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« Chris Williams (VCAN, VYDA), "Entergy Watch: Resisting Palisades Atomic Reactor," WMU's Bernhard Ctr., Kzoo, MI, Thurs., Oct. 11, 4-5:30 PM | Main | Congressman Kucinich objects to whitewash of Davis-Besse containment cracking »
Wednesday
Oct032012

Background on Chris Williams, presenting on "Entergy Nuclear: Resisting a Rogue Corporation, and its Radioactive Risks" at WMU in Kalamazoo, MI on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012

Chris Williams is a lead community organizer in the campaign to shut down Entergy Nuclear's Vermont Yankee atomic reactor. From the Governor to State Legislature, Attorney General to U.S. Congressional delegation, as well as citizens of all political stripes in Vermont, the State is unified in calling for the shutdown of Entergy's Vermont Yankee atomic reactor. This is due, in no small part, to community organizing that dates back not just years, but decades. Grassroots groups like Vermont Citizens Action Network (VCAN), and Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance (VYDA), both of which Chris helps lead, have been at it for decades.

Chris thought he was retiring to Vermont in 2003. Instead, he landed smack dab in the middle of the most intense anti-nuclear campaign in the country, with perhaps the best shot of anywhere in the U.S. at actually forcing the shutdown of a dangerous old reactor, which happens to be a Fukushima Daiichi twin design (a General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactor). Chris brought immense anti-nuclear grassroots campaign organizing experience with him.

Chris served as executive director of Citizens Action Coalition (CAC) of Indiana for 25 years. In the mid-1980s, CAC led the successful campaign to block two nuclear power plants in the Hoosier State -- Bailey, in Gary, and Marble Hill, in southern Indiana, on the Ohio River. It did so by beating Indiana's would be nuclear utilities in court, after a years long grassroots educational campaign, going door to door. The utilities had illegally charged ratepayers advance "investments" on their electricity bills (for which they would not share in projected future profits) in order to build the new nuclear power plants. The courts ruled that the plants had to be "used and useful," thereby making such "Construction Work in Progress" (CWIP) charges by the utilities an illegal subsidy or surcharge. The court ordered that $300 million be returned to the “unwilling investors” (also known as ratepayers) of Indiana. Families received $1,000 rebate checks in the mail (in 2010 dollars, that is around $2,000). The court ruling also effectively blocked the (largely constructed) Marble Hill and (partially begun) Bailey (on the Lake Michigan shore) nuclear power plants from ever being completed or operated, a huge grassroots victory for the planet and middle class pocketbooks.

Chris was very active in anti-nuclear campaigns in southwest Michigan as well. He brought an army of 100 door-to-door CAC canvassers to Kalamazoo's World Tree Peace Center in the late 1990s to protest U.S. Congressman Fred Upton's "Mobile Chernobyl" bill. Chris and his team from CAC were also instrumental organizers and participants, in 1999 and 2000, at the Nuclear-Free Great Lakes Action Camps, which were targeted at the problem-plagued, risky Cook (in Bridgman, south of St. Joe) and Palisades (in Covert, south of South Haven) nuclear power plants on the Lake Michigan shore. These events brought together hundreds of anti-nuclear activists from across the Midwest, U.S., and even other countries. These events were co-sponsored by Kalamazoo's World Tree Peace Center, as well as Don’t Waste Michigan, the statewide anti-nuclear watchdog. Chris went on to serve on the board of directors of the national anti-nuclear watchdog group Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), where he still serves.

A part of VCAN's and VYDA's success in Vermont came in the aftermath of Entergy Nuclear executives lying under oath to the Vermont State Legislature about radioactive leaks into groundwater at the Vermont Yankee atomic reactor. The Governor and Legislative leaders of Vermont openly call Entergy a "rogue corporation." Entergy had agreed to shutdown Vermont Yankee if the State of Vermont did not approve of its 20-year license extension. But Entergy lied. Despite a 26 to 4 vote in Vermont's State Senate in Feb., 2010 to block the 20 year license extension, Entergy instead sued the State of Vermont in federal court. A federal judge then ruled in early 2012 that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) -- which rubber-stamped Vermont Yankee's 20 year license extension just days after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe had begun -- pre-empts the State of Vermont over nuclear matters. Vermont has appealed that ruling. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals (New York City) decision is expected in November.

In response to the expiration of its original 40 year operating license, on the first day of Vermont Yankee's hotly disputed 20 year license extension on March 22, 2012, Chris helped organize a protest by 1,600 people in Brattleboro, Vermont (the town’s population is only 12,000) at Entergy's Vermont HQ. 168 people were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience trespassing, including affinity groups at Entergy's Northeast HQ in New York State, and its national HQ in New Orleans. Creative actions continue -- a flotilla of canoes, kayaks, sail boats and fishing boats descended on Vermont Yankee via the Connecticut River on Sept. 15th, to protest the atomic reactor's massive super heated water discharges, that have devastated the local aquatic ecosystem. A group of women elders, the Shut It Down! affinity group, including 93 year old Frances Crowe, have been arrested two dozen times calling for Vermont Yankee’s shutdown.

Ironically, Chris did battle with Entergy Nuclear's CEO, J. Wayne Leonard, in Indiana a generation ago. Leonard was CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of one of the Indiana nuclear utilities, whose proposed nuclear power plant Chris and CAC successfully blocked in the mid-1980s. As Leonard has made in the ballpark of $20 million or more per year as CEO of Entergy, major safety significant repairs, or even "organ transplants" at its "dirty dozen" atomic reactors -- especially at Palisades -- have gone undone, and are now many years overdue, risking a dangerous break down. In fact, break down after break down in the past two years has earned Palisades the infamy of being considered one of the most risky atomic reactors in the country, as acknowledged even by NRC. Michigan needs to understand what a rogue corporation Entergy is, and the potentially catastrophic radioactivity risks this represents at Palisades. Chris can add the most important part: what YOU can do about it!