As Obama Calls for More Nuclear Power, Vermont Hits Reverse

State senate votes to close 40-year-old Vermont Yankee power plant.

ByABC News
February 23, 2010, 6:51 PM

Feb. 24, 2010 — -- President Obama has identified nuclear power as a key source of clean energy for the future, but many of his supporters in Vermont are headed in the opposite direction.

A week after Obama announced plans to finance construction of the first new nuclear power plant in decades, lawmakers in Vermont voted today to shutter the aging Vermont Yankee reactor.

"The plant is old and tired. It was designed to be retired in 2012, and that's what we're going to do," Peter Shumlin, president pro tem of the state senate, said Tuesday. The senate today voted 26 to 4 not to extend the plant's license.

Shumlin and other Vermont Democrats said they are pushing back against a general softening in the nation's attitudes about nuclear power, a movement that has been fueled in part by the ability of reactors to produce energy without emitting harmful greenhouse gasses.

The state senator said repeated safety scares – including a cooling tower collapse in 2007 and a tritium leak discovered earlier this year – contributed to his decision to push for the plant's closure, along with his belief that the state can find a ready supply of energy from other sources.

"It's pretty tough to convince the environmental community here that a plant leaking tritium and cobalt is providing clean energy," Shumlin said.

The owner of the plant, New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., has argued that the plant is safe and worth preserving, in part because of its ability to supply the state with more than one third of its energy supply. Safe and reliable nuclear energy has become a lynchpin of the Obama administration's approach to clean energy.

The president has had strong support from the industry. Executives at the Illinois-based utility Exelon -- a leader in the nuclear energy field -- contributed at least $227,000 to Mr. Obama's campaigns for the United States Senate and for president, according to a review by The New York Times, which noted that two top Exelon officials, Frank M. Clark, executive vice president, and John W. Rogers Jr., a director, were among Obama's largest fund-raisers.