Nuke Plant Wins by “Caring about the Community”

Vermont Yankee, our local nuclear power plant, threw everything it had at local voters to defeat a non-binding resolution against nuclear power.

Specifically, the resolution asked state officials to oppose Vermont Yankee's sale to the Mississippi-based Entergy Nuclear Company; oppose the extension of Yankee's operating license; and work towards its ultimate shutdown.

Vermont Yankee spent $46,000 to make its case. I doubt that the anti-nuclear proponents spent a thousand. Yankee's public relations campaign burst upon southeastern Vermont the final weekend with postcards, lawn signs, store posters, telephone calls, and innumerable print and broadcasting ads.

Although the opponents of nuclear power carried the day in seven of nine towns in Windham County, supporters of the power plant won big in Brattleboro and won the total county vote, 2471 to 2315.

Yankee won this election because it effectively framed the vote in terms of jobs and the local economy. Ten or twenty years ago, Vermont Yankee would have defended nuclear power as safe, cheap and efficient. But no one believes that anymore. In this election, most of the pro-Yankee ads were taken out by labor unions. Their message was directed at people concerned about jobs, their own and those of their neighbors.

I'm a union man myself (National Writers Union, Local 1981 of the UAW AFL/CIO). "Never cross a picket line," my parents told me, and I never have. It's a tough one when union members are forced to choose between their jobs and protecting the environment or broader issues of national well-being. The workers at Yankee are my neighbors. Their kids have played with my kids, we've done stuff together. I'm sympathetic to their idea that one should be able to keep a job for life. But under current global, free market priorities, the promise of job security and the importance of community are being battered.

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I spent a productive time in the late 1970s installing solar hot water systems in the Brattleboro area. We had a nascent solar industry in this town, manufacturing and installing solar panels. It was destroyed when the Reagan Administration took the tax credits away from alternative energy. I lost my job. Likewise, without public subsidies, there would be no nuclear power. Millions of Americans have lost good jobs because of government policy or corporate decision-making. Brattleboro history is fraught with businesses moving elsewhere and local people losing their jobs.

What Vermont Yankee and their union members are advocating is an economic system that this country has decisively (and mistakenly) rejected. If, for financial reasons, Entergy's board of directors decides to shut Vermont Yankee down, we'll see how much they care about jobs and the local economy. I dare say that Yankee workers will find more support on issues of jobs and income among anti-nuclear environmentalists than they will among the corporate suits for whom Vermont Yankee (should we call it "Mississippi Yankee" if the deal with Entergy goes through?) is merely a short-term profit center. And if a terrorist flies a plane into the pool where Yankee stores its radioactive fuel, goodbye jobs and goodbye Vermont, and most of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. No number of moonlighting cops can stop such an attack, and no insurance policy is going to cover the disastrous losses.

Union ads swung this vote. The majority of the voters supported jobs, not nuclear power or Yankee's sale. I wish there was a way of translating this victory into public policy. Alas, protecting jobs and concern for the local economy is, I hardly think, a corporate priority. The idea of neighborliness, community solidarity, and job security for working people was used as nothing more than a very effective public relations device.

This article first appeared in the Brattleboro, Vermont Reformer, a local daily. Marty Jezer welcomes comments at

. Copyright © 2002 by Marty Jezer