Sunday, June 24, 2012
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Challenged by Citizen Action in VT
On May 23 of this year, more than 100 concerned citizens, including four local members of Nuke Free Monadnock, for entered into an assertive dialogue with the representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a public hearing held at the Brattleboro (VT) High School. At least one local newspaper criticized the public for being ‘chaotic,’ ‘disruptive,’ and unproductive.
Not so, says my friend and colleague Steve Chase, Director of the ES Master’s Program
Concentration in Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability at Antioch University New England.
What follows is his detailed account of how a group of citizens refused to allow the NRC to bully them into submission. In the end, the citizens prevailed and were heard.
His eye-witness account:
“… The so-called disruption … was that a half dozen elderly women [who] stood near the NRC’s table at the front of the room. They were not in the way and were completely silent. They just wore black clothes and white masks and held signs saying the aging and accident-prone Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor is not safe.
At this point, an NRC representative said that having women standing at the front of the room disagreeing with the NRC was intolerable and disrespectful. The NRC reps then refused to start the meeting until the women sat down.
Members of the crowd asked the NRC officials to please just go ahead with the meeting. The NRC refused again. The crowd then voted on whether the NRC should start the meeting. The crowd overwhelmingly voted yes. The NRC officials then ignored the crowd’s vote and instead sent police to pressure the women at the front of the room to sit down — even though the women were breaking no law and were not being disruptive.
At this point, about 40 to 50 people quietly got up and joined the women at the front of the room to make sure these women would not be mistreated or arrested at the orders of the NRC officials in the room. The NRC officials then got angrier and walked out of the meeting en mass saying the meeting was over.
Four concerned citizens then sat down at the table at the front of the room and said that the “People’s NRC is now in session.” In order to let the public be heard, one of these people asked if there was anyone in the audience who would like to speak about their concerns about the safety of the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor. People lined up at the mic and then started giving their testimony in an orderly fashion.
As this was happening, we could see the NRC officials looking in through a window and saw their upset faces once they realized that the meeting was going on without them and their attempt to disrupt the meeting had failed.
They then engaged in much animated discussion with each other and the police outside the meeting room. Finally, after several minutes, they came back, stood close to the door, and said that they would now be willing to hear testimony and respond to questions from the public.
Several members of the public thanked them for changing their minds and agreeing to engage in a real democratic dialog. Questions, statements, answers, and animated back and forth dialog with the NRC began and went on for more than 30 minutes beyond when the meeting was scheduled to end.
Then, after the NRC spokesperson admitted that there is nothing the public could say that would change the NRC’s mind about supporting Vermont Yankee, more than 90 concerned citizens got up and said the meeting had gone on long enough.
We then marched out slowly in a single line chanting, “Shut It Down.” We didn’t even chant that loudly.
Thinking over the whole evening again, I do believe that “this is what democracy looks like.”
This wasn’t chaotic mob action, but a disciplined group of concerned citizens who were assertive and spoke up for the public interest and challenged the NRC for being more of a lapdog for the nuclear industry than a watchdog for public safety.
Hopefully, the [media] will no longer disparage concerned citizens who have come out time and time again to participate in hearings, rallies, marches, petition drives, or lobbying their elected officials. This ongoing citizens’ movement has now won the full support of Vermont’s U.S. senator, governor, state Senate, and attorney general — as well as the attorneys general of several other states.
Director of the ES Master’s Program Concentration in
Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability
Department of Environmental Studies
Antioch University New England
40 Avon St., Keene NH 03431"
Congratulations to all who participated and held their ground!