Nuclear power interests in Vermon, received a setback Tuesday when 31 communities on their traditional Town Meeting day rejected future nuclear construction within their leaders.
With their votes the towns also went on record as opposing the transportation of nuclear materials through their communities and the storage or disposal of nuclear wastes within their borders.
Only one of the 37 communities voting on the antinuclear articles rejected the proposals. Two communities tabled the issue, and three decided to postpone action.
Seven states had antinuclear proposals on their ballots in November, but none was passed. Tuesday's vote marked the first time that a large number of communities within a state took a firm stance against future nuclear development.
The safety of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant here, the only such facility in Vermont, has sparked debate throughout the state since the plant opened in 1972.
It has been shut down more than a dozen times by malfunctions, the most recent occurring last July when 83,000 gallons of liquid waste containing a radioactive substance, tritium, was spilled into the Connecticut River.
Additional concern was caused when plant officials applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to expand the facility's capacity to store spent, just still highly radioactive, nuclear fuel.
Vermont's ubiquitous abandoned marble and granite mines have been eyed by the NRC as possible sites for long-term storage of nuclear waste generated nationwide.
The antinuclear vote was viewed as a setback to Gov. Richard A. Snelling as well as the nuclear industry. Snelling had urged Vermonters to reject the proposals.
Earlier this year, Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. officials announced they were doubling the company's public-relations budget in an attempt to make Vermonters more aware of the nuclear industry.
Today, Thomas Hurcomb, vice president of the Central Vermont Public Service Corp., which owns the largest share of the facility, downplayed the significance of Tuesday's vote.
"The defeat was expected because many voters didn't have anything at stake," he said.
"If the consumers in Vermont methodically reduce options available for nuclear generation, it appears the cost of power will go higher, and it could jeopardize the state's supply of energy."
A strong indicator of the antinuclear landslide came in Putney, located in Windham County a few miles north of the nuclear plant.
Putney is the home of former Sen. George D. Aiken, who spoke out at length at its town meeting in opposition to the antinuclear proposals. Aiken's words went for naught as voters, by a wide margin, said no to nuclear power.
Aiken, who retired from the Senate in 1974 after serving 34 years, spent 17 years as a member of the now-defunct Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.
For Aiken the Putney vote was a rare political defeat on his home ground.
However, the votes are not binding. Nuclear opponents had conceded that before the voting but had maintained that the symbolic nature of the towns' votes was what was important.
Nuclear power industry officials said today that a court test of the nuclear votes was likely.
They expressed fears that while Tuesday's votes are legally binding, there may be future attempts to make them so.