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February 17, 2010

Gundersens Step Into the Nuclear Crosshairs

It was bound to happen. Now that industry-insiders-turned-nuclear-watchdogs Arnie and Maggie Gundersen have taken center stage in the legislative showdown over whether Vermont Yankee gets relicensed for another 20 years, the nuclear industry and its supporters have begun their campaign to smear their credibility — just as they did 20 years ago when the Gundersens became whistleblowers about other corner-cutting measures in an industry that once employed them.

On Feb. 11, Rod Adams — "Rod Atoms?" GREAT aptronym! — who writes for the pro-nuclear blog Atomic Insights, wrote a post titled  "Is Arnie Gundersen Devious or Dumb? (Or Is He Just a Professional Fear-Monger?)" . In it, Adams, who describes himself as an Annapolis, Md., "father, husband, brother, nuke...and pro-nuclear activist," accuses Arnie Gundersen of making statements to the Vermont Legislature that were "evasive, without context or factually incorrect."

Among the pieces of damning evidence Adams offers for Gundersen's "lack of context" is the fact that in his testimony on tritiated water, Gundersen "pronounces the word [picocuries] with a hard I" and then drops his units of measure in subsequent references to the radioactive isotope found in test wells near the nuke plant. What a slacker!

Adams goes on to impugn Gundersen's credentials as an expert witness because — horror of horrors! — he gets paid for his work. Apparently, Adams either doesn't know or neglected to mention that Gundersen is one of the few "expert witnesses" whose opinion is considered credible — and independent — enough  that he gets hired both by those who oppose nuclear power and those who support it, the latter about 40 percent of the time. Incidentally, Gundersen was one of the few expert witnesses to testify on behalf of plaintiffs in the Three Mile Island case whose testimony wasn't thrown out by the judge. In this instance, the "someone" who is footing Arnie's bill is the State of Vermont, which has a dearth of truly independent nuclear experts to draw from who aren't still affiliated with the industry. 

Finally, Adams dismisses Gundersen's credentials as someone who understands how nuclear plants are decommissioned because he "mentioned in an offhand sort of way" that he once worked for a company that decommissioned plants. More like Gundersen being humble. In fact, he helped prepared the final decommissioning report on Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania, the first large-scale nuclear power plant in the world to undergo that process. That plant was shut down in 1982.

When asked if he planned to respond to Mr. Atoms'— er, Adams' — blog post, Arnie politely declined, saying only that he wasn't interested in "getting in a pissing match with a skunk."

When I wrote that "the 'someone' who is footing Arnie's bill is the state of Vermont..." that info is technically true, but not the full story. To be more precise, Fairewinds Associates of Burlington has a contract with the legislature's Joint Fiscal Committee and the Vermont Yankee Oversight Panel, but that money doesn't ultimately come out of the pockets of Vermont taxpayers. In fact, Vermont Yankee is billed later for that consulting work. My apologies for the confusion.

It's NOT wrong to question VY-hater Gunderson's motives.

And isn't it nice to know that Shumlin hires a VY-hater to criticize VY, and makes VY pay the hater's bill!

Dude, if you have read the Seven Days article profiling Gundersen, he's not doing this because he is anti-nuclear power. He worked for years in the sector and when he became a whistleblower due to safety concerns, he was punished for it. Afterwards he was forced into bankruptcy by lawsuits from the industry. Also, if you would just bother to read the reports he has made, he doesn't come out as particularly anti-nuclear. In his testimony and analysis, he has accurately predicted many of the problems at Vermont Yankee. I would rather have him giving honest assessments on nuclear power than having an ignoramus like you questioning his motives without reading the work he's published on the subject.

Thanks Dan

But for Webber (and so many like him), it's much easier to say "VY-hater" than actually engage on the substance. And BTW, Webber did not question Gunderson's motives. He has already decided that they are "VY-haters." How does he know? Well, he just knows.

I've read every article profiling Gunderson, in Seven Days and in the BFP, and in the Windham county independent weekly.

He is a VY-hater. Just like you and Hoffer are.

Just because you deny that you are a VY-hater doesn't mean you aren't.

Thanks for playing.

Webber, being a "VY hater" and being "anti-nuke" are sometimes synonymous, but not necessarily so. In Arnie Gundersen's case, he is not inherently anti-nuke, as he has emphasized to me on many occasions. He IS critical of the way VY has been managed and maintained, especially since Entergy bought the plant, and as someone whose job once was to determine how nuclear reactors wear and ultimately break down, he believes they have a limited life span, like any other mechanical device.

Thanks, Ken. I am fully aware of Gunderson's stated views, and I am fully aware of his constant disclaimers that he is not "anti-VY." People are entitled to believe him on this, if they want to.

I don't, and I am not aware of any rule or law that says I have to believe his anti-bias disclaimer just because he repeats it often, or just because all of his sycophants want me to believe it.

The anti-nuke crowd dismisses any analysis that does not condemn VY, as "pro-nuke" and therefore per se not to be believed, and nothing any engineer says will change their opinion.

But, on the other hand, I have to accept at face value Gunderson's protestations that he's not biased?

Webber, this is still a free country and you are at liberty to believe whatever you like about Arnie Gundersen's perceived or actual biases, and remain skeptical of his motivations. I do hope, however, that you and others who support VY apply that same level of skepticism to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which claims to be an impartial and unbiased regulator of the industry, not to mention the purported representative of all of us, yet has a long track record of doing the industry's bidding.

In his three posts so far, Webber calls Gunderson a "VY-hater" many times but has yet to document anything inaccurate about anything that Gunderson has actually said in regards to the Vermont Yankee issue.

Ken, aren't you supposed to be an independent analyst? It seems like you are taking sides on this issue.

When Gunderson criticizes VY, he is being "unbiased," as opposed to doing the bidding of Shumlin (the guy who hired him) or VPIRG.

When the NRC, staffed with hundreds of engineers, doesn't say what the anti-nuke crowd desperately wants to hear, that is called having "a long track record of doing the industry's bidding."

Just because the NRC's work doesn't support the hysteria, doesn't mean it's doing the industry's bidding.

President Obama -- nobody's fool -- is promoting nuclear energy. Is he "doing the insutry's bidding"? Get real.

Geezum, is it just possible that informed people can believe that nuclear energy is not dangerous and should be part of our energy future, without "doing the nuclear industry's bidding"? Apparently not to some people.

But I'm glad President Obama is not one of them. I'll stick with Obama on this, rather than with the anti-nuke hystericals.

Hmmm. Let's look at this from a purely non-emotional, business perspective, shall we?

Here we have a corporation with several operations in multiple states, all of varying age. The facility in Vernon has been in their charge for more than seven years, yet the company can't even correctly articulate the layout of its own facility there?

Uh, sorry. Big problem with that. Whenever you assume control over an operating plant, whether it be making cars, toys or nuclear power, your first task is to take inventory and map out the facility.

Can't step up to that plate? Then get out of the game and let the pro's handle it.

BTW - I am pro nuclear power.

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