Nuclear: Carbon Free, but Not Free of Unease

Next week, if all goes as planned, the 42-year-old nuclear reactor at the Vermont Yankee generating station will be shut down for the last time. The steam turbine at the plant, which at its peak could make enough electricity for about half a million homes with virtually no greenhouse gas emissions, will grind to a halt.

Vermont Yankee, in the river town of Vernon near the Massachusetts border, had been the target of years of protests and lawsuits by state officials, environmentalists and others concerned about safety and radioactive waste.

But in the end, the antinuclear movement didn’t kill the plant. Economics did.

People are always surprised when we say that really wasn’t the driver in shutting it down,” said Bill Mohl, the president of a division of Entergy Corporation that operates Vermont Yankee and four other nuclear plants, including Indian Point north of New York City. Although Vermont Yankee produced power inexpensively, was upgraded recently and was licensed to operate until 2032, the plant had become unprofitable in recent years, a victim largely of lower energy prices resulting from a glut of natural gas used to fire electricity plants, Mr. Mohl said.

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