The Vermont Yankee

On Friday, Rachel Maddow talked about a nuclear reactor 30 miles from her home. It’s called the Vermont Yankee. The Vermont Yankee is a 30-year-old reactor. When you visit the Entergy Web site, it boasts that the Vermont Yankee has the ability to safely produce a maximum of 535 Megawatts of nuclear power. It produces over 1/3 of Vermont’s electricity.

Recently, it was found out that the Vermont Yankee was actually producing more than 535 megawatts of power and is instead producing 540 megawatts of power. (An aside, I find it rather curious that the Entergy Web site has 535 listed and the Vermont Yankee, 540. Did someone update the Web site based on his or her findings?)

But I digress. Last week, the Federal Government agreed to up that number by 20%, pushing the number from 535 (or 540) to 640 megawatts. Is it wise to push a 30-year-old nuclear reactor this much?

My brother and I have a recurring conversation from time to time regarding airplanes. Usually, right before we’re about to go anywhere, we’ll discuss the plane. Usually, we fly JetBlue. They tend to have newer planes. Ryan always jokes, “Yeah, I’m not sure if I’d rather fly in a new, inexperienced plane with all new parts and one that doesn’t really know itself yet. While one might break down due to wear and tear, who’s to say the newer one isn’t a lemon?”

Does the Vermont Yankee’s 30+ years work for it or against it?

When I was 5, we lived about 30 miles away from Three Mile Island. When it leaked, we were told to evacuate our hoome immediately. My mother was pregnant at the time with my little brother, the same one who would rather fly in an older plane. Over the years, and due to numerous reoccurring nightmares from the event, my actual recollection of it has become more and more contorted. I remember still scenes about it but I’m not sure if they’re real or they’re influenced by hundreds of dreams. Either way, I do remember holding my breath as much as possible before I felt we were safe enough away. I’m still afraid of Three Mile Island and nuclear power plants.

For years after the event, we continued to receive letters from the Pennsylvania state government inquiring about my brother’s health. While he seems fine, we make jokes about his intelligence (which is out of this world). From time to time, we blame his brilliance on the leak. We’ve even compared him to superman.

We don’t joke about his heart problems or the fact that a normal, resting heart rate for him is well above 100. We don’t discuss the fact that he is prone to extremely powerful stomachaches that come on for no reason whatsoever. While I don’t have any way of knowing that this has anything to do with the leak at Three Mile Island, we don’t joke about it either.

I like the idea of nuclear power, but I don’t like that we actually use it. It looks great on paper and in theory but I’m not sure humans are ready for it or ever will be, for that matter. I understand that it is clean other than the incredibly toxic waste it produces. But I find human err way too prevalent. Plus, its hazardous waste is basically immortal.

If you are indeed for nuclear power plants, one begs the question; are you OK with it being in your backyard? At one time, I had one in mine. And even a false alarm can last a lifetime.

29 Comments

  1. P.S. I wish Three Mile Island had been given a name like The Vermont Yankee. It’s so much less daunting and weird. Three Mile Island, for a child, sounds really big and scary. The Vermont Yankee sounds like a massive candle.

    Actually, that’s disturbing as well. Considering they melt. Hmmmmmm

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  2. I do live with Three Mile Island in my backyard! Shortly after 9/11, anyone within a certain radius of the Island was given iodine pills to take in case of an attack at the plant. Very comforting…

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  3. You’re kidding! Holy crap. I had no idea, Lake. You must be right near where we once lived.

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  4. I like that it took a terrorist attack to get them to give out $0.25 iodine pills. I guess the price of PR for having done so before would have been probibitive.

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  5. “probibitive” is a word that means: toby is a moron

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  6. i have a nuke plant 4 miles(as a crow flies) from my house. i’m all for nukes, it’s the logical ‘temporary’ solution to our power needs until they develope the “fusion reactor.” we’ve been scared into believing nukes are bad over many years of old technology and human error. well that’s gonna happen and the only way to move past it is to use new technology to make the old technology better. it’s like, if we all had to drive Ford model-T’s because someone was hurt by one back in the infant years. regulations that prevent progress are a double edged knife where we need the regulation, but we also need there to be ways to allow new developement in the technology. when the government says “no new nuke plants” there is no real incentive for businesses to develope new technologies. it’s amazing that coal fired powerplants emmit more radiation into the air that a properly running nukes plant…..not to mention the millions of tons of coal that are burnt to produce the energy. did you know that it takes .357 tons(714 pounds) of coal to run a 100 watt light bulb for a year? there’s a lot of crude pumped into the air just for that little light bulb!

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  7. I think lived next to one as close you did, but in MA. Was it Seabrook maybe? dunno.

    I’m for nuke plants (along with Greg’s reasoning – “I’m for progress!”) in my backyard. As long as it make my energy bills cheaper, I say bring it on. I hear there’s an open plot of land next to the pentagon…

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  8. Why not try and use natural sources?

    Another thing that pisses me off about energy use (only losely related, but oh well) is that people take it for granted. So when there is an outage of some sort, they freak out as if being on Earth means HAVING ELECTRICITY NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS!

    What ever happen to privleges? When did everything become a right here on Earth? I am sick of people whining.

    Personally, I’d pay more for energy I knew wouldn’t one day pollute our future generations. But who gives a shit about the future? Let’s care about OUR lives, screw everyone else, right?

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  9. Yep Mihow – I live in New Cumberland. Not too far from your elementary school.

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  10. Wow. Fairview?

    I lived about half a mile from there.

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  11. Actually in the ‘Manor’ section of town – but only a few blocks from there.

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  12. I live near one of the world’s largest producers of “clean” electricty: Niagara Falls. Of course, hydroelectric power has its own impact on the environment and natural habitats, but it’s not as threatening as a nuclear disaster.

    Anyway, you’d think that given our proximity to it, consumers in Western New York would have cheap hydroelectric power. But the fact is that the electricity that is powering my PC right now came from a coal plant about 5 miles upriver from the falls. We export the hydroelectric power downstate.

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  13. Damn New York Cityers taking your power again, rigth? We drink your water AND we use your power. We’re greedy.

    I wish they could use the rats and roaches in New York City to conduct power. Or maybe the human spit around town?

    Trash’d be nice, too.

    Actually, I hear we’re pretty green in Manhattan. I think that’s due to the fact that no one wants to drive and most of us use public transportation.

    Incidentally, how are the subway’s powered?

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  14. The subways are powered by pure and unadulterated anger.

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  15. Think Elf, but with Satan instead of Santa.

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  16. i think the electricity for the subways comes from wherever its cheapest

    a lot of nyc is powered by steam though. coned has giant steam plants and steam mains around the city.

    anways, i think nuclear reactors are relatively safe. they’re not ideal, but they should have enough failsafes that a catastrophe in a real world scenario should be relatively harmless (ie, immediate area only. but there shouldn’t be any toxic plumes for miles)

    what i’m worried about though is the waste created by it. no one knows what to do with it, so they truck it around and then put it in caves, where they sit for millions of years waiting to contaminate the ground and water below—unless they leak prematurely.

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  17. michele, i’m not sure what you mean by “natural resources?” mainly because since electricity doesn’t exist in a natural state, we have to make it….and when it comes down to it, we’ve got a copper coil rotating in a magnetic field. other than that, the question comes down to…”how do we rotate that coil?” hydro-electricity is great, but there’s always somebody who gets pissed that we have to take land and flood it to build the water supply and anymore, there always seems to be one group or another thinks it’s a travesty to do so. wind energy works until someone complains about the birds flying into them or that they’re ugly. coal and oil fired steam turbines produce so much waste and polution but locally they are natural resources that produce most of our energy. somebody’s always complaining, not much we can do about that and once again it’s fear mongering. the other thing is, somebody’s always asking for an “alternative energy” source and nuclear is just sitting there and it’s a natural resource as well. as energy goes, the equivalent in kilowatt hours(energy) of nuclear fuel and gasoline is one pound of urainium U-235(smaller than a baseball) equals the same energy as burning a vessel of gasoline measuring 50 feet cubed. gasoline is 6.25 pounds per gallon, a whopping total weight of gasoline in the ballpark of 5,843,750 pounds to equal one pound of nuclear fuel. pretty amazing when you think about it….but for some reason, we can’t use it to its potential.

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  18. I am most concerned with the waste. If they could figure out how to deal with that, then I might change my mind. Again, I think this comes down to the fact that people don’t think beyond a generation or two. And why should they, right? As long as they die knowing their immediate family is OK, screw the future.

    I guess I meant solar/wind/air as you mentioned.

    Also, did you know that if we all unplugged our cell phone chargers when they’re not being used that would save a MASSIVE amount of electricity? Actually, if we unplugged everything when it’s not being used.

    Kinda interesting. Heard that on the radio. Let me try and find a link.

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  19. I found it but it’s on a site called Tree-Hugger and I know that many of you will immediately shoot that shit down. :]

    It’s true, though. Unplug that shit and we’ll save electricity and money together.

    I sound like a tree molester, don’t I?

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  20. I found it but it’s on a site called Tree-Hugger and I know that many of you will immediately shoot that shit down. :]

    It’s true, though. Unplug that shit and we’ll save electricity and money together.

    I sound like a tree molester, don’t I?

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  21. the waste is truly a situation where it leaves me guessing. i don’t know what to do with it. what i’m not sure about in the problem is two things…..1) we can’t just make the stuff, it already exists right here on earth so we still have to mine it and it’s radioactive in the earth, just spead out over a large area……so 2) why can’t we dilute it and replace it to where it came from? that could be a totally stupid question and it sure seems somebody would’ve thought of that already. i think i know the answer, EPA. there are regulations in place that don’t allow contaminated substances to be placed in land fills. even though we are removing contaminated earth from the ground, you have to replace with good earth, that’s the law…..it’s the dog biting his own tail. another bit of trivia is that the EPA has a standard for how much “Background Radiation” people are allowed to be exposed to before it becomes dangerous. in colorado, the levels are over double than what is permitted for humans according to the epa(and the really strange thing is, colorado has one of the lowest incidences of cancer in the country?????). wierd

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  22. about the un-plug thing……it’s totally true! ya know the big fat plugs you put in the wall that run you portable phones, i-pod charger, battery chargers, etc. those are all little transformers that convert ac power to dc power and they run even if there’s nothing attached to them. i figured it out one day and it comes to some thing like 8-12 bucks a year per plug in thingy. i counted how many i had and i was amazed to count 11 in my house charging batterys phones clock radio ipod computer speakers. that’s almost a 100 bucks a year of wasted energy. (for me, i don’t look at it as wasted energy, plain and simple, it’s my money down the drain!!! it’s easier to handle when it’s personal like that for me)

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  23. Greg – nuke materials are enriched. The waste products are different than the original materials. The problem with nukes is the long-term commitment and the impact of disasters when they do occur. The disasters can be prevented, but the commitment is still there. Whether the trade-off is the right thing is a question people have to figure out for themselves. I’d prefer that new plants were built next to the offices of governing officials. One on the Mall in DC, for instance. The NIMBY folks would flip.

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  24. they’re also highly concentrated, and in greater quantiy

    we get a tiny bit of radioactive substances from the earth. we refine and process into a ‘pure’ sample for industrial/war use. and then we use that to create atomic reactions which creates nuclear waste

    when you process uranium, you get enriched and depleted uranium. enriched goes into power plans and atomic bombs. depleted is strapped to the backs of us armed forces and used to replace metal in bombs, as its very dense and makes great armor + bullets. its also still radioactive and not safe.

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  25. i realize it’s enritched, but only to 2-3% U-235. weapons grade is 90+ %. the thing for me is that when we look at spent fuel, it’s spent for a 500-600 mega watt power station… but there obviously is still fuel in the by product that could then be recycled into new useable fuel. they can make U-239 from 238 by adding neutrons. if we were to move ahead, we’d have the need to answer the questions. we need people to make money to be able to fund the scientists who need to pay their bills. right now, we’re trying to answer the hard science questions without any real science being done. i know this is a hard pill to swallow for most of us, but as we’ve found out many times before, when there’s a will, there’s a way. and right now we live in a time where people want energy and they also want clean environment…..so it’s perfect for the study of clean nuclear power. i just want it so they can use it as a stepping stone onto the next “cleaner” fuel…..unfortunately we ain’t got one that universal like nuclear. (yet)

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  26. Hydrogen? ha

    Imagine that.

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  27. 2 problems with hydrogen, 1) the molecule is so small that we have trouble containing it…it leakes through walls of its steel containers and through valves and connectors. not to mention it explodes at the slightest spark, even static electricity that moving objects produce naturally.

    2) it doesn’t exist in the environment naturally so we have to extract it from water. unfortunately we have to use huge amount of electriciry to produce the small amount of hydrogen that we get per pound of water. so we’re back at square one needing more electricity to produce a fuel that every transformation, there is a loss of energy(like you can’t run one thing to charge another to keep the first thing running forever).

    but if we could get hugh amounts of electricity cheaply(nuclear) then battery powered cars won’t be too insane nor would hydrogen powered vehicles. but somewhere we need to get the electricity and cheaply.

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  28. Maybe if we all do unplug our wall warts, we’ll help in making things better.

    Dare to dream?

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  29. Aaahhhh yes….good ole TMI. I too was evacuated when that incident happened. I was in school that day and my parents took me out of either second or third grade….weird. I went to Camp Hill elementary…I think that was the name of it…

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