Vermont-Yankee: a closing celebration

TOM RELIHAN | The Recorder

Though the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station’s days of generating energy ended last week, members of the various grass-roots groups that have spent decades fighting to have it closed spent Saturday night putting out some energy of their own during a victory party in Greenfield.

The plant shut down Monday, Dec. 29, 2014 after 42 years in operation.

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The party, hosted by anti-nuclear activist organizations Safe & Green and the Citizens Awareness Network, was held at St. James Episcopal Church on Federal Street and despite the icy conditions outside, between 70 and 100 people turned out — many of whom were members of those groups or other anti-nuclear power organizations. They took to the dance floor to celebrate the plant’s closure.

Attendees were greeted at the door by displays of the now-familiar signs that have been displayed in the region over the past few years and those who had been part of the movement for years or decades greeted each other with hugs.

Two of the partiers, Peter and Cecelia Tusinski of Leyden, said they’d been involved in the local anti-nuclear movement since they helped stop a boiling water nuclear power plant from being built in Montague in the 1970s and ’80s. Tusinski said he remembers being present for each day of the trial of Sam Lovejoy, a local farmer and the godfather of his son, who toppled a weather monitoring station on the plant’s proposed site.

“We’ve been fighting this damn thing since ’75,” Tusinski said, who referred to himself and the other activists as the “old warriors.”

“It’s a marvelous victory, and it’s been a long time coming,” he said. “Entergy have not been pleasant people to deal with, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with their extended permits. It was a dangerous plant.”

“After we stopped that, then we started to focus on closing Vermont Yankee,” Cecelia Tusinski said. She said the party represented the success of that effort, one she and her fellow activists had worked so long to achieve.

“We’ve worked so long, but it wasn’t just work. It was building community, these people actually like each other,” she said. “These are people who don’t just talk, they ‘do.’”

In the church’s main hall, other members of the movement and attendees danced to various live bands who played saxophones, bongos and harmonicas while a projector aimed at one of the walls streamed a slideshow of photos taken over the years the groups worked to get the plant closed.

In a room off the side of the main entrance, a series of booths were set up with informational displays about the history of the local grass-roots effort to close the Vernon-based nuclear power plant.

Among the crowd of enthusiastic activists was Bob Stannard of Manchester, Vt., who has worked as the Citizens Awareness Network’s primary lobbyist in Montpelier, Vt. since 2008. Stannard said he became involved with the effort after watching a video that showed part of one of the plant’s cooling towers collapsing in 2007.

“I saw that and said, ‘If these people were willing to let this plant fall into such disrepair, then I owe it to my grandkids to get help get rid of this thing,” said Stannard. “It had degraded to the point of falling down.”

Stannard said he spent the next seven years lobbying on behalf of the group to the Vermont Legislature, as well as keeping track of incidents that occurred at the plant and working to get them publicized to draw public attention. The big change, he said, was when Gov. Peter Shumlin was elected and took a hard stance against the plant’s continued operation.

“He made it clear that he wanted to close the plant down. That was a big risk for him to take, but there was zero support for the plant in the state government, and that came from the people in this room,” he said, sweeping his arm across the active dance floor.

Stannard said though he remained skeptical that the plant would really close for good, saying he expected Entergy to “pull a rabbit out of their hat” and keep it moving, he was relieved when it finally went offline Monday.

“Dec. 29, 2014,” he said. “I’m going to get that tattooed on the back of my hand! It’s a day I’ll never forget, a great day for Vermont, and for Massachusetts and for America.”

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