got this thing," Douglas said, in his best Legs Diamond style, "and it’s [expletive] golden. And I’m just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I’m not going to do it. And I can always use it. I can parachute me there."



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Oh, I Thought He Said "Turd War."

Dear God,

Guess I'll have to sell some of this stuff on eBay. See, I was preparing to help NRC staffers fight the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board in a battle of epic proportions. I've bought catapults, plungers, rubber gloves, goggles, and Febrize. I've commandeered Roto Rooters and stockpiled Charmin. All week long the Control Room stoners have brought their human waste from home, and they'd all graciously added fiber to their diets. We would have had more fun fighting this war than we do playing video games while guards sleep.

But then Ray Shadis explained to me that he had said "turf war". NRC staffers are waging a turf war with the ASLB over the ASLB ruling that we haven't done enough analysis on the issue of metal fatigue here at the nuclear power station.

So I told the stoners, "Never mind." And so they said they never do.



Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Safety Inspections Are a Bigger Deal Than I Thought

Dear God,

Remind me not to go to horror movies.

Or even to watch horror webcasts.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a story in the Toledo Blade, which pointed me to a webcast of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearing into whether and how significantly to punish the two engineers convicted of covering up vital information about the Davis-Besse nuclear plant weeks before its old reactor head nearly blew apart. Yesterday's hearing was to consider whether one engineer, David Geisen, should be allowed to resume work in the nuclear industry. He had been banned until January, 2011. On Thursday his convicted co-engineer, Andrew Siemaszko, will have his turn with the ASLB. He is seeking either acquittal or a new trial.

As I've explained to you only last month, Lord,

It was during a refueling shutdown that engineers discovered that, over the course of six years of inadequate inspections, corrosive coolant had been leaking from the core. The coolant had created a six-by-five-by-four inch cavity in the liner of the core. All that remained of the liner was a warped piece of steel a little thicker than tin foil. It and it alone contained approximately 2200 psi of highly radioactive internal environment. Had the pressure burst through the remaining lining and into the reactor containment building, it might have set in motion a core meltdown, and just 21 miles away from Toledo.

Lord, even I, who constantly put a big smiley-face on the kisser of nuclear power, cannot take this incident lightly. The webcast (which I encourage you to check out for its really cool, scary evidence, only don't waste your time with anything before, say, 15 minutes 30 seconds) included detailed explanations about what went wrong, what the engineers supposedly ignored, and, most disturbingly to me, the preposterous danger presented by evidence that could easily be (and easily was) explained away by Davis-Besse's FirstEnergy management team as indicative of minor problems that weren't minor at all. And, of course, while I watched this today, we, the management team at Vermont Yankee, are still rationalizing a few additional cracks on the steam dryer and a few pesky cooling tower problems blah blah blah. Different plants; different parts of the plant; different levels of safety concern, perhaps, but my job is to rationalize, publicly, and today rationalizing got a bad name, at least in that pesky webcast.

Some questions, Lord:

1—Apparently an engineer can get indicted and have his life and reputation shattered for downplaying the dangers of miscellaneous, "minor" problems in a nuclear reactor. Can a PR guy?

2—If so, can I get paid extra for time spent at trial?

3—Were those engineers really at fault? If so, were they the only ones at fault? David Geisen's "co-conspirator"—a Polish immigrant named Andrew Siemaszko—made an excellent case at trial that he was just the whistle blower. He had ordered maintenance for the reactor lid, but that maintenance could have cost the plant about $1 million a day in lost revenue. So it was never completed. Scaffolding was taken down less than 24 hours into the job, and without his consent. So how is any of this his fault?

4—Why didn't Sam Collins get indicted? He is our NRC administrator in charge of enforcing safety; at the time of the Davis-Besse near-disaster, he was the NRC administrator in charge of enforcing safety at Davis-Besse. Sam had the power to shut the plant down, and, according to a second Toledo Blade article, he'd seen a photo of huge rust streaks that raised his suspicion. Still, he let the plant's management team bargain with him about timing—and about people's safety. (Alarmed by the photo, Sam wanted to shut down the plant three months ahead of a planned schedule. He negotiated with the management team and agreed to shut it down only 6 weeks earlier than scheduled.)

5—Why didn't the management team in charge of the plant get indicted? They, according to yet another Toledo Blade article, had developed a "mantra" or rallying cry of "Let's win this war" when Sam initially moved to shut down the Davis-Besse plant.

God, according to (I know this is getting ridiculous) yet another Toledo Blade article, after investigating this mess the NRC Office of the Inspector General issued a report saying that the NRC had become a complacent regulator, sympathetic to a profit-over-safety mentality at Davis-Besse. Engineer Andrew Siemaszko's lawyers argued that even though he tried to initiate maintenance, he ended up the scapegoat because he has a Polish accent, was an immigrant, and, I don't know, maybe even looked the part of a guy you'd see in jail.

Lord, we've been accused of having a profit-over-safety mentality at Vermont Yankee. And I've defended our mentality time and again, and this time we're arguing sticky points like fenceline radiation levels, proximity of the dry storage casks to the river, Vermont Yankee's spent fuel plan, new cracks in the steam dryer and, most alarmingly, a high probability of the Mark I containment at Vermont Yankee rupturing when needed to protect the public in a severe accident. Vermont Yankee has acknowledged the insufficiency and installed an automatic vent. Yet that vent could itself be the path for the release of radioactive fission, and Vermont Yankee's management team has told the NRC essentially that.

In the event of an accident or near accident, I ask for your protection, Lord. Please don't let me develop a Polish accent. And please protect Sam Collins's accent, too.



Thursday, December 4, 2008

Who Would Jesus Dance With?

Dear God,

Ching Ching a ling
La dah de dah
I don't know the
Lyrics to this
But it's the Christmas song that's sung in a round
And it's the one that's in tha-at film
About the people
Who loved each other
And in the end
Some of them got kissed.
Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas
Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas

Anyway. God, did you all know that the Citizens Awareness Network a/k/a Nukebusters is sponsoring an anti-nuke Christmas caroling event Friday night at 6 at Gallery Walk in Brattleboro? Carolers are supposed to gather and be prepared to sing loopy, anti-nuke versions of various traditional songs. In an unprecedented move of "across the aisle" collaboration, Clare Chang even forwarded me a copy of the carols when I asked to see them. I somehow deleted the file from my hard drive before I could even read the carols. Hence, though I indicated to her that I might pray about the carols here (thereby allowing people to memorize the songs before arriving), I can't. And how's that for a holiday show of Vermont Yankee competence?

To be perfectly clear, I think that carolers are supposed to gather near the big clock, but I have no evidence of why I think that. [Correction: Gather in Harmony Parking Lot! See "comment" from Clare Chang!]

Anyway, I've gotten to ruminating again. The anti-nukers are going to gather and sing anti-nuke Christmas carols, suggesting (thereby) that God is on their side. And so we, the pro-poison-the-children-and-river-and-everyone-near-it-nukers, would ideally convince the very same gullible crowds at Gallery Walk that God is really on our side.

I thought of gathering our entire management team to stand on the corner of High and Main and point towards the toxic cloud emitted by Vermont Yankee while singing a chorus of the Carpenter's big hit, "Close to You," but that's not really a religious song. Also, in a nightmare I once had, precisely that maneuver got the managers arrested at the Vernon Elementary School, which is conveniently located directly across the street from Vermont Yankee.

So I've decided to do without a Gallery Walk event and instead make a Christmas-themed Video Extravaganza. It's called "Who Would Jesus Dance With?", and it stars J. Wayne Leonard, David O'Brien, and Governor Jim Douglas—the entire and exclusive set of people whose energy issues make Jesus boogie.

Or so I would like everyone to believe.