Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Apocalypse Later—and Elsewhere

Dear Lord,

Did you hear the good news? Quoting the Brattleboro Reformer, "Come the day Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is decommissioned, there will now be a place to bury its reactor vessel and other radioactive parts and components. On Jan. 14, Waste Control Specialists announced their application for a low-level radioactive waste site had received conditional approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality."

Vermonters do not want our trash, and neither do any of our neighboring states. But Texas, evidently, is the "lesser, conquerable nation" we somehow all thought it might be.

Unless, of course, the good people of Andrews County, Texas object to the idea of taking on a radiation nightmare just so they can bring 75 jobs to the area. It's a prospect that the Reformer article explicitly pooh-poohs, based on information received from Eddie Selig, a spokesperson for a local group, Advocates for Responsible Disposal in Austin, Texas. Selig seems completely comfortable with the idea of burying radioactive waste products in Andrews County, Texas, which is not surprising, given that Austin is not in Andrews County, and that his organization is not an advocacy organization at all but is funded by Vermont Yankee, S.T.P. Nuclear Operating Company, Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, and other companies and organizations that produce radioactive waste products. The fact that the founding principles of Advocates for Responsible Disposal extol the benefits to society of burying radioactive waste products probably didn't hurt them in creating their "advocacy" position, either.

Is Selig right that no one in Andrews County, Texas cares—and that this is pretty much a done deal? (There are, after all, only 9 people per square mile in Andrews County, but it's a big place.) Or do I hear a faint chorus of protest rising up from the lesser, conquerable nation?

Good, Lord! I hear singing! Is it the people of Vermont and Massachusetts protesting the idea of radioactive waste being trucked once again down I91? Or could that really be the 13,000+ voices of Andrews County singing the "Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Blues"?



Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Heart J. Wayne Leonard

Dear Lord,

I've got nothing funny or even chatty to say today, Lord. Instead, this is just a quick note to let you know that Entergy needs blessings because:

  • Entergy expects to show an 8 percent drop in fourth-quarter 2008 earnings.

  • Entergy shares closed at $77.37. That is way, way down from the company's 52-week peak of $123.27.

Praying this "quick note" way, Lord, not with my usual obsequious tidings but with unprecedented efficiency, I realize to my dismay that almost two weeks ago I knew things were looking bad for Entergy financially, but I FORGOT TO PRAY FOR ENTERGY in any manner at all!

On January 9 I knew that Deutsche Bank had downgraded Entergy stock to "Sell" status from "Hold." On January 9 I also knew that Reuters had reported that Entergy had suspended applications to build two new nuclear plants, one in Mississippi and one in Louisiana.

I knew. I even posted about these matters on iBrattleboro and emailed a few members of the press. But I didn't pray.

My bad(s).

Lord, to be clear about how dire things are looking right now, these tidbits of bad news about Entergy do not seem to reflect an industry-wide slump. Nor do they seem to be attributable to the recession. Indeed, according to Reuters, Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear power operator, is doing just fine.

I pray now, today, at last, for Entergy's financial health. Hear me, Lord, and do not let these several financial disappointments belie an underlying, critical weakness that could forever change the energy, tax, and business landscape here in Vermont. Do not let an Entergy collapse leave Vermonters with no privileged power deal and a billion-dollar toxic mess to clean up. For that would leave me without an employer, an employee cafeteria, or a health plan.

I pray for Entergy, Lord, and as I do I pray, too, for J. Wayne Leonard. He is CEO of Entergy, and he and his minions have done a swell job of convincing many people--and, indeed, many legislators--that Entergy is financially hearty AND that it is ready to step up to the plate on all sorts of matters about which it has not actually agreed to step up to the plate. Would you give Mr. Leonard my personal regards, Lord? Golly, I admire him. Why, I think he is just about one of the smartest guys in the room.



Friday, January 16, 2009


Dear God,

Today the Rutland Herald is reporting that "The Vermont Public Interest Research Group wants key — but currently secret — parts of the recent reliability assessment of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant made public."

And VPIRG calls itself an advocacy organization.

Entergy already won the headline battle about the reliability assessment story. It was on Christmas Eve, I believe, that newspapers reported that the assessment was largely positive. Now James Moore of VPIRG is complaining that the report was heavily redacted and that the pristine version of the report is "a scathing assessment, written in flowery engineer's language." Maybe. And, yes, we're going to release a less redacted report, but not an entirely redacted one, and what we chose to keep in and leave out seems to be entirely up to us. Regardless, that first round of headlines already made an impression on Vermonter's perceptions of Vermont Yankee. And that impression was favorable. We're a safe bet for the next 20 years. So there.

Lord, I say let them fight and file, fight and file. As long as they're distracted, they will miss the real headline of the day:

Former Entergy Exec may Get Seat at NRC Table

Yes, Dan Packer, a former CEO of Entergy New Orleans, reportedly is under consideration for appointment to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Read it and weep, VPIRG.



Friday, January 9, 2009

Stop the Presses!

Dear Lord,

Wait a minute. Sometimes my own news cycle gets ahead of me.

Wednesday's Reuters story said that Vermont Yankee would stay at 100% power while fixing a new leak of mildly radioactive water. According to the story, we're going to use essentially the same stuff you shoot into your tire when it's leaking air. It won't really fix the tire, but you can make it to the nearest gas station.

But Thursday's Reuter's story says that Vermont Yankee will cut power to 40%.


Yes, but I think I'm on the verge of figuring this out. See, if you read down further in Thursday's Reuter's story you'll see that it's about a second new leak. This one is in the feed water system. Mildly radioactive water is leaking at a rate of about 60 drops per minute. This leak was discovered Thursday morning on a 24-inch pipe. That's the leak we're powering down to 40% about.

The leak that was the subject of Wednesday's story has been going on for about two weeks now. We're losing about 2-1/2 gallons of mildly radioactive water a minute from the reactor's water cleanout system. Aside from using a little Spare Tire in a Can, we're going to ignore it until 2010—or until we can make it to a gas station, whichever comes first.

Ok. Now I understand. You can start the presses up again. In the meanwhile, if anyone from the Reformer or, heaven forbid, the Rutland Herald calls about these leaks, we at Vermont Yankee are going to all try to stay on message as well as we can. That message is:

One leak, two leak,
Red leak, blue leak.
Black leak, blue leak,
Old leak, new leak.
This one has a little star.
This one has a little car.
Say, what a lot of leaks there are!
We see them come,
We see them go.
Some are fast
And some are slow….



Thursday, January 8, 2009

Karma Chameleon

Dear God,

Lawmakers in Vermont are expecting a report any day now on a "vertical audit" of the systems, structures, and components of Vermont Yankee by an independent oversight panel appointed by the state legislature. Act 189 specifies that the report of the panel be delivered to the Department of Public Service no later than January 30, 2009.

The panel is looking at all sorts of systems--electrical, emergency, mechanical, primary containment, and so on. But perhaps because its focus is reliability (not safety), the panel is not required to look at the culture of the plant.

But they say they're going to do that anyway, I suppose to help us all understand how we could mess up time and again on safety issues.

What do I mean by "culture"? Well, I'm not sure—other than to say that it's a fancy word that management specialists use all of the time. I could also say that I am a big fan of the Washington Post columnist Miss Manners, and she is cultured. Also I liked Culture Club way back when.

I might also point out that, however it is we define "culture," if we let the oversight panel take too free a hand in their fact-finding about it, things could get scary pretty fast, with phrases like "incident management failure" popping up way more often than I'd like.

Oversight panels abhor a vacuum and I abhor oversight panels, so I've prepared some user-friendly information for our oversight panel on the culture at Vermont Yankee. What I've prepared is risky information for me to disclose, granted. But most of those panelists have been appointed by Democrats, so you know that unless I feed them something bloody they will just keep gnawing deeper and deeper until our veins are dangling from their teeth. Some might call the information I've prepared stupidly kamizake-ish. Others might more adroitly call it a "scoop but defuse" defense. I call it,

Miss Fake-Rob's Guide to Excrutiatingly Correct
Nuclear Power Plant Behavior
in Relation to Our Employee Gambling-Slash-Working Way Too Much Overtime Problem


My husband works at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vermont. He tells me that gambling problems are rife among employees at the plant and that the pervasiveness of the gambling culture is endangering safety. Employees who have stifled their feelings about routinely risking the lives of their friends and families go on desperation-fueled gambling binges, lose big, and then need to work double shifts to cover their losses. The result: scheduling is whacky and risky. People are working in geyser-like bursts, and as a result some are in danger of being asleep at the wheel. What does etiquette demand that I do with the information my husband has given me about the culture at a facility that can reasonably be said to hold our fate in its hands?


Miss Fake-Rob is sympathetic with your concerns about going up in flames and all of that. But you are a fuddy duddy. I wish you a boring life, and I hope your husband leaves you soon.

What do you think, Lord? I know it's not much and the gender thing ("Miss Fake-Rob") is all messed up. But gender was always messed up with Culture Club, too, and they got by just fine. Anyway, it's the best I could do, considering that January 30 is approaching fast and those panelists are going to come up with far worse if I let them. I can almost smell the stink of human flesh in their oversight-ing little mouths. And who cares if the panelists accuse us of gambling? I mean, it's not like we're gambling lives or livelihood.



PS: I almost forgot! We've found a leaking valve gasket on a four-inch pipe in the reactor building. I've got to run out to my car and get my GUNK (a/k/a Spare Tire in a Can) so that we can "enclose the valve with a specially designed clamp and inject a sealant to stop the leak" while keeping the plant running at full power. Pray for us, Lord. PR-wise, this doesn't look good.