Conference Assesses Socioeconomic Impact Of Nuclear Plant Closure

Apr 15, 2014

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant
Credit Entergy/NRC

A conference at Landmark College earlier this month focused on the socioeconomic ramifications of Vermont Yankee’s closure and how lessons learned here — and previous nuclear plant closures — could aid other communities facing future nuclear plant shutdowns.

The April 2nd conference "Nuclear Power Plants: Socioeconomic Impacts of Closure" was organized by the Nuclear Plant Closure Working Group.  Jeffrey Lewis says most people only look at the cost of physical decommissioning once a nuclear power plant closes. He says that does not address the economic impacts in the host communities.  “Those are under-documented effects.  The reason they’re particularly dramatic is that many nuclear power plants, not just in the U.S. but around the world, are located in rural and semi-rural areas. And most communities are completely unprepared. They haven’t planned. A nuclear power plant has a licensed life at the end of which it ceases to be economically productive. It ceases to be licensable and it will be closed and taken down.”

The goal of the conference was to identify issues and build an agenda to help Brattleboro, the surrounding region and communities that will face future reactor shutdowns. Lewis notes that all 102 operating nuclear power plants across the U.S. will face the loss of license before 2050. Many European countries and Japan are reducing dependence on nuclear power and closing reactors. Working Group member Jennifer Stromsten adds that communities must seize the closures as an opportunity to develop new economic practices, but there are no economic blueprints to help.  “Vermont Yankee has done this better than any other community in the United States has probably done it so far. And that’s really something tangible to build from.  Another piece of this is that two percent of the jobs in southern Vermont, Windham County, and five percent of the income are being lost. The same is true for New Hampshire and Franklin County, Massachusetts. One of the things that has come out of this  is bringing together the economic development people to talk about collaboration.”

Most of the information that can be gleaned regarding the socioeconomic impacts of a nuclear plant’s closure is currently based on a paper co-written about 20 years ago by UMass Amherst Professor of Regional Planning John Mullin. He has found a stigma remains for any nuclear community.  “It’s not the same as any other closing or any other industrial closing. Once you’ve been identified as a nuclear community, it is very hard to recover from what you were once before. Secondly what happens is that there is,  I call it a death by a thousand cuts. Where bit, by bit, by bit a community sees itself where it was once a very, very prosperous place but people leave in ones and twos and businesses close, slowly. So that by the time it’s done the place is really quite empty.”

Professor Mullin would like to see a federal program for post-nuclear communities similar to what was created to help during military base closure redevelopment.

Entergy, the owner of Vermont Yankee,  announced on August 27th, 2013 that the plant would close in the fourth quarter of 2014.  A specific date has yet to be announced. The company is shuttering the facility due to a number of financial issues, including the low cost of natural gas and high costs to operate Vermont Yankee.