Film documents long campaign to get Vermont Yankee shut down
Power Struggle is available for at home screening for a limited time, March 1-30. A portion of the $12 ticket price benefits Beyond Nuclear. Purchase your ticket here.
By Linda Pentz Gunter
“Our voice as the people of Vermont is what matters,” says Vermont activist, Chad Simmons, early in Robbie Leppzer’s film, Power Struggle. Later, he entreats an official from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a public meeting: “Listen to us! Listen to us”.
By the time the film ends, as the struggle to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant —which Leppzer follows for five years — unfolds, Simmons can rejoinder: “People power works.” For once, the saga of an anti-nuclear campaign has a happy ending.
Vermont Yankee, a GE Mark I boiling water reactor identical to those that melted down at Fukushima Daiichi, opened in 1972 in Vernon, Vermont, close to the Massachusetts and New Hampshire borders. Citizen protests began immediately, and went on until the plant finally closed, on December 29, 2014.
Leppzer may have set out to tell that story, but a lot more transpired during filming, both complicating but also validating the narrative. A story ostensibly about the power of protest — by the people of Vermont and its enlightened state government — quickly broadened into a condemnation of the nuclear industry as a whole. This is borne witness to at the start of the film through the observations of nuclear engineer and whistleblower, Arnie Gundersen, when Leppzer’s original narrative is abruptly interrupted by the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
If there is a “star” of the film, it is almost certainly Gundersen, who had built the fuel racks at Vermont Yankee and who, in 1990 while working at Nuclear Energy Services in Connecticut, had been fired after calling attention to his discovery of radioactive material stored in an accounting safe. Persecution and harassment followed, but that decision by NES was their biggest mistake. Freed to tell the truth, Gundersen has been an invaluable, scientifically-qualified source and watchdog for opponents of nuclear power ever since.
The film opens with Gundersen commenting to RT TV on the Fukushima disaster just underway. “No, I don’t think crisis can be averted,” he tells the interviewer.