In 1991, Bernie Sanders joined Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. James Jeffords (R-VT) and Governor Howard Dean in supporting the shutdown of the Yankee Rowe nuclear power plant in Rowe, Mass., on the Southern Vermont border. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission urged the immediate shutdown of the Western Mass plant due to safety concerns.
“Yankee Rowe has been endangering the health and safety of millions of New Englanders every day it continues to operate,” said Sanders.
Although there were a few protests from those living in the shadow of the plant, Sen. Leahy concluded, “You don’t patch and tape when you are dealing with a nuclear reactor. You shut the whole thing down and you don’t start it up again until every contingency has been accounted for.”
Sanders said the shutdown should also be an impetus for energy conversion. “It’s time to close it for good and begin the transition to an economy based on clean, renewable, safe sources of energy.”
Sanders elaborated on the specific safety concerns in a 1991 op-ed:
“The Yankee Rowe nuclear power plant…could well be the site of the first nuclear meltdown in the nation – if you don’t count the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. Extremely serious charges have been raised by current and former staffers of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and by other responsible and knowledgeable persons, about the condition of the reactor pressure vessel at Yankee Row. This vessel, composed of metal alloys, is about 8 feet in diameter, 10 feet high, and 8 inches thick. The alloys have become embrittled by age and by the intense bombardment of radiation over many years, resulting in a situation in which the vessel could rupture under conditions of unusual temperature and pressure.”
“If the vessel were to rupture, the cool water would be lost and a meltdown could result, releasing dangerous radiation to the winds. The destination of the radiation – Vermont to the north, New York to the west, Connecticut to the south or Massachusetts to the east – would depend on the vagaries of the weather conditions at the time.”
“The evidence is overwhelming that there is something very wrong at Yankee Rowe. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group with long experience and undeniable expertise on nuclear power, has cited chapter and verse on numerous violations of the NRCs own safety rules.”
The Yankee Rowe plant was shut down in 1992. Sanders issued a statement in response:
“As someone who has been deeply involved in the whole safety issue of the Yankee Rowe plant, I am delighted to see that the Yankee Rowe Board of Directors has made the right decision to permanently close this plant — the oldest nuclear power plant in the nation. This decision is important, not only for those concerned about the safety of the Yankee Rowe plant, but for all those who believe that there are far safer and more sensible sources of energy available than nuclear power. Clearly, the task in front of us now is to create tens of thousands of new jobs through a massive energy conservation project and the development of renewable, safe forms of energy,” said Sanders.