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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Vermont & Nuclear Transport

Air Date: Week of

Most of the waste destined for Sierra Blanca would come from the states of Maine and Vermont. Just weeks ago, President Clinton signed into law the Texas-Maine-Vermont compact, that allows the radioactive material to be trucked to Texas, over twenty four hundred miles of roads, passing through fourteen states. The compact is the tenth such deal struck since the 1980 passage of a federal law urging states to cooperate in disposing of low level nuclear waste. In Vermont, anti- nuclear activists say the waste shouldn't leave the state. Tatiana Schreiber explains.


CURWOOD: Most of the waste destined for Sierra Blanca would come from the states of Maine and Vermont. Just weeks ago, President Clinton signed into law the Texas-Maine-Vermont Compact. The deal allows the radioactive material to be trucked to Texas over 2,400 miles of roads, passing through 14 states. This compact is the tenth such deal struck since the 1980 passage of a Federal law urging states to cooperate in disposing of low-level nuclear waste. But in Vermont, anti-nuclear activists say the wastes shouldn't leave the state. Tatiana Schreiber explains.

SCHREIBER: Almost all the radioactive waste that would go to Sierra Blanca from Vermont comes from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant near Brattleboro. The low-level waste includes irradiated plant components and resins and solvents from cleaning the water in the plant's spent fuel pool. Vermont Yankee is scheduled to close in 2012, but anti-nuclear activists want it shut down now.

(Crowd shouts: "No nukes! Shut it down! No nukes! Shut it down!")

SCHREIBER: Twenty-one demonstrators were cited for trespassing in August after they symbolically placed Vermont Yankee under citizens' arrest and questioned the nuclear industry's assertions.

WOMAN (speaking on mike, to crowd): It claims that nuclear waste can be safely buried for hundreds of thousands of years. (Crowd laughs; man says, "Right" in derision.) They're wrong. It wants more sacrificed communities.

SCHREIBER: When it does close, the entire structure and all its parts will also go to Sierra Blanca. Vermont's Commissioner of Public Service, Rich Sedano, says in the early 1990s the state tried to find a waste site in Vermont.

SEDANO: Most towns simply said no. No town said yes to the degree that any significant work was done.

SCHREIBER: Because Vermont law allows towns to refuse a waste dump, the only place seriously studied was the grounds of Vermont Yankee. But state nuclear engineer Bill Sherman says that site's unsafe because the soil's porous, and at places the groundwater is less than a foot below the surface. Sherman says Vermont joined with Maine to ship waste to Texas because Texas planned to build a dump anyway. And with the compact, Texas can refuse waste it doesn't want.

SHERMAN: It's a win-win situation. We help Texas in terms of limiting the waste that will come there. They help us by providing a far environmentally- suitable site than any place in the Northeast.

SCHREIBER: The Texas dump's also projected to be much cheaper than the site in Barnwell, South Carolina, where Vermont and Maine now send their waste. But activists say the decision to join the compact was made before Vermonters understood what sending the waste to Texas would really mean.

TREHUNE (on mike, to crowd): Vermont is going to be on the side of the perpetrators of this environmental injustice and environmental racism.

SCHREIBER: Leigh Terhune of the Vermont Sierra Club spoke at a public hearing on the compact.

TERHUNE: It's not what the people in our state believe in. It's not what we're all about. We're better than this. And our elected officials have put us into this position. And I'm ashamed of it and I'm angry about it.

SCHREIBER: Five Texans came to Vermont to be at this hearing and to join a 90-mile anti-nuclear walk through the state and a week-long anti-nuclear action camp.

MENDEZ: Because you get so frustrated you will get hurt.

SCHREIBER: At the camp Maria Mendez, who lives near Sierra Blanca, tried to put a human face on the idea of environmental racism. She admitted that before she came to Vermont she blamed its people.

MENDEZ: And I feel sorry now that I felt that way, and instead of doing that we could have gotten together and fight it together.

SCHREIBER: David Pyles is with the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution. He says the coalition's opposed to burying nuclear waste because it says all 6 of the country's low-level burial sites have leaked. For now, they want Vermont's waste kept above-ground, where it can be closely-monitored.

(Drumming, ululating, singing: "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, shut em down." A man shouts, "No more waste!" Crowd: "Na na na na....")

SCHREIBER: More than half of Vermont's legislators have told activists that if a vote were taken today they would not support the Texas compact. But the state's Congressional delegation in Washington remains behind it. If the waste does start moving, activists vow to stop it.

MAN (on bullhorn, to crowd): Vermont, and I'll tell you, we're coming back and we're coming back and we're coming back..."

(The crowd shouts, cheers)

SCHREIBER: For Living on Earth, I'm Tatiana Schreiber in Brattleboro, Vermont.



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