14 February 2012

Asserting Public Control

While working on one of my assignments for my Law and Society class, I came across an article that reminded me of what is currently going on at Hanford.  The article from New York Times discloses that a federal judge recently blocked Vermont from forcing the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor to shut down when its license expires on March 21, 2012 on the grounds that the state is trying to regulate nuclear safety, which is a right granted solely to the federal government.

When Entergy, an electrical power production company bought the Vermont plane in 2002, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the state agreeing that besides just the federal license extension, the plant would need a state “certificate of public good” in order to continue its operations after its license expires this year.  Since the company bought the plant, the plant has suffered the collapse of a cooling tower and leaks of radioactive water into the soil, turning public opinion strongly against it.  Though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted a 20-year extension to the plant’s license, Vermont lawmakers had passed a law that gave themselves the power to veto the renewal of the license.  But J. Garvan Murtha of United States District Court in Brattleboro, Vt., proclaimed that federal law trumps the state’s action because “radiological safety” was under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Though it may sound like there may be some challenges in the process of trying to withdraw the Columbia Generating Station’s re-licensing application for HOANW, there is also good news.

In the latter part of the article, the author refers to a California plant, Rancho Seco, in Sacramento, which was successful closed by a referendum vote of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in 1989.  Which is a good example to us in our efforts to stop the license renewal.  How, or why, you ask?

There is one extremely important similarity between  the case of Rancho Seco and the Columbia Generating Station that makes citizen involvement strong:  The nuclear plants are owned by publicly owned utilities.  Energy Northwest (formerly WPPSS) runs the region’s only commercial reactor, located along the Columbia River on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.  Energy Northwest is owned and run by Washington’s publicly owned utilities (e.g., Seattle City Light, Snohomish PUD, Clark PUD, Tacoma City Light, etc.).  What does this mean for us Washingtonians?  It means we have the power to assert public control of our region’s power and use the next ten years before the plant’s current license expires to plan to replace the power with clean, safe renewable power and conservation!  In order to ensure that our voices and concerns are heard we need to ensure that a public hearing on the reactor license is held in Seattle.

A public hearing is a crucial stepping stone on our pathway to a cleaner, safer Washington.  Our goal here at Heart of America Northwest to to advance your concerns on health, environment, and the economy of the Northwest particularly as it affects Hanford.  With our grassroots organizing, public outreach, education, and legal advocacy we are dedicated to leading the fight for the safe and timely clean-up of Hanford.  With your support we can bring a public hearing here in Seattle so that we can express the dangers of a renewed license for the Columbia Generating Station to the Energy Northwest Board of Directors.  Don’t be ignored, make your voice heard! 

Vivian Tam
Service Learner at HoANW
Junior at University of Washington
Studying Communication and Sociology