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People Power Trumps Corporate Power:
R.I.P Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant

Kathleen Krevetski Interviewed By Carolyn Baker

01 March, 2010

Last week I had the honor of speaking with Kathleen Krevetski of Rutland, Vermont who has worked hard to publicize the adverse effects of radiation from nuclear power plants on people's health, especially on women and children who are the most vulnerable. When I lived in Vermont, I personally witnessed Kathleen's struggle along with other Vermonters to organize for the closing of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, and I stand in awe of her and their accomplishment. Thanks to these dedicated activists, the Vermont Senate voted to close Yankee on February 24.

I was inspired to focus on Kathleen because she is a friend and because I had firsthand awareness of her passionate commitment to a local cause-a commitment that shared by a small community of activists, has now made an enormous difference not only for Vermonters, but for all of New England and perhaps the rest of the country also.

In fact, in an article "David vs. Goliath Vermont Style", Charlotte Dennett, who ran for Attorney General in Vermont in 2008 stated on February 26:

A driving snowstorm could not keep Vermonters away from the statehouse in Montpelier yesterday as the Vermont Senate convened a historic debate and then voted on the future of the state's aging nuclear power plant. Some 1300 people - most of them standing before live video coverage outside the small, overcrowded Senate chamber -- listened to several hours of respectful debate that even included the proposition of building a new nuclear power plant in Vermont as per President Obama's pro-nuclear agenda. But when it was all over, senators from both parties resoundingly voted against a last-minute amendment for a new plant to replace the old one, and similarly defeated re-licensure of Vermont Yankee in 2012 by a vote of 26 to 4. Amidst cheers, clapping and hugs from the victors, it was clearly another Vermont moment for a state that prides itself on being cutting edge on social, political and environmental issues. As the only state in the nation that by statute allows its legislature to decide whether to re-license a nuclear power plant, the vote is likely to have wide-reaching ramifications, including for residents of Massachusetts who live near the Vermont Yankee plant.

I caught up with Kathleen by phone on the day of the Senate's historic vote and she graciously gave me this interview.

Kathleen, please tell us what motivated you initially to begin organizing for the closure of Vermont Yankee.

In my work, I am standing on the shoulders of many anti-nuclear activists who have worked tirelessly over the years fighting a corrupt nuclear industry that cares more about its proliferation than the health of the people who are affected.

Last week's vote against the relicensing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant near Brattleboro is considered historic because it has allowed the voices of Vermont people to be heard through their elected leaders who voted against allowing Vermont Yankee to continue past its expected lifetime of 2012. It has allowed the people to say what Entergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have been doing: Allowing contamination of the air we breathe and the water we drink, and that is not acceptable. The NRC has never said no to the nuclear industry, and I feel that the NRC is corrupt and is in collusion with the industry, allowing aging nuclear power plants numerous license amendments and exemptions from safety testing over the years.

What specific research did you do on the medical dangers of Vermont Yankee? Tell us a bit about what you discovered.

As a registered nurse and after many years of working in the medical profession, I am acutely aware of the health and environmental dangers that make people sick. Myself a breast cancer survivor, I have watched over the years as the incidence of breast cancer continues to increase with nobody asking the right questions. One out of 13 women got breast cancer when I was first diagnosed in 1984. Today the incidence is one woman out of eight. What is that about? Passionately wanting to protect my family and my community, I have committed myself to the crusade to stop the relicensing of what my research revealed: that thyroid cancer, a marker for radiation exposure was on the rise in women not only in Vermont but across the country.

Although I am only one of hundreds of Vermonters against Yankee I was irate when the Vermont Department of Public Health re-wrote Vermont's radiation protection regulations weakening the laws to allow Vermont Yankee an uprate in 2006 which also allowed greater amounts of radioactive contaminants to be emitted from the site. The ionizing radiation to which people are exposed as a result of Vermont Yankee's operations is a known human carcinogen. No dose is without risk, and the best science today tells us that even very low doses of radiation pose a risk over a person's lifetime.

The NRC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who are in charge of radiation protection are still using standards that do not take into account the differences in susceptibility to radiation-induced cancer, with women facing a risk about 50 percent higher than men while the risk for children is several times higher. What is happening to the health of women and children is not being captured in national or state health statistics because the data being publicized on men and women is condensed and aggregated over 5 years so that the public health significance is being lost. It is a national issue because the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not have jurisdiction over the NRC. Nobody does. The NRC is charged with protecting the public, but all we see here in Vermont is the NRC protecting the industry that pays their salaries

Tell us what else motivates you.

I have been an activist my whole life. My parents instilled in me that it was important to contribute to community life and work toward making this world a better place for the children and generations who come after us. Being political is one way but not the only way. Choices we make, where we live, what we buy, who we support, are all ways we can make a difference. You find your passion. What I am doing to expose the corruption of the NRC and the nuclear industry and its health effects on future generations is mine.

What specific research did you do on Vermont Yankee? Tell us a bit about what you discovered.

In the United States, the NRC's technical and safety regulations governing nuclear power plants are developed by the private nuclear industry using voluntary consensus standards. The owners of the nuclear power plants, the suppliers and manufacturers who sell the nuclear fuel, as well as the builders of nuclear power plants, are providing the oversight on themselves--policing their own industry just like the banking and financial industry did before their massive taxpayer bailout. Most of those standards in use are outdated but are still in use by the nuclear industry. They would never pass muster today knowing what we know.

Of course, what we know today as far as the effect of radioactive contamination is being ignored. The NRC is allowing radioactive tritium contamination across the country. Tritium caused mutagic effects on DNA especially in the unborn, but the NRC thinks it's OK for the decrepit, aging plants to wash it away in our rivers. That's OK with them, but it's not to the kids or women drinking that water downstream. The NRC tells us it will not harm us and no one has the jurisdiction over them to dispute what they say or are allowed to do.

One of the arguments against voting down Yankee's relicensing was economic. Supporters of Yankee argued that closing the power plant would hurt Vermont economically and cause utility rate increases. Opponents of Yankee argued that closing Yankee would provide an excellent opportunity to enhance the state's economy by investing in renewables and making the state more self-sufficient. Tell us your thoughts on this issue.

Vermont needs jobs but not at the cost of the health of our women children and future generations. Besides, look at all the work they are doing there now digging wells to see if they can make the tritium disappear. Today it's reported that the cesium they found deep in the ground was from Chernobyl. Believe that one. A nuclear accident from 1986 is still contaminating our soil in Vermont. That does not make me feel any safer. There will be plenty of jobs cleaning up the radioactive contamination at Vermont Yankee. However, the industry is not mandated to clean it up. Besides that, there is nowhere to ship the radioactive waste on site, so Vermont Yankee supporters can work there guarding it for infinity. Vermont wants the site returned to a green field. Let's see what the NRC does about that.

The industry's rhetoric about jobs and such is not trumped by the deceit and lies they have demonstrated, and I believe those are only the tip of the iceberg. It was recently revealed that Neil Sheehan, our NRC spokesman, did not think it was a public concern nor important enough to report to the public that over a million gallons of tritium- laced water was dumped into the Hudson river by Entergy's Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant--the drinking water supply of New York City! We only find this out because of a whistleblower. If a whistleblower goes to the NRC with a complaint, the NRC does not have to report it to the public. In my opinion, the NRC is deeply corrupted.

I know that you and your family have made some personal changes in lifestyle in order to utilize renewable energy rather than rely on the conventional power grid in Vermont. Can you tell us about those?

Changing one's lifestyle is a personal process that is never finished as there is always more you can do. Reducing our carbon footprint one step at a time is the right choice for us. What we do is personal for us, and everyone needs to be thoughtful to make that commitment. Our biggest commitment is choosing to live in the city of Rutland and help the city survive rough times. We can walk or bike anywhere we need to go.

I'm also aware that you are passionately committed to your local community of Rutland. You are involved in the local food coop there and in the arts in your town. Tell us more about what you're doing and why you feel it's so important.

Rutland is a city without an interstate so it is not easy to get here. We are surrounded by mountains and farmland, and some of us want to keep it that way. We don't have urban sprawl. We have no buses into the city but we do have Amtrak, and that needs to be seriously upgraded. Vermont relies heavily on the economic engine of tourism. Many of us rely on the Killington Ski Area and tourism for work even though those are seasonal and minimal wage job opportunities for a relatively well educated population. It is a choice many are making, and we all come together as a community via the local food coop and a year-round farmer's market. Our family is promoting walking gently on the earth with the annual Rutland Long Trail festival coming into its fourth year, celebrated in August in the heart of Rutland. As the city goes, so does the rest of Rutland County, so what we do here is very important. We need to be vigilant in preserving and developing the assets we do enjoy.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your journey of activism in the past couple of decades or that you'd like to add about Vermont's decision not to relicense Yankee?

This fight is far from over. The people of Vermont through this vote have flexed their muscle. The NRC is put on notice. They are not considered trustworthy. Will they mandate that Entergy clean up its mess and leave Vermont Yankee as a green field? The fight has only begun.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The February 24 decision by the Vermont Senate not to relicense Vermont Yankee was a stunning triumph of activism and local political action by citizens passionately committed to their place and its environment. When we juxtapose it with the paralysis of our pathetically corrupt federal system, it is all the more remarkable. It is testimony to the power of local communities cooperating to defend and protect the integrity of their place, their people, and their land base. I reiterate what I have stated repeatedly: All solutions are local, and if it's not local, it's not a solution.

Kathleen Krevetski lives with her husband Wayne in Rutland, Vermont, and they have come to think of themselves as urban homesteaders. Check our http://www.longtrailfestivalvt.com/ or visit the festival on August 7, 2010