Reporters, including many who’ve been covering Vermont Yankee for decades, showed up at Tuesday’s press conference at company headquarters in Brattleboro with slightly stunned expressions.
The media room at the offices of Vermont Yankee on the outskirts of Brattleboro has seen hundreds of press conferences, but none—in 41 years—quite like this one.
Police cruisers were parked outside. The media door was locked until shortly before three serious top officials from the Entergy Corporation sat down at a nondescript table.
No printed materials, no charts. Media from around Vermont—some called back from vacation-- hastily set up camera tripods and microphones.
One Brattleboro radio station, WTSA, carried the press conference live as other reporters frantically tweeted the bare fact that a controversial nuclear power plant would shut down in October 2014. Camera shutters snapped as Entergy official Bill Mohl made his prepared statement.
“Vermont Yankee has an immensely talented and dedicated work force as well as a solid base of support among many in the community. We recognize that closing the plant on this schedule is not what they had hoped for,” Mohl said.
Media questions in orderly succession centered on the time frame for closure, the method of storing spent fuel, and the reason for closing a plant that the company had fought bitterly in court to save. Mohl answered that a recent analysis shows that VT Yankee is no longer a viable asset.
“And so the decision was made Sunday evening,” he said.
Mohl said the roughly 600 employees—about 40 percent living in Vermont—were given the news only Tuesday morning, and that it’s too soon to disclose the terms of their severance packages and retention plans as the plant decommissions.
After the company officials left the room, reporters flocked to two state legislators from who had been quietly listening in the back.
Representative Mike Hebert expressed dismay at the loss of a major employer.
“Even their maintenance folks were paid well above the average pay for this area so they’re going to be gone, those are the people who buy your cars, eat in restaurants, they will have a huge impact,” Hebert said.
State Senator Jeannette White, who voted to close Vermont Yankee, was slightly more upbeat.
“Yes it is a win,” White said, “but it’s a kind of a bittersweet win because it does impact employees and the community… but yes.”
Outside, any reporters who expected to find a crowd of happy activists were disappointed. Only three or four showed up on the lawn. Leslie Sullivan Sachs belongs to a group called the Safe and Green Campaign. But even she wasn’t rejoicing.
“Yeah, it is a good day and it is good news but it just comes at a time when there are still so many questions to be answered and I still do not trust Entergy Corporation to answer them fully and truthfully, Sullivan Sachs said.
But Entergy is vowing to work with the state, even its former opponents, to come up with a solution for an orderly shut-down and safe storage. So for reporters - and everyone else - this is the beginning of an unfolding story.