2015: Year One of Shut Down

Happy Anniversary! And Congratulations! It has been one year since Vermont Yankee stopped producing highly radioactive waste.

It has been a busy year since VY shut down on December 29, 2014, although the “action” has been in meeting rooms rather than marching to the gate. For a bullet list of Yankee-related news, visit our VT Yankee Timeline for 2015 . Review our news posts for the year for opinion. Here are a few highlights:

The best news is the simplest:

The ice returned to the Connecticut River last winter.

The shad returned this spring in record numbers.

2015 has not been kind to the nation’s 2nd largest nuclear corporation. Entergy is closing two more reactors, Pilgrim in Plymouth, MA and Fitzpatrick in NY. Entergy’s profits were down 30% at the end of the 3rd quarter this year; their two Arkansas nukes plus Pilgrim sit dead last on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s safety list; and the NRC discovered that Entergy workers had faked 10 years of fire safety records at its Waterford nuke near New Orleans.

In Vermont, Entergy is under constant pressure from the State and from you and me, and we are starting to see some results. Entergy will begin moving the radioactive fuel out of the fuel pool two years earlier than it had planned. It will not use the decommissioning trust fund to move and manage the fuel. It will use a line of credit in anticipation of being reimbursed by the US Dept. of Energy.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel (NDCAP) got a new chair and co-chair, both citizens, and the neophytes on the panel got educated. The panel has come a long way; a few Entergy stunts woke folks up. NDCAP is now actively advising the State and is working with its counterparts in other states and with the US Congressional delegations from the region to influence the NRC.

There is even good news if you look at the big picture. Despite heavy lobbying by some big names, nuclear power does not appear in the agreement which came out of COP21 in Paris.

On the other hand … there is the NRC.  In an August story on overheating the Cape Cod Bay caused by Pilgrim, the NRC admitted that it had not studied the effect of climate change on nuclear facilities. Since nuclear power (ab)uses more water than any other energy production except hydro, you would think this is something the NRC might want to take a look into.

But denial is the NRC’s best friend.  It cancelled studies of cancer around 7 nuclear reactors in the US, claiming the public health data would not be worth the price of $8 million. Sound like a lot to you? Compare it the NRC’s nuclear reactor research & development budget. Last week, Congress approved “$986 million in fiscal 2016, an increase of $80 million, or 9 percent, over the requested budget.”

What will 2016 bring?

Citizens across the US and the world will continue to fight for their voices to be heard in the face of extreme energy projects built (and later abandoned) by corporations which put profits first.

The town of Vernon is desperate for tax money now that Yankee has shut down. This March, the town will vote on whether to host a new gas plant. It would hook up to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and compressor station proposed for neighboring Northfield, MA.

VT’s Public Service Board will act on Entergy’s application for a new dry cask storage pad. The fight is on: Entergy wants the PSB to ignore any testimony by the New England Coalition’s Ray Shadis, a twenty–year veteran of Yankee cases before the PSB. Windham Regional Commission thinks the pad is in the wrong place, and a lot of us agree with them that the DOE can’t be trusted to take away the waste in a timely manner.

The NRC is drafting new rules for decommissioning nuclear power plants. Bowing to pressure from all sides, it has extended the public comment period to March 18, 2016. [More on our website with a link to the NRC comment page.]

A Final 2015 Memory

One of the most difficult, but certainly memorable events of 2015 for me was when the NRC came to Brattleboro in February to get feedback from the public on Entergy’s decommissioning plan.

Bert Picard to the NRC: “So what are you? You are a government of occupation, right?”

Betsy Williams’ indignation: “When you tell me the casks will be adequate, that does not give me great assurance. I’m looking for a hell of a lot more than adequate.”

Kevin Kamps’ comments to the NRC are a fitting close to 2015.

“The folks in this room, educated citizens fighting Yankee for four decades, shut it down. You have to use your same courage and vision and creativity to make decommissioning happen.”

Peace, and No Nukes,

Leslie Sullivan Sachs

For the Safe & Green Campaign

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Xmas Gifts

We found a few holiday gifts under our tree this season:

  1. Under pressure from regional nuclear activists, NDCAP, and our Congressional delegations, on December 24th the Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended the deadline to comment on nuclear reactor decommissioning rules. The new deadline is March 18. We will share our comments here at a future date.
  2. Entergy announced that it will move the radioactive fuel out of the fuel pool and into dry casks two years earlier than planned. The new target date is 2017. Dry-Load-Entergy News-Release-FINAL
  3. Entergy says it will use $145 million line of credit to move the fuel, rather than drawing down the decommissioning fund.

There is one drawback of Entergy’s announcement about moving fuel. It puts pressure on VT’s Public Service Board to give a Certificate of Public Good to the dry cask location by this spring. The PSB will have to come up with some creative solution to make this work for Vermont. In Entergy’s application to the PSB, the casks are close to the reactor building. Before decommissioning the reactor can begin, the Dept. of Energy would need to take all the fuel away. We don’t trust that the DOE will have can do all that is necessary to take the fuel away.

A senior staffer from the pro-nuke trade group, Nuclear Energy Institute, came to the Vernon nuke recently to promote their spin on dry cask storage — “one of the great industrial success stories of our time. We did not envision dry cask storage when we built any of these plants.” Mike Faher’s interview is here.

As to the Christmas eve gift of an extended comment period on new rules: The NRC gets a lump of coal for not adding any public hearings in states that are currently or will soon undergo decommissioning. As it now stands, only one public meeting will be held. Read all about it, and comment, on the NRC website here.

The decomm rules won’t take effect until 2019 or later, says the NRC, so new rules will probably not affect the decommissioning of VT Yankee. But other host states and communities can learn from our experience. The decommissioning of merchant reactors is a whole new ball game, and we are the among first to go through the process.

VtDigger covers the story in more depth here.

 

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VT & MA Congressional Delegations Tell NRC to Let the People Speak

US Rep. Peter Welch (VT), US Rep. Keating (MA), US Senators Bernie Sanders, Pat Leahy, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren are calling for an extension of the public comment period on new decommissioning rules. The current deadline is January 4th. See our post here for how to comment to the NRC.

“[“[W]e believe the short public comment period and the plan to have a single public meeting will not give local and state stakeholders sufficient opportunities to participate meaningfully in the rulemaking process,” their letter to the NRC states. The letter asks that the deadline be extended to February 4.

They point out that scheduling the comment period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s “falls short of providing satisfactory time to comment.” The also ask that “a public meeting be held in each of the states in which a plant is currently being decommissioned, or will be decommissioned int he next four years”

 

 

You can Congress decommissioning-nuclear-plants-letter 12.7.15.

Please email your thanks to Katie_Thomas@sanders.senate.gov and michael_freedhoff@markey.senate.gov

 

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12/12 Rally & March in Boston

800 people so far have RSVPed to head to Boston this coming Saturday to make their voices heard on climate justice. Please join Safe & Green and 130+ other environmental, labor, social justice, and climate action groups co-sponsors. The action marks the end of the Paris climate talks.

Why go ?

  • The end is not in sight for climate change, nor for the talks in Paris. It is likely the close of the climate talks will be extended past Saturday.
  • Multiple reports say Nuclear power is a big player this year – hidden beneath the “clean energy” slogan (Take a look at the three articles at the end of this email). Bring your own graphics, or look for the No Nukes flags and get one of your own.
  • 350VT and 350Mass have made it easy for you. They have extended the bus RSVP so may still be time to catch a ride there & back for only $37.50. Tickets are here.
  • Our New England climate is obviously warming – it’s still protest ‘season’ for fair weather activists :)
  • Shela Linton, an ally, single mom & Brattleboro native, writes from Paris with a convincing argument for joining together with others who share our values: “Through my work with the Vermont Workers’ Center and our national allies, I’ve come to see the interconnections between environmental and social justice issues and the need to build unity between our movements.” You can read her Sunday OpEd from Paris here.

Following the official rally on the Boston Common at 1 and March to the State House at 2:30, other groups will engage in separate direct actions. One action at Fanieul Hall Marketplace is looking for non-arrest supporters. In another action, “Dressed as official MBTA employees, we will “officially” announce and hand out Change of Service maps due to massive flooding to people entering and exiting the subway system. The maps showcase the imminent devastation that sea level rise is going have on our coastal infrastructure if we cross the climate line and fail to keep 80% of our fossil fuel reserves in the ground.”
The latest official schedule is below and here: http://www.jobsjusticeclimate.org/logistics/

SPEAKER LINE-UP (PRELIMINARY)

1 PM: Rally at Parkman Band Stand

Derek Pellotte, 350 Mass for a Better Future

Sherri Mitchell, Maine Penobscot Tribe

Karen Higgins, Registered Nurse and National Co-President of National Nurses United

1:30 PM: March Begins

Stop 1: Fast food worker speaks in front of McDonalds
Stop 2: United Food and Commercial Workers worker speaks at Primark location
Stop 3: Jane Palmer, VT landowner & pipeline fighter, speaks in front of Kinder Morgan Office

2:30 PM: Rally at State House

John Robbins of Council of American Islamic Relations, Massachusetts

Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas Missioner for Creation Care, of Western MA Episcopal Church and founding member of MA Interfaith Climate Coalition

John Harrity, President of Connecticut State Council of Machinists

Adrian Ventura, Executive Director of New Bedford Worker Center

YouTube Inspirational Invite Here

12/12 Rally & March Facebook Page here

And here we’ve selected three articles about nukes & Paris, as promised above:
The View from New England on HuffPo how the Paris talks are like New England’s current energy “quandries”

China’s awful env. record – and it wants to build 110 new nukes by 2030? Washington Post
Linda Gunter’s Counter-Punch article here: who are the billionaires behind the Breakthrough?

 

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NDCAP: 12/10 Meeting on 3 Draft Advisory Opinions

At the November Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel (NDCAP) meeting, the panel passed an Advisory Opinion on the role of host communities in decommissioning: NDCAP Advisory Opinion – Engaging Host Communities – Adopted 11.12.15

Three more draft advisory opinions will be under discussion at the next NDCAP meeting December 10 [6pm, Brattleboro Area Middle School Multi-Purpose Room, 109 Sunny Acres Drive, Brattleboro, VT. (Sunny Acres Dr. is on the right just before the High School).

The more citizens at the meeting commenting the better! At a minimum, please email comments to mailto:PSD.NDCAP@vermont.gov

  1. We support the draft opinion addressing the re-location of the dry cask storage pad which will house 900+ tons of radioactive waste.   PDF of the  Advisory Opinion -DRAFT ISFSI-CPG – Submitted 10.15.15(1)

Here’s our take: Entergy proposes to build the second pad next to the existing pad. Both are within the “protected area” (near the reactor building).  Entergy’s plans are based on the false hope that the Dept of Energy will take the radioactive waste away by 2052, before it starts taking down the reactor building. Looking at the long history of Yucca Mtn. and other proposals for long term storage, there is no reason to believe Congress, the NRC, DOE and all the other players will find a site or sites, pass a law, enable regulations, build the facility, and license it —  by 2052.

We support the position of the Windham Regional Commission (WRC), which wants the PSB to make Entergy build the new pad further away from the reactor, in case the waste still there when the time comes for decommissioning the reactor. This Advisory Opinion also supports finding a location on site but far enough away from the reactor building such that it will be able to be decommissioned even if the DOE does not remove the waste in time.

VT’s NDCAP joined community advisory boards in MA, Maine and CT  which wrote “to federal lawmakers, urging approval of an interim, centralized storage facility so that nuclear waste won’t be stashed long-term at four shuttered plants – Vermont Yankee, Maine Yankee, Connecticut Yankee and Yankee Rowe.” [VtDigger 11.27.15]

2. We support continued funding of the emergency response plan. Advisory Opinion – DRAFT RERP – Submitted 10.15.15

This opinion was drafted by Dr. Bill Irwin of the VT Dept. of Health. It recommends funding emergency response planning for the state and towns as appropriate for the levels of risk at the different stages of decommissioning. Which makes a lot of sense to us. The level of risk which radioactive fuel is being moved from the fuel pool is different from the risk while it is stored in dry casks. The level of risk during so-called SAFSTOR (moth ball period) is different from the risk we will face when the radioactive buildings and the soil below are being decontaminated.

Currently, the NRC and Entergy operate under the delusion that any radioactive releases – whether in air, water or in the earth – will stop at the boundary of the site. Such wishful thinking does not protect the school 1500 feet from the site, nor those of us living downwind.

3. Groundwater monitoring. To be honest, your loyal scribe could not understand the 7-page proposal. At November’s NDCAP meeting we learned that it was written by Entergy staff. Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel Advisory Opinion – Groundwater Monitoring Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel Advisory Opinion – Groundwater Monitoring

After the November NDCAP meeting, Dr. Irwin drafted a counter proposal. DRAFT – NDCAP Groundwater Advisory Opinion Counter-Proposal – Submitted 11.23.15 (Bill Irwin)

We support Dr Irwin’s counter-proposal, that the Dept of Health be funded to monitor groundwater. In the past, VT Dept of Health found tritium and/or strontium 90 in the groundwater when Yankee staff did not report finding any. “Split samples” we take to mean that both VY and the Dept of Health analyze the same samples/

“The citizens of Vermont have relied on the independent VDH laboratory analysis of split samples from the VY site and its surrounding public environment which have been published for more than forty years. This independence and ease of access to data is a cornerstone of Vermont’s public health system and it provides Vermonters greater confidence that their land, water, air and health are fully protected.”

The NDCAP subcommittee on issues to take on as future advisory opinions will be meeting Friday, December 4th, 2015 from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM at the Windham Regional Commission (WRC), 139 Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont. The meeting will be held in the WRC conference room. Like all NDCAP meetings, it will be open to the public. Remote access locations are listed on the NDCAP webage. http://publicservice.vermont.gov/topics/electric/nuclear#NDCAP

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NRC Opens Public Comment Period on New Decomm Rules

It will take a few years to create new decommissioning rules, and they will not affect Vermont Yankee decommissioning, says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But Safe & Green Campaign believes other states and citizens groups should learn for the lessons we are currently being taught about decommissioning. This was just posted, so it will take a bit to process. We will post our own comments for you to read at a later date. For now, below is the link from the Federal Register as of November 19, 2015.

We have 45 days to comment (before January 4, 2016).

Regulatory Improvements for Decommissioning Power Reactors

Just in case you are free all day Wednesday December 9, the NRC is hosting a meeting on decommissioning rules. It is in Rockville, MD but you can tune in on line and comment. NRC 12.09.15 ML15306A003

Here is contact info to RSVP

Jenny Tobin, NRR
301-415-2328
Jennifer.Tobin@nrc.gov

TELECONFERENCE: Bridge Number PassCode
888-659-9574 8778250
WEBINAR: URL
https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3410671145873306881

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DPS Public Hearing 11/18: Advocating for Change

For the last few decades, countless cases about VT Yankee have been heard at the Public Service Board, including the sale to Entergy, the uprate, dry cask storage #1 and now dry cask storage #2. The Dept of Public Service — DPS —  are our advocates in front of the Public Service Board. The DPS is asking citizens to comment on how they could restructure to better serve the public. Please read their brief statement here.
DPS is holding a hearing on Wednesday Nov 18, at Brattleboro High School, 131 Fairground Road, 6:30 – 9:00pm. Please comment! Or email comments to Wayne.Jortner@vermont.gov by November 30.DPS doesn’t want these hearings to turn into a litany of complaints about the past. So let’s get a few things out of our system now:

Just imagine VT Yankee’s history if a truly independent advocate had represented us. Would there have been an uprate? Would there have been a backroom deal about dry casks? If an independent advocate were representing citizen ratepayers during the Senate vote, and after years of town meetings, could Yankee have shut down on March 22, 2012?

At times the DPS has had a cozy relationship with Entergy. So cozy that in 2010, for example, David O’Brien, DPS Commissioner under pro-nuclear Gov. Jim Douglas, hosted a Christmas party which the VP of Entergy attended. A brouhaha ensued. Just imagine VT Yankee’s history if a truly independent advocate had represented us. Would there have been an uprate? Would there have been a backroom deal about dry casks? After the Senate vote, after years of town meetings, with an independent advocate would Yankee have shut down on March 21, 2012?

Two former DPS “ratepayer advocates” are currently on the 3-member Public Service Board; both served under Jim Douglas. PSB Chair Jim Volz was director of DPS public advocacy for 16 years; Sarah Hoffman was director after he moved to the PSB.

Electric power did not reach Jamaica in Windham County until 1964. People wanted power, and they wanted it cheap. Fifty years later, power is a lot more complicated, and citizens are educated and active in power politics, excited or opposed to technologies, and concerned about impacts on land, water, air and public health. But if we disagree with a position taken by DPS, we do not have a voice unless we have big bucks to pay for our own utility lawyers, after proving we have “intervenor status” at the PSB.  DPS always has intervenor status.

There are other models out there. Chris Williams of VCAN and NIRS passed along an innovative idea from Indiana. The Indiana Utility Ratepayer Trust

was established from a settlement over a cancelled nuke project. Groups or individuals who want to participate in cases before the state’s utility regulator, FERC, or the FCC can apply to the trust for funding.

 AARP and 350VT are calling for “independent ratepayer advocates.” Below is an email from 350VT which clearly lays out some of the issues in the context of gas pipelines. (Edited: deleted info on Nov 17 hearing date in Shelburne).

Peace, Leslie Sullivan Sachs
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Vernon Gassing Up

Here is the VtDigger report on the gas meeting in Vernon this past Tuesday night. It was a standing-room only crowd. The moderator said that Vernon residents would speak first, but as the meeting went on he never said when non-residents could start speaking, but it was clear to me that the majority  of speakers were Vernon residents.

The VtDigger article is a good one, so please give it a read. We were surprised that the planning commission had not already looked at the public health impacts of emissions from a gas powered generating plant, which concerned several residents. Some residents pointed out the hypocrisy of using fracked gas for electricity when VT has banned fracking. Town officials made gross generalizations about the need for more power generating capacity in New England and about solar, wind and other renewables being intermittent and unreliable.

Members of the town planning commission stated firmly that looking beyond Vernon at the human and environmental impacts of fracking is not their job. Beyond the heartlessness of that stance, there is the issue of Vernon’s border town, Northfield. Vernon’s proposal depends on Kinder Morgan;s building a compressor station and pipeline in Northfield. At a minimum, Vernon should do the neighborly thing and listen, learn and work with Northfield. We have a lot of work ahead. –Leslie Sullivan Sachs

Ann Darling, a member of the Safe & Green Campaign’s steering committee, shared these thoughts after the meeting.

Just got home from the meeting in Vernon. This was supposed to be a meeting for the Planning Commission members to get a pulse of the town about whether or not to pursue a [fracked] gas-powered power generating station to be sited near the electric transmission infrastructure at Vermont Yankee. I found it surreal and scary.

The scary parts: The presentation by Martin Langeveld for the Planning Commission was totally and transparently pro doing the project. Langeveld stated that Kinder Morgan has a good safety record. Even the federal government doesn’t believe that: Read this list of deaths, accidents and evacuations from February 2015. Scary: the Planning Commission never looked at the health impacts of hosting a gas plant. More scary: When they didn’t like what residents said, Planning Commission members Patty O’Donnell and Janet Rasmussen responded/argued their position without recognition from the moderator, and belittled the residents with whom they disagreed. No one – called them on their bullying rants. Even more scary: It was clear from both direct comments and from tone that this discussion should be just “about Vernon” — in other words, not about the pros and cons of fracked gas or the pipeline, not how the Kinder Morgan compression station would impact Vernon’s neighbors in Northfield — just about Vernon and what Vernon needs. What does Vernon need? Tax dollars. People who brought up the ethics of benefitting from fracking or the risks of a gas plant explosion so close to all that radioactive fuel were shut down. Scary too, because there seemed to be general agreement that we can’t rely on solar and wind to get us through dark, still days, that and we need “back up” from hydrocarbons — no mention of conservation, no big picture thinking about how to go full tilt with renewables.

Surreal? Well, surreal that this group of people was discussing something over which they really have no control. If the developers and Kinder Morgan and the regulators and all the other players decide this will happen, it will happen whether or not the residents of Vernon want it to. Surreal because there were so many statements about how stringent the regulatory structure is and how they could rely on federal regulators to keep the town safe from air pollutants and explosions, and that, in fact, the heavy weight of those regulations is a burden to any industry Surreal because, as someone asked, what happens in 30 years [or 10, or 5] when the plant is no longer profitable and shuts down? Haven’t these folks lived through that, and isn’t once enough? As one friend of our work said after the meeting, there was a lot of playing to fear of higher taxes and not having enough electricity. And another one said that the tone of the meeting was very American. By that I think she meant that it was about individualism and local needs, not seeing this event in a larger context or thinking long-term.

It’s a lesson to all of us who want this country and this world to make very big shifts very quickly (so that we can ALL go on living on a beautiful and functioning planet) that it will be very, very hard work. The frameworks and values that people carry in their minds leave us very far apart and polarized. That’s perhaps the most scary of all, because if we don’t find common ground, we’re all going to be in for a bad ride, and our children will be in for an even worse one.

 

 

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Juggling 3 Reactors

The NRC says there is nothing to worry about: Entergy’s finances are just jim dandy.

But the State of Vermont disagrees, and Green Mtn. Power recently joined the state’s campaign to see that decommissioning trust funds (DTF) are used for only for decommissioning. Entergy recent withdrawal of DTF included $1.5 million for property taxes to the Town of Vernon. Mike Fahr of VtDigger covers the issue here.

“Especially in light of Entergy’s recent announcements regarding the upcoming closure of the Pilgrim and FitzPatrick nuclear plants, the NRC needs to start taking these matters more seriously and provide a comprehensive and participatory process for reviewing requests to use decommissioning funds.” Chris Recchia, Public Service Dept.

Chris Campany of the Windham Regional Commission also worries about Entergy’s use of DTF, in this article on “Entergy Juggling Multiple Shutdowns” 11.05.15

“I worry that Entergy and the NRC are operating under assumptions that perhaps make the decommissioning trust numbers work in favor of a desirable answer. I hope I’m wrong”

The day after Entergy announced its plan to close the Pilgrim reactor, Power magazine published this article: Is Entergy Moving Out of Nukes?

And as Chris Recchia, Commissioner of VT Dept. of Public Service pointed out 11.05.15:

“The closure announcements are interesting taken collectively,” Recchia said. “If nuclear is not economically competitive in New England, where electricity prices are high and where gas is constrained, where can it be profitable?”

 

 

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Another One Bites the Dust

On November 2, Entergy made two announcements: it posted a big loss for the quarter, it will close its Fitzpatrick reactor once its fuel has run out.

Entergy blamed “market conditions” for the closure of the single-unit reactor on Lake Oswego. According to Power magazine’s blog, “The company said that it had worked with New York State officials during the past two months “to reach a constructive and mutually beneficial agreement to avoid a shutdown.” In the end, it was unsuccessful.”

From the Vermont Yankee experience “negotiating” the settlement agreement,” w understand that a state has little leverage with a nuclear company. The NRC places all the cards in the hands of the owner.

NY Governor Cuomo wants to retain the 600 jobs. He immediately announced that he would “pursue every legal and regulatory avenue” to keep Fitzpatrick open. At the same tie, he re-affirmed his commitment to close Indian Point. Let’s hope he doesn’t concede that point to keep Fitzpatrick open.

The nuclear industry pressure to keep IP open must be tremendous. Shutting down Indian Point would tell the world that the US nuclear experiment is over.

Closer to home, the closure of Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and Fitzpatrick proves that Entergy made a very bad call when it bought these old reactors in the Northeast. I don’t know about you, but I feel nervous when I think about Entergy making business decisions about the Decommissioning Trust Fund we all paid in to.

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