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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Brattleboro, Vt.) - Anti-nuclear activists from Colrain, Mass. were the first of more than two-dozen groups that promised to get arrested for trespassing on property in Brattleboro, Vt. that belongs to Entergy, the owners of Vermont Yankee. Yankee is the state's only nuclear power plant.
Hours before, a crowd estimated at more than 800 marched several miles in 80-degree heat. They were angry the plant is still operating after its original 40-year license expired this week.
"Every place is going to be lost from radiation," said protester Suzanne Carlson of Greenfield, Mass. "It's going to be really tough because you can't really clean it up."
Yankee has been at the center of a heated debate in Vermont for years. State lawmakers tried shutting it through legislative action, calling it unreliable and its owners untrustworthy.
However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission re-upped the license. Then, a federal judge sided with Yankee. Judge J. Garvan Murtha's ruling essentially said it's not the job of Vermont politicians to decide the future of the plant, so the NRC license stands.
"We the people are saying we don't want Vermont Yankee to function any more," said protester Heidi Lynch of Rutland, Vt. "And we're the community in this place. If that doesn't count for something, I don't know why the corporation would think it's okay to do what they're doing."
Attorney General Bill Sorrell (D-Vt.) decided to appeal Murtha's ruling. Yankee will keep running in the meantime.
The plant does have plenty of supporters in Vermont's southeastern corner. Steve Macavoy, who lives across from the entrance to the plant and said he worked inside 28 years, put up balloons celebrating nuclear power in Vermont.
"It's my demonstration that some people do support the power plant and thank them for being here," Macavoy said.
Plant backers insist Yankee is a safe source of clean, affordable power. Many supporters in the reactor's hometown of Vernon, Vt. want to keep its more than 600 workers and tax benefits in the community.
But the hundreds of protesters that descended on the Entergy property Thursday will never be convinced Yankee is good for Vermont or its neighbors in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Many vowed to continue their brand of nonviolent civil disobedience as long as Vermont Yankee is operating.