4 women arrested at Vt. Yankee
By SUSAN SMALLHEER Rutland HErald Staff - Published: September 29, 2009
VERNON - Four elderly women living downwind of the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor were arrested Monday afternoon when they walked through the first two security gates at the Vernon reactor and sat down on folding chairs, blocking entry to the plant.
The four women, members of the Vermont Yankee Shut It Down Affinity Group, are no strangers to Vermont Yankee protests, and each said they had been arrested multiple times outside the Entergy Nuclear corporate headquarters in North Brattleboro but never prosecuted.
Entergy Nuclear officials said that the response by the plant's security forces Monday afternoon went well and denied that security had been breached. But the women, wearing tie-dye t-shirts and carrying folding stools and signs, ignored the entreaties of the armed guard at the guardhouse, marched right past him through the second chain-link gate and then sat down with their folding chairs and protest signs.
In about a minute, Vernon Police Chief Kevin Turnley showed up in his cruiser, and eventually three Vermont State Police cruisers showed up. The four women were put in the various cruisers and taken to the nearby Vernon Police Department, where they were processed and released.
At one point, a guard tried repeatedly to manually close the exit gate, but couldn't because it was caught on a metal box. The gates are usually controlled electronically.
Several cars and trucks turned around and backed away from the main entrance to the plant, which declared an internal emergency until the women were arrested and removed, according to John Dreyfuss, director of nuclear safety assurance, who came to the guard station to view the arrests.
Turnley said that the four women were asked to leave and when they refused they were arrested for unlawful trespass. Turnley said they were released with citations to appear in court in late December.
The group was led by Hattie Nestel of Athol, Mass., a former Brattleboro resident. She was the first to be arrested. Others included a 90-year-old retired peace worker, Frances Crowe from Northampton, Paki Wieland, 66, of Northampton, and Ellen Graves, 69, of West Springfield, Mass.
"There is no foolproof nuclear power plant," Nestel said before she was arrested.
"There is no such thing as a peaceful, safe, renewable and cost-effective nuclear power facility," she said, saying the plant should be shut down.
Paki Wieland, 66, the retired social worker and former college professor, said that the only rationale for nuclear power was corporate financial benefit.
"We're downwinders," said Wieland, who said it was a "brilliant" calculated decision to build Yankee so far south and so far east - "it wasn't in Vermont."
Wieland said that the radiation releases from the reactor follow predominant winds - that take the radiation away from Vermont to Massachusetts or New Hampshire.
"We're more at danger than Vermonters are," she said.
Wieland said she started protesting nuclear power back in 1977. "I'm an old Clam," she said, referring to the Clamshell Alliance, which protested the construction of the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire.
Nestel said she had been watching the plant and realized from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., during a shift change, that the gates were left open, making the plant convenient for a protest.
"People are not looking at Vermont Yankee," said Nestel. "We are casting the spotlight on the danger. We will be breathing in the radiation, but we're willing to risk that."
The four women met beforehand at the Burger King restaurant in Brattleboro to discuss their last-minute plans. They were driven to the plant by a friend, who pulled up and blocked the first gate as all four got out. Another friend accompanied them, but didn't walk past the second gate.
The security guard, who appeared to be armed with a handgun, was heard talking to the women about the benefits of nuclear power, but they were intent on their goal of getting through the second gate and sitting down.
Larry Smith, spokesman for Entergy Nuclear, who also came to the plant gates, said that the protesters didn't get anywhere near the security gate, which is much closer to the reactor itself.
"They trespassed on our property and they were arrested," he said.
Dreyfuss said that the protesters posed a serious threat to the plant and to themselves.
"I'm worried. It's a dangerous thing to do. People are putting themselves at risk," said Dreyfuss, noting that the guards are authorized to use deadly force if necessary.
"It's dangerous, and we had an excellent response," Dreyfuss said.
While police have regularly arrested anti-nuclear protesters, they hardly ever get prosecuted, with county prosecutors saying it would take needed resources away from serious cases.
Turnley, who has been a member of the Vernon department, has seen plenty of protests in those years.
"I've seen a few," he said.