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Valley News - Pollina Opposes Extension Of Nuclear Plant's License

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Location: West Lebanon, VT

Valley News - Pollina Opposes Extension Of Nuclear Plant's License

John P. Gregg

Independent gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina yesterday said he believes the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is "dangerous" and should be denied an extension when its federal license expires in 2012.

A cooling tower partially collapsed in the summer of 2007, though the reactor itself was not in danger, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently faulted the quality of repairs to fix the problem.

Pollina, in a meeting with Valley News editors and reporters, said he regards the plant as "very dangerous" in part because of the "highly radioactive waste" generated by the plant, which provides about 30 percent of Vermont's power and also sells electricity out-of-state.

"I do not support the relicensing for Vermont Yankee," Pollina said. "It's debatable whether it's reliable or safe, but I don't consider it to be. I want our energy future to be Vermont-owned and Vermont controlled, and Entergy Nuclear, not Vermont Yankee, Entergy Nuclear, doesn't fit into that picture very well anymore."

The 36-year-old plant in Vernon, Vt., along the Connecticut River, is owned by Entergy Nuclear, an out-of-state corporation seeking to expand the license for another 20 years.

The Vermont Legislature must vote to approve the licensing before the 2012 deadline, and Entergy Nuclear has been running advertisements with a slogan calling nuclear power "Safe. Clean. Affordable."

Pollina said he would consider a two-year license extension, if necessary, to give Vermont more time to develop alternative energy sources, such as obtaining more electricity from HydroQuebec.

Pollina's rivals, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and House Speaker Gaye Symington, a Democrat, have not directly called for closure, pending a legislative review and vote on the matter. Symington's Web site says the plant should be closed if it is "not found to be safe and reliable," and she also has said she would try to "wean Vermont off its reliance on Vermont Yankee" over the next decade if it does win an extension.

On other topics, the 56-year-old Pollina, a former community organizer who ran three statewide races as a Progressive, said he would:

Þ favor closing a capital-gains loophole to help finance a $75 million infrastructure program;

Þ tap the state's rainy day fund to "make sure people don't freeze this winter" if they need help with fuel bills;

Þ and reiterated that he would seek to create a statewide "self-insurance program," financed through an income tax, that would create a single-payer health care system for all Vermonters.

Such a move would require federal waivers, which Pollina said might be more likely should Democrat Barack Obama win the White House.

"I think the leadership has to come from the states to show how far we can make it happen," he said of health care reform. "Who in the room think what we're doing with health care now is working?"

Pollina also faulted Douglas for the management of the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury, which lost its federal certification and roughly $30 million in funding to the state.

Pollina opposes a "vote-twice" law scheduled to take effect next year that will require two Town Meeting votes on certain higher-spending school budgets. Douglas pushed for the law, and Symington originally supported it, but subsequently has sought to repeal it.

Pollina's opposition helped win him the endorsement of the Vermont-NEA, the state's largest teachers union.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the popular vote, the governor's race would be decided by the Legislature, as it was in 2002, when Pollina won 25 percent of the vote running for lieutenant governor. He said yesterday that legislators should make up their own mind about whom they would support under such a scenario, but suggested that lawmakers might vote for a second-place finisher if that candidate won the most votes in their districts.

"I think legislators should make their own decision based on whatever criteria they set out," Pollina said. "I agree, it would be hard for them not to elect the person who got the most (popular) votes."

Pollina spent several years establishing the Vermont Milk Co., which has a Hardwick, Vt., plant and was designed to provide Vermont farmers with more of a say over the sale of their milk.

The company, however, has been struggling financially. Pollina said he no longer has a direct connection to operations since he decided to run for governor earlier this year.

But he said the plant was plagued by high energy prices and changes in the milk market, and insisted that it will find its footing.

"It's going to wind up as the model for a local dairy processing plant in the state of Vermont," he said.

Though he has never held elective office, Pollina said his experience might be more valuable than that of his rivals.

"To me what's important as an organizer is to help people find their voices so they can have a real say in the issues that impact their lives," he said. "What you need is someone in (a) leadership position who is actually willing and able to work with people so they can achieve things that are going to work for their lives. That's why I'm running."

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