University of Vermont

UVM Researcher Pens New Book on Vermont Yankee Story

Richard Watts's new book Public Meltdown: The Story of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant touches on corporations, state, and federal governments, and Vermont towns

Public Meltdown Cover
Public Meltdown: The Story of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant

In 2010, Vermont legislators voted to shutter a nuclear power plant, putting the State of Vermont at odds with the federal government and the plant’s owner—the Louisiana-based Entergy Corporation.  Public Meltdown explores the debate that roiled Vermont--including the lawsuits and court action that followed.

Public Meltdown: The Story of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, written by Research Associate Professor Richard Watts, Ph.D., examines the debate between the federal government, Entergy and the State of Vermont in the case of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear power plant.

"I wrote this story because I think its an awfully good story," says Watts, who grew up in Putney, Vermont, near Vermont Yankee.

"This book is not meant to be pro or against nuclear power, it’s a story of a story. I try and be transparent. Let readers take whatever meaning they want from the story. Hence all the footnotes," Watts reflects.

In rich, well-researched detail, Dr. Watts tells a story that spotlights the role of state governments, citizens and activists in decisions about the nation’s aging nuclear power fleet.  A story that continues today as both Entergy, the nation’s second largest nuclear operator, and the state of Vermont have appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Public Meltdown details a series of missteps by the Louisiana-based Entergy Corporation which owns Vermont Yankee, from inadequate follow-up after one of the plant’s cooling towers collapsed to misleading statements to state regulators about tritium leaks from underground pipes.

Watts also highlights the role of activists and plant opponents in re-framing the debate from one of jobs and low-priced electricity to a story of an aging nuclear plant run by an out-of-state and untrustworthy owner.

The book puts these two stories into the context of the debate about adding twenty years to the original 40-year nuclear plant licenses. Some 15 nuclear plants are presently requesting license renewals and another 17 are expected. Governments in states such as New York, California and Vermont are engaged in contesting these license renewals concerned about the role of states in overseeing the non-safety aspects of nuclear power plants within their state borders.

In 2002, Entergy bought the Vermont Yankee power plant from a group of Vermont utilities, agreeing at the time to seek state oversight for a twenty-year license extension. Entergy applied for that permit to the NRC in 2006 and to Vermont regulators in 2008. In 2010, the Vermont legislature voted to close the plant. The following year, after receiving a permit from the NRC, Entergy sued the state. In January 2012, Entergy won the first round when the U.S. District Court voided the Legislature’s action but also reaffirmed the role of state regulators in issuing a permit. In March, both Entergy and the state appealed the District Court’s action, requesting action from the U.S. Court of Appeals. 

Watts will be giving a public talk with Attorney General Bill Sorrell on March 21st at 7:30 p.m. in Billings North Lounge, University of Vermont Center for Research on Vermont Energy Series
with a book signing and reception to follow.