Vermont's two leading candidates for governor sharpened their attacks against each other Wednesday while debating the future of the state's troubled nuclear plant.
Republican Brian Dubie, the state's lieutenant governor, objected to Democratic state Sen. Peter Shumlin calling him an "apologist" for Entergy Corp. the parent company of Vermont Yankee, the state's only nuclear reactor, which is up for relicensing in 2012.
The Vernon plant emerged as a major political issue this year after plant officials announced in January that radioactive tritium was leaking from the plant and then revealed that senior plant personnel had misled state officials by saying Vermont Yankee didn't have the sort of underground pipes that could be prone to such leaks.
Shumlin, as president pro tem of the Vermont Senate, led an effort in that chamber to block a 20-year renewal of its state license. He has called the radioactive leaks the biggest manmade environmental disaster in state history and said plant owner Entergy Corp. isn't trustworthy enough to continue doing business in Vermont.
"Brian (Dubie) has been an apologist for Entergy Louisiana and their stockholders every single time. It doesn't matter how many leaks, how many lies, or what kind of environmental disaster we have," Shumlin said in Wednesday's debate at the Burlington Free Press.
Dubie, who has generally avoided responding to similar criticisms from Shumlin in previous debates, took exception to his comments Wednesday.
"I resent the implying that I work for shareholders of Entergy Louisiana," he said, subsequently referring to his 18 years in the National Guard and his tenure in the Air Force Reserve and as lieutenant governor. "I've served the people of Vermont."
"I'm mindful of the impact on 650 Vermonters that have a job," he said in a reference to workers at the plant, "that feel like this issue is being politicized and they're being used as toys. ... Safety is the No. 1 consideration. I don't work for the shareholders. I resent you questioning my integrity."
The exchange came against the backdrop of more bad news for Vermont Yankee. Last week, it was announced that tritium in groundwater surrounding the plant had reached depths of up to 220 feet _ three times those previously recorded _ and was in danger of reaching a bedrock aquifer that provides water for the town of Vernon.
Vermont Yankee officials have said they doubt that will happen, and that the new readings for tritium _ an isotope of hydrogen linked to cancer when ingested in large amounts _ have been far below the Environmental Protection Agency's safety standard for drinking water.