Vermont may soon become the first state in America to shut down a nuclear reactor. During a meeting tomorrow, the state senate is likely to deny a request to extend the life of the 38-year-old Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor. The reactor site has come under scrutiny in recent years because of safety issues and leaks of tritium, a radioactive isotope linked to cancer.

Given the site’s unsafe history, it’s not too shocking that the state senate won’t renew the plant, which is set to close in 2012. But the decision to condemn Vermont Yankee is significant because the move comes just one week after President Obama pledged more than $8 billion in loan guarantee to build new nuclear reactors in America. Nuclear’s hazardous potential already makes it a contentious issue amongst environmentalists and an unsafe plant in the news surely begs the question: Should America really be building new reactors when we haven’t figured out a way to take care of our old ones?

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According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, about 104 reactors throughout the US are set for retirement in the near future, and 27 leaked tritium. In 2009 alone, the Vermont Yankee plant was found to be leaking tritium on three separate occasions (a far cry from the plant’s “safe, clean reliable” slogan). A later investigation concluded that folks at Entergy Corp., a New Orleans-based company that owns the reactor, lied about the extent of tritium contamination in the local water supply. The reactor’s shady history is likely to make even conservatives skeptical of whether the country is capable of properly regulating and maintaining its existing nuclear reactors, never mind a third generation of nuclear tech.

Environmentalists who support nuclear point to the tech’s lack of greenhouse gas emissions and the fact that countries like France derive most of their power from the energy source. Still, America’s crumbling system of existing reactors will surely make any greenie question whether the country should be investing so much money in future nuclear development.

Via The Guardian

+Vermont Yankee