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Friday, March 23, 2012

Dozens arrested in Vermont Yankee protest

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. – A 93-year-old anti-nuclear activist was among scores of protesters arrested at the corporate headquarters of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant Thursday, the first day of the plant’s operation after the expiration of its 40-year license.

Frances Crowe, of Northampton, Mass., said she wants Vermont Yankee to cease operations because she feels it’s a threat to the people who live nearby.

“As I was walking down, all I could think of was Fukushima and the suffering of all the people, and I don’t want that to happen to New England,” said Crowe in referring to the Japanese nuclear reactor damaged last year after an earthquake and tsunami.

When asked how many times she’d been arrested, she answered: “Not enough.”

A heavy police presence and ropes blocked off access to the offices in Brattleboro. The arrests were made calmly and without any confrontation, with obvious signs that protesters and police had worked out the logistics beforehand. A company spokesman said work continued as normal at the plant 10 miles south in Vernon.

“We greatly appreciate the backing of our supporters and respect the rights of opponents to peacefully protest,” said a statement issued by company spokesman Larry Smith. “Inside the gates, our employees will not be distracted. As it is every day, their focus on safety will be laser sharp.”

A crowd estimated at more than 1,000 gathered in a downtown Brattleboro park before they marched the 3½ miles to the headquarters. Some marched on stilts. Others with painted faces carried signs that read “hell no, we won’t glow.” Many chanted: “Shut it down.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin was sympathetic to the protesters.

“I am very supportive of the peaceful protesters gathered today in Brattleboro to express their – and my – frustration that this aging plant remains open after its agreed-upon license has expired,” he said.

In a coordinated action in New Orleans, the headquarters of Vermont Yankee’s parent company, Entergy Nuclear, another group of seven activists were arrested after they went into the building and refused to leave, police said. The Journal News reported that five others also were arrested at Entergy offices in White Plains, N.Y.

Loyola University law professor Bill Quigley said the New Orleans protesters live near the Vermont plant and traveled to Louisiana to request a meeting with Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard. They didn’t get that meeting before they were arrested.

“We’re trying to tell Entergy that the whole world is watching, and you can’t pollute in one area of the country without consequences for everybody,” Quigley said.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued the plant a 20-year license extension, but the state of Vermont wants the plant to close and the two sides are fighting a legal battle. In January, a federal judge issued an order that allows the plant to continue operating while the legal case continues in court.

While the protesters gathered on the Brattleboro Commons, Vermont Yankee supporters sat across the street and watched. A half-dozen signs saying “VT4VY” were posted on the lawn.

“The thing is these people are not going to realize it until it’s too late what a benefit it is down there. I feel bad for them. I don’t think they’re looking at the big picture,” said Steve Shaclumis of Brattleboro.

Some of those arrested, including Crowe, were released immediately with citations to appear in court. Others were handcuffed and led onto a waiting school bus. It was expected they would be taken to a police station and then released.