A Yankee Story: New England’s Forgotten Nuclear Power Plants

This is a story I challenged myself to write about for some time. If you are a baby boomer you may remember taking a field trip to one of these. Growing up in New England I would often hear stories from my relatives about the grand nuclear plants that once lined the Northeast and provided us with energy. The only proof I had with me was the stories and folklore I would often hear from my childhood at the dinner table and holiday gatherings. The most difficult aspect about future generations researching this topic of New England history is the very mysticism they behold. You can’t see them or visit them today as they have all been long demolished by decree. You can’t go near these sites today as they are highly guarded for the waste that was left behind and remains occupied at these sites today. Really the only proof you can find for studying their history is by scouring through old documents, newspapers, and photographs you can find on eBay.

Not many know this today, but New England was once the first adopters of nuclear power in the entire nation. Massachusetts was home to the first commercial power plant ever constructed. During the 1970’s the Northeast got 40% of its energy from 8 operating nuclear plants. Until the year 2014 it was 71.8% of Vermont’s electricity supply that came from nuclear. We can look back to the Great North blackout of ’65 for why they were built. It all began as a conglomeration between ten local utility companies that once existed before the era of energy deregulation. It comprised of Central Vermont Public Service Corporations, Public Service Company of New Hampshire, Centra Maine Power Company, New England Electric System, Boston Edison, New England Gas & Electric Association, Eastern Utilities Associates, Hartford Electric Light Company, Connecticut Light & Power Company, and the Western Massachusetts Electric Company. It was a bold new vision to provide New England with a new form of energy that would be “too cheap to meter” and provide thousands of new jobs.

“As long as there was a possibility that we might able able to bring competitive power to New England through the atom, it was properly expected that we attempt it. We felt that here was a job for private enterprise and industry, not the government. Call this the old Yankee pioneering spirit, if you will.” — William Webster (President of Yankee Electric)

In the year 2020 there is only two nuclear plants left in the Northeast and both are set to expire by 2050 if licenses are not renewed. There are zero plant operations left in Massachusetts and zero plans to build new ones. Nuclear was largely replaced by gas pipelines in the region which have held a reputation for supplying temporary jobs, and solar panel industry which is entirely made overseas. I tried to make this short history article as unbiased and factual as possible. I present this to you not to make a case for or against nuclear, but to tell a story that deserves to be seen and told by the masses. My family has been a resident of Massachusetts for over 150 years and we have lived by these plants. New England was where the anti-nuclear movement first began, and perhaps no other region of the country has such a controversial and trivial story in regards to nuclear power. In recent times New England has said “no”. In the time of writing this article I have collected newspaper articles that I’ve scanned and linked in the article which are hosted on Flickr.

At one point in history everyone knew somebody that worked at one of these. In reaching out to historical societies and even the original company websites, I found a surprisingly limited amount of information and photographs. This led me to sort through thousands of old newspapers from last century to pull the stories out of the abyss. You will hear interviews from the workers, a brief introduction on what each plant was known for, and the reason behind why it was eventually shut down. Stirred with much political controversy and heated opinion, these are the stories of the power plants that once rocked New England and provided jobs to thousands of families in the region. I’ve also included two of the remaining nuke plants and their stories, with an asterisk to designate that the closing period is subject to change at any moment. Consider that had we kept the New England Yankees online and Pilgrim, and built reactor 2 at Seabrook, that would have produced 3879MW equal to 80% of natural gas production currently in New England in this decade. New England’s energy grid in the 21st century produce twice as many carbon emission including the addition of methane emissions now with natural gas expansion than it did in the last century before the renewable age.

Connecticut Yankee (1968–1996)

Residents seen fishing on Connecticut River in front of Connecticut Yankee later demolished in 2006.

This location was actually the second power plant built in New England, and it would be one of two built in Connecticut. It too was only intended as an experiment that would run for 5 years, but along with Millstone continued operating for another three decades and both supplied upwards of 60% of Connecticut’s energy needs during the 1970’s. At the time the Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company had built the world’s largest nuclear vessel and world’s largest plant by 1964, installed with a 582MW water boiler. The project cost $80 million and designed by Kahn & Jacobs. This plant also had one of the best safety records in the country. From 1992–1993 the reactor ran for 370 consecutive days with zero shut downs and zero incidences of failure. It also received great support from the community as reported in newspapers.

“The winding roads are few and far between. One doesn’t pass through Haddam Neck on the way elsewhere; most anyone on the roads either lives there or works at the plant. The tight-knit community of Haddam Neck, the nuclear plant has been just another good neighbor. When one lives and raises a family less than a mile from a reactor, faith and trust are not options. They are a way of life.” — Hartford Courant (10/10/1997)

The plant brought a huge amount of tax revenue to the small community, helping build a new town hall and a new elementary school. At their peak of operations they were responsible for half of the town’s property taxes. The single reason for the plant’s retirement was financial concerns, and there was a great controversy to how that came about. In 1991 Northeast Utilities sued the town of Haddam for what they called a “discriminatory” rise in property taxes against nuclear. Newspapers report that in one year alone, taxes on the plant rose from $217 million to $587 million. This was after the town had voted to reduce residents property taxes by a reported 23%. This played a major decision in abandoning the facility.

Data set for trial on power plant’s assessment

“If Northeast Utilities loses, a precedent could be set for the way towns tax nuclear power plants across the country.” — Hartford Courant (6/23/1995)

It was actually ruled in the nuclear utility company’s favor in 1992, but the case was declared a mistrial when it was found the judge owned stock in Boston Edison which he had bought twenty years before the case. So in early December of 1995 they went back to trial that lasted for a total of four months. In January the plant started announcing a series of layoffs in anticipation of what would become, until finally in April of 1996 it was ruled by Judge Elaine Gordon in Connecticut Yankee v. Haddam (1996) that the town did overestimate the assessment illegally, but the judge only renegotiated a tax payout to $350 million which was twice as much as they had hoped for. This was not the only reason for their demise.

In the summer of that very same year the plant experienced a major malfunction which caused the plant to shut down after they uncovered a potential problem with a key safety system that would be used in an emergency and various other problems. The sign of what was to come was inevitable, and on October 10th the big announcement was made to pull out 11 years earlier as their license wasn’t planned to expire until 2007, where it was originally thought was going to be renewed.

Plant’s fate, reactor core virtually sealed

“I’m kind of numb, I’m hoping the company has a place for me still. The announcement was one of those possibilities that we all knew about but didn’t want to think about a lot.” — Jim Smith (15 year Maintenance Supervisor)

It was determined that between the rising cost of taxes in the location, the expensive cost of repairs to turn the power plant back on, and greater scrutiny of the nuclear industry by environmental organizations that were protesting Northwest Utilities, the cost of doing business didn’t add up. 350 permanent workers were laid off, and 500 outside contractors were laid off when refueling efforts were suspended. This move only saved the company an estimated $10–100 million, but Northwest Utilities decided to keep their priorities on keeping Seabrook and Millstone opened into the next century. This would be the second nuclear plant to close in New England, and without much controversy although the locals expressed sadness and anger that it was shutting down.

Indian Point (1962–2021)

New York high school students visiting Atomic Exhibit at Indian Point Visitors Center in early 1960's.

This will be the one of two out of region plants that I feel is important to New England atomic history, because it’s located 30 miles west of the border from Connecticut and Massachusetts and employed thousands of New Englanders. When we talk about the history of Indian Point we have to reference the race to be called the first, and it can be said that this plant was amongst the first commercial nuclear plant to begin construction in America as it was a race between the Yankees.

In the summer of 1956 a report in the Herald Statesmen headlined “Westinghouse Gets A-Plant Generator Job. The planned $142 million dollar project would produce a capacity of originally only 275MW and later expanded to 1040MW with a second reactor that went online in 1974. Located in the village of Buchanan, in the Westchester County of Upstate New York on 350 acres. The tips of the turbine’s blade when placed in operation would move at speeds greater than that of sound. It was a project that was being fronted by Connecticut Edison, a generator and vessel ordered from Backcock & Wilcox out of Ohio, a 43 1/2 ton evaporator built by the Griscom Russel out of Ohio, and an oil-fired superheater designed by Consolidated Edison. The 65 foot evaporator worked by producing 65,000 sounds per hour of vapor from Peekskill waters at a pressure of 62 pounds per square inch absolute to produce nearly perfectly pure water for the station’s power generating plant. Impurities in the vapor would measure less than 250 parts per billion. Doubling the plant’s power output.

It was touted in newspapers as being able to power a million homes and planned to be completed by 1960 in just four years. In 1959 the site became open to the public for visitation, and the spot immediately became a tourist attraction with over 33,000 visiting during the fall season after letters and telephone calls showed a sustained interest on the part of schools, civic, and social groups in visiting the site to watch construction progress and view various exhibits which included a working model of an atomic reactor.

“She expressed amazement at the size and variety of its intricate operations. American boilers are superior to British-made ones. Katie declared, after inspecting the three electric generators now operating, and the two others being construct in Astoria. Your boilers produce a much better quality of steam.” — Daily News (12/26/1960)

During this time period the small town of just under 1800 residents became extremely excited about the economic prospects of having the first commercial power plant in the country. In one year alone 85 new homes were built, three new elementary schools and a new junior high school. Katherine Danokisi in 1960 became the first Greek woman electric firm chemist in American hired by the plant, who specialized in water purification. It immediately became a powerhouse to the local economy and it set an example of success for nuclear power on the national scale.

February of 1976 would be the first series of protests at the plant kickstarting when four management level safety engineers with the NRC engaged at monitoring the plant walked off their job stating that they were no longer convinced of the safety of nuclear power, including 36 year old Robert Pollard who took his opinion to the New York Times but never spoke specifics about what he saw occur. This was the start of nuclear’s opposition in New England fronted by Clamshell Alliance.

“If I had the authority I would close down Indian Point. Nuclear energy is almost an accident waiting to happen. I cannot in good conscience remain silent about the perils associated with the U.S nuclear power program.” — Robert Pollard (NRC Federal Safety Engineer @ Indian Point)

It would be right after Three Mile that we would witness one of the largest protests against this plant in the summer of 1979. In August of that year as many as 4,000 demonstrators organized by Mobilization for Survival. marched into Buchanan and onto the reactor site after rallying in nearby Peekskill. It was reported in newspapers that the demonstration continued as 500 police from local Westchester towns plus 200 state troopers watched more than 100 persons lie prone outside the gate in what they called a “die-in” in memory of those killed by atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 34th anniversary. A total of 214 arrests were made as protestors attempted to knock down an electrical poll leading to the plant.

“Before marching on the plant, demonstrators heard Keith and Kathy McCaughan of Harrisburg Pa. accompanied by their 12 year old daughter Melissa, tell of their fears after the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island near their home. We’re delighted to be here. Quite frankly, we’re delighted to be anywhere, McCaughan told the cheering crowd.” — Ithaca Journal (8/06/1979)

In 1983 controversy would strike the plant again when the local community started to push legislators to deny approval for the exit strategy that had already been approved. In early spring the plant ran a series of 12 hour mock and drill accidents which the NRC called a success, but some residents were not happy. After public pressure from local activist groups, the federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board suspended its hearing on emergency planning and safety in the four counties surrounding the Buchanan plants, putting the plant at risk of a shut down if they would not be allowed to defend themselves.

“I call on all Rockland parents to take their children out of school on November 28, and bring them to the Emergency Operations Center to block the door.” — Bernard Flicker (Rockland Families Chairman)

“The evacuation plan is nothing but a sham, said Scott Ballard of Warwick, one of nine protestors stationed outside Orange and Rockland Utilities building in Spring Valley Wednesday afternoon. He and his fellow demonstrators were protesting the use of nuclear power, both for what they called a danger to mankind, and as a prohibitively expensive way to generate electricity. Peaceful Atoms? I don’t believe it, read one demonstrator’s sign. The group gave Orange and Rockland Utilities spokesman John Murphy a letter to deliver to the company’s Board of Directors protesting the use of nuclear power, and during that money be spent on solar and wind generated power.” — Journal-News (3/10/1983)

In the entire 20th century the plant only experienced one accident in 1980 where 100,000 gallons of Hudson River water leaked into the Indian Point 2 containment building after two pumps that should have removed the water were found to be inoperative. NRC proposed a $2.1 million dollar fine for the incident and no damage had occurred and no radiation released.

The only major safety incident that did occur at this plant was not until 2010, when 600,000 gallons of mildly radioactive steam was intentionally vented to the atmosphere after an automatic shut-down of Unit 2. Jerry Nappi a spokesperson for the plant explained in the Daily News that the steam was from a non-radioactive secondary system that contained slight amounts of tritium and was insignificant. This is correct because the levels of tritium in the steam were within the allowable safety limits defined in NRC standards to be considered a non risk and non radioactive. In a hypothetical we can actually can assert the exposure risk from highly radioactive steam from a 1986 test that was conducted by plant managers to assess what exposures within miles of those living near the plant would be. In the summer of that year Connecticut Edison officials released inert gasses of kyrpton and xenon into the atmosphere and measured where the wind would travel and how far it would reach. Gases were spread northwest from the plant by a 2.6 mph wind from the southeast. Technical observers said that because of the low wind velocity, the contaminated steam would have moved up the Hudson River, passing through Peekskill and points north in Putnam and Rockland counties. Anyone living in the path of the radiation who was not indoors, sheltered or evacuated would have been exposed to radiation. However unlike Chernobyl, the simulated leak resulted in extremely low rem readings.

“Con Edison reported a reading of 12 rems per hour at the open valve, 9.2 rems at the plant site, 2.4 rems two miles from the accident, 0.6 rems five miles away, and 0.2 rems at a distance of 10 miles from the plant. As the doses increase, the physical symptoms get worse, moving from nausea, fatigue and vomiting to hemorrhaging, emancipation and death in two to six weeks if exposed to 300 to 600 rems. Exposure to more than 600 rems is usually fatal. Some of the seriously ill plant workers at the Soviet nuclear plant were reportedly exposed to levels exceeding 500 rems per hour. Someone exposed for three hours, the length of time the wind swept from the southeast, would have received a radiation dose of approximately 7.2 rems. That dose would increase their risk of cancer by less than 1% above the national norm. — Journal-News (6/05/1986)

It should be noted that is about the same exposure that you would get from getting three dental x-rays at the dentist per hour in the worst case scenario that never actually happened. This is true. In boiling reactors where the steam just came from the reactor core itself, we see dose rates up to 2 rem/hr in the turbine bio shield, primarily from N-16. Rule of thumb for BWR plants is that at least 75% of all online radiation exposure is from N-16. Nitrogen-16 has a half-life of 7 seconds, and it decays to either Oxygen-16 or Carbon-12.

So as it happened in the year 2017 after having seen no major accident which could have exposed anyone to any measurable dosage of radiation exposure, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo took after his father and made the decision to impose that the plant go into early retirement by the year 2021 and license not be renewed. The reasoning being that the location of the plant is within 40 miles of New York City. The announcement led to a job loss amounting to a total of 1000 plant workers. The shutdown officially took place during the COVID19 pandemic, where environmentalists actually sent a letter to Cuomo’s office pleading with him to prolong the shut down, in an era where many groups are starting to reconsider their position on the energy.

“You can exercise your executive power to suspend the closure of Indian Point, and preventing a surge of new, toxic fossil fuel pollutants from spewing into the air while people are perishing from respiratory failure, is probably the most critical, preventative thing you can do to ease suffering and additional deaths. Closing Indian Point now adds unnecessarily to New York City’s vulnerability, just as state resources are stretched thin dealing with the pandemic. The closure could add grid fragility and unpredictability to the current crisis.” — Climate Coalition

A petition on Change.Org within six months amounted to over 10,000 signatures that were mailed to Governor Cuomo’s office, signed by over 200 scientists and environmental groups including James Hansen PhD at Columbia University, Steve Kirsch and James E Hopf at MIT. Jennifer Klay Professor of Physics at California’s Polytechnic State University. Rodney Adams the author of Atomic Insights, Leonard Rodberg, PhD Professor Emeritus of Urban Studies at Queens College. Joe Lassiter PhD Harvard Business School, Kirsty Gogan the Co-founder and executive director for Energy for Humanity, and Valerie Gardner Climate Coalition Founder.

Out of the chaos the shutdown was justified by the Cuomo administration with the promise that a $15 million care package would be sent to the Buchanan community to mitigate the economic impact of job losses and shutting down the plant. The plant itself has been responsible for over half of the village’s $7 million annual budget, enabling it to have a full-time police department and other services that villages with a population of 2,200 may not enjoy. The community was originally on board until it was found that over half of the stimulus would be going directly to the environmental group Riverkeeper who were the original advocates that pushed for closure.

Community stakes claim to $15M fund as they fight for their future

“She’s just getting tired of listening to anti-nuclear advocates cheer the pending shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, a chorus that grew louder this week as one of the plant’s two working reactors powered down for good. As Knickerbocker sees it, the plant has been a good neighbor to the people of Buchanan, the village where she was born and raised and where she currently serves as mayor. She thinks that money should go to the communities around the plant. After all, people she grew up with are having to decide whether they can afford to stay in Buchanan.” — Westchester Journal (5/01/2020)

“No one ever looked at the human factor. How is it going to affect human beings? How is it going to affect their lives. Well, now we’re going to see.” — Theresa Knickerbocker

This went down as one of the largest shutdowns of a nuclear facility in terms of size and job loss in recent history, and it near bankrupted a community that was already seeing a loss in sales taxes from the pandemic. In a state which originally had five operating plants, now only two remain. Many are questioning whether this was a mistake to make, at a time when states like New York are trying to reach clean energy goals and during a pandemic where the country is already taking a large blow economically and fiscally. The New York Times reported that the premature shutdown of Indian Point will largely be replaced by electrical generator that rely on fossil fuels creating a significant increase in carbon emissions.

Maine Yankee (1972–1996)

Original headquarters of Maine Yankee plant along the Union River that was demolished in 2005.

This was the fourth power plant built in New England being built during the same year as Pilgrim, and in the year 1968 it replaced Connecticut Yankee as the largest reactor in the world. It was truly a powerhouse that supplied one-third of Maine’s power needs. Its place in history has a controversial story and its history is often forgotten in recent years.

In 1968 The Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company as they called themselves selected a 790 acre salt water site at Wiscasset along the Union River for what would be the grounds of an 860MW pressurized water type reactor built by Combustion Engineering Incorporated weighing 470 tons, and a 175 foot long turbogenerator designed by Westinghouse. It was the preferred site for a number of reasons, among them being nearness to the electrical load center of Maine, and proximity to the ocean, rail, and highway routes. It had an excellent foundation of bedrock, and was in close proximity to transmission lines. It included favorable geologic, hydrologic, seismologic and meteorological characteristics, along with an adequate supply of fresh water and sufficient land area making it the near perfect location for Maine’s first power plant. The Yankee staff which was assembled over a period of 15 years consisted of a construction force of 800 workers including engineers who earlier in their careers acquired experience during construction of installations such as the reactors at Savanah River, Hanford, West Milton, and Fort Belvoir. It was designed by Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation. This included electrical engineer with 45 years of experience Roger Coe as the Vice President who also helped build Yankee Rowe and Haddam Neck. The site itself was owned and sponsored by 11 local power companies, with Central Maine Power Company and New England Power Company controlling most of the majority ownership.

It cost $231 million to build and was the largest industrial project in Maine’s history. They touted themselves as saving New England 8 billion barrels of oil a year on refrigerator magnets. All would not be without its controversy though. Throughout its history it received large protests from local environmental groups and even the democratic Governor of Maine during the 1970’s. Maine historically being the most anti-nuclear state in the Northeast. In 1971 Democratic Governor Kenneth Kurtis was unconvinced that nuclear technology was safe and blocked the licensing of the plant until he was convinced otherwise, after Citizens For Safe Power blocked construction workers from entering the site. Construction was delayed by a year.

Citizens protest against Maine Yankee, Wiscasset, Maine, 1979–1987

In 1979 after Three Mile, Maine residents collected enough signatures for a referendum on banning nuclear to the state legislature. The Nuclear Fission Control Act (1979) was endorsed by celebrities and governors from around the country including Jerry Brown, but failed in a 40–60% ballot initiative. By the 1982 a ballot initiative had collected enough signatures for state-wide ban on nuclear power again in the state’s elections, but it too was defeated with only 44% in favor of shutting down Maine Yankee. Yet again in 1987 activists led another referendum to shut down the plant, and it failed once again as 59% of Maine’s residents voted to keep the power plant online. However these ballot initiatives eventually caught the attention of the NRC, and in 1995 it was found that Maine Yankee was inadequately testing their safety equipment in regards to examining their emergency core cooling system in which a small coolant leak was already accounted for. The NRC even admitted that there was no safety consequence to their inaction.

EA-96–299 — Maine Yankee (Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company)

“It was only after subsequent substantial additional review, that Maine Yankee demonstrated that there was no actual safety consequence of the failure to analyze the entire SBLOCA spectrum because the LBLOCA accident analyses contained the limiting condition, and therefore determined the facility operating limits.” — NRC Statement (10/8/1988)

In other words, deep hairline cracks were found to be developing in 1000 out of the 17,000 steam tubes that carry low level radioactive water and it was believed to be a major concern when they were found. The plant itself disputed the concern when they showed that stress tests on the most seriously damaged pipes showed they wouldn’t rupture. Unfortunately it was determined by the company that it was more economically sensible to shut down the plant prematurely as repair cost estimates toppled $120 million for retubing. So Maine would end their first and last nuclear experiment that lasted 25 years.

“Wiscasset, a small community in mid-coast Maine, hasn’t found an economic engine with anything close to the oomph of Maine Yankee, which closed in 1996. High school enrollments are half what they were back then, and sewer and utility services are no longer free to residents.” — Boston Globe (10/16/2015)

It should also be known however that this was during a time period where we were just discovering the idea of hairline ruptures in steam tubing. All nuclear power plants both in America and around the world experience fractures and we now know this. We address the issue by plugging or sealing pipes as they age. Maine Yankee was not shut down because of a safety violation, but because the owners considered the costs of plugging tubes too expensive. The plant should be considered a success in energy history. When Maine Yankee closed the region lost 600 jobs, and it also resulted in the town losing 91% of its tax revenue causing serious financial hurdles. Maine has no plans to build another nuclear plant at anytime in the near future. They have predominately switched to hydro power as their main form of energy going forward.

Millstone (1971–2033*)

Helicopter view of Millstone 1, 2, and 3 in Waterford, Connecticut photographed on July 14th, 1998.

By the early 1970’s this was Connecticut's second power plant built, and by 1974 the operation at three operating reactors making it the largest nuclear plant in New England, pumping out a total of 2758MW of power.

In conjunction with Connecticut Light and Power Company, the Hartford Electric Light Company, and the Western Massachusetts Electric Company, a new project was first announced in the Bridgeport Post in 1965 for a $83 million dollar project for a new location for a power plant in Waterford. The company officials touted this would be the largest and most efficient nuclear generating station in New England and they would be correct.

“This is something that is not only good news for Connecticut, but for Massachusetts and the rest of New England as well.” — Governor John N. Dempsey (4/29/1965)

This plant was also set to produce 60 million gallons of fresh drinking water daily from Long Island Sound, because the power companies were constructing a desalination evaporator which would be used to cool its reactors. The city of Hartford was consuming 50 million gallons of fresh water daily so this was a huge deal. The plant was also being designed to cause no thermal pollution in the Long Island Sound, which is seawater being discharged from the plant at a much higher temperature. This high temperature allegedly kills fish and fauna. The Construction was started in the fall of 1966 by clearing 500 acres with construction fast tracked by the Atomic Energy Commission, with 200,000 tons of TNT explosives, a railroad highway grade crossing for locomotive transportation, and 10,000 feet of water mains laid along parts of Great Neck, Rope Ferry, and Goshen Roads through Pleasure Beach and Jordan Cave Road. A public hearing was held in the city of New London in April of that year with zero public opposition from the local community which signed on to evacuation plans. The total project took 8,000 construction workers to complete employing a huge labor force to the local economy.

The principal building included the reactor containment building and turbine hall, poured with concrete and auxiliary structure in brown and bronze. The installations turbine hall was sheathed in recessed aluminum siding and concrete vertical columns on the building. A bronze glass was set to highlight the station’s office and auxiliary buildings, and the gift shops were done in charcoal brown siding to harmonize with the off-white of the other buildings. The reactor building was built to 140 feet high and 144 feet long, and the structure housing the station’s turbine generator was built 100 feet high and 183 long, making it the largest plant in New England. It also utilized a new safety feature known as “purging” through the enclosure’s building’s filters following any accident making it the safest plant to boot among all of the other designs that had been pursued. The power plant initially provided 73 jobs when it was commissioned, but quickly grew to employ upwards of 2300 permanent engineering jobs for the surrounding community. In 1968 the town of Waterford grand list evaluation shot up by $6.5 million or more than 10%, which allowed them to reduce property taxes and water rates substantially.

Cracks found in 10 U.S. Reactors

Going into the early 1990’s following Chernobyl the opinion by the community began to change dramatically. We started to pursue closer scrutiny of our nuclear plants, and Millstone was also one of ten nuclear reactor sites which became part of the “cracks” controversy. Just like Yankee Rowe, the Union Of Concerned Scientists pressured NRC in a court hearing in that year to shut down reactor #1 in 1995 taking away 660MW of power, and fined Millstone $50,000 for underreporting safety concerns for what could turn into a “meltdown” scenario according to NRC reports. However as we all know it was later found that all power plants in the United States would later be scrutinized for this safety factor. Three decades later it has been shown that ductility has posed no real threat of a nuclear meltdown, because that was predicated in the design with test coupons in the vessel.

In 2018 Millstone came very close to shutting down over a subsidy dispute with the region after state regulators proposed blocking the company from making more money through new clean energy contracts. They eventually lifted clean energy sanctions on the plant operators.

Millstone nuclear plant threatens shutdown

“The loss of Millstone would have been catastrophic for our state and our region. The shutdown of the plant would have exposed the New England region to a nearly 25 percent increase in carbon emissions, increased risk of rolling blackouts, billions of dollars in power replacement costs, and the loss of more than 1,500 well-paying jobs.” — Governor Ned Lamont (3/15/2019)

The plant is now set to keep operating for another ten year contract, and NRC license was renewed for another 50 years in 2005. The generation facility continues to employ thousands of jobs to the region and supplies 2,100 megawatts of carbon-free power to New England, supplying half of Connecticut’s energy needs. Even in the best case scenario, Millstone is going to be retired in the next two decades as it reaches retirement age.

Montague (1973–1980)

Page 35 of the Boston Globe printed on September 22nd, 1974 examining Sam Lovejoy’s case.

Montague is a quint New England town that lies by the green Connecticut River valley 90 miles west of Boston. It is a beautiful town of gently rolling farmland and majestic eastern foothills of the Berkshires. Economically Montague during this time period was spoken as a depressed area. The small farms and light industry were slowly drying out, replaced by tract housing and high taxes and unemployment rates. Its two major villages, Montague City and Turner’s Falls, looked like they’ve been preserved intact from the Great Depression. The power of the atom was set to change the area’s prospects. In the early 1970’s the former manufacturing town of the Berkshires was facing upwards of 16% unemployment rate, when in 1973 news came around of plans to build the third nuclear plant in Massachusetts which would have provided an estimated 1200 jobs. Here is the brief story of what happened and why the project was ultimately abandoned much to the demise of locals who wanted to see it become a reality.

Early in 1973 Northeast Utilities (NU), the power combine that used to provide electricity to much of rural New England, made an offer to Montague its citizens didn’t think they could refuse. The utility had plans for twin giant nuclear reactors to service the valley with electricity. NU proposed that the plant be built not he Montague Plains, several hundred acres of gravel, scrub oak and Paine the hear to fit down. The projected cost of the project was $1.52 billion, a figure almost 30 times the assessed value of the town itself. The reactors would have gone into operation by 1981 with a power capability of 2300 megawatts; the Montague nuke would be the biggest ever built.

“Local opinion toward the nuke was largely favorable. Businessmen and local boosters were delirious over the prospects of thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in new business over the year and the mammoth boost to local taxes rolls the nuke would bring. An overwhelming majority of the towns 8500 residents at the time seemed to been favor of the project.” — Boston Globe (12/01/1974)

This was set to be the third and largest nuclear generating plant in Massachusetts, and the location was picked out of six other possible locations by Northeast Utilities as having all of the perfect features to support a nuclear power operations. Such as having a good bedrock for building, they could build away from the underground water, cooling towers supplied from the Connecticut River, good rail access, and was near transmission lines. At the time this would have been one of the larger nuclear power plants in the country, spanning two planned water towers that would have pumped out 2300MW of electricity making it the second largest in New England.

In 1974 early on in the production of the plant, a local group formed which called themselves the Nuclear Objectors For A Pure Environment. Their goal was to stop the construction of this new plant at all costs. On a cold February evening, anti-nuclear activist and organic farmer Samual Lovejoy took a crowbar to a 550-foot weather tower which was constructed to determine where radiation would travel if a meltdown did occur. The entire structure was knocked down and Lovejoy turned himself into police.

“Samuel H. Lovejoy, 27, is accused of toppling a 500-foot tall triangular steel mast on Montague Plain in the neighboring town of Montague, where he lives. Northeast Utilities, a company with power plants in five New England states, erected the tower to gather data on the area’s weather for one year prior to applying for a permit to build two nuclear plants there.” — Boston Globe (9/22/1974)

As the story goes the trial eventually went to court, and in 1975 the jury found Lovejoy not guilty of vandalism because it was determined he was protecting his own life and the people around him according to his defense in a technicality. He would later go on to form the Clamshell Alliance that stopped Seabrook’s second reactor, after 1400 protestors crowded around the entrances in 1977. After continued protests and oil crisis disappearing, Northeast Utilities pulled out of Montague in 1980 after already spending $29 million into construction. Their reason was described as investors pulling out of the project over political and economic backlash. 10 years later Massachusetts would lose another plant 30 miles west of Montague. It story was archived in the first anti-nuclear documentary that would ever be produced, Lovejoy’s Nuclear War that hit movie theatres in 1975.

Pilgrim (1972–2019)

The 650MW Pilgrim plant photographed under construction in 1967 by the Cape Cod Bay in Mass.

This nuclear plant has a huge and bittersweet history to the Bay State. It has its origins dating all the way back to 1965, and was even mentioned in a Bee Gees song. On November 9 of that year, the lights went out in Massachusetts. It was known as the Great Northeast Blackout, where over over 30 million people and 80,000 square miles were left without electricity for up to 13 hours. The cause was a major failure at the Sir Adam Beck Hydro Plant. In response to this it was recommend that our country could address these blackouts and prevent another one, by adopting a new form of energy posed from the atom known as nuclear power. New England was the testing grounds for some of the first nuclear plants in the country. In a period of twenty years Union workers built a total of 15 power plants throughout the Northeast from 1960–1977. Massachusetts was determined early on to be the leaders of this nuclear bandwagon by suggesting the “Pilgrim Project”. This would be the second most massive plant built in our country’s history at the time.

In 1968 Boston Edison began constructing what would turn out to be the largest nuclear plant of New England, raising a reported $120 million dollars to build not adjusted for inflation. It was constructed in 18 weeks, largely in part because the Atomic Energy Commission granted blanket exemptions allowing contractors to pour concrete without a construction permit. It started producing energy for the first time in the year 1971. It produced a record 650MW of low cost electricity supplying 15% of Massachusetts energy needs. This would be the second nuclear plant built in the Bay State, and fourth largest production plant in New England.

Even during its early days it was faced with environmentalists which tried to block construction of the plant, but construction pulled forward and by the mid 1970’s it was the largest powerhouse generating station in New England. This was paired with UMASS Lowell building their own nuclear engineering program with a nuclear reactor onsite in 1974 to go along with MIT, to train students right out of college to transition into the commercial sector to work for Pilgrim which offered a summer internship program.

The operations successfully pumped out a giant chunk of Massachusetts energy for almost 50 years, until the era of the “green movement” in Massachusetts. During the early 21st century the Massachusetts economy slowly started promoting natural gas, wind turbines, and solar panels in a new energy initiative. In 2013 Governor Deval Patrick received the “Green Governor of the Year” award for his pledged investments in wind energy. Is it any coincidence that from 2005 to 2015, we massively saw Massachusetts switch over from nuclear to natural gas as their main form of energy? By the year 2016, 88% of federal energy subsidies were allocated to renewable energy. By 2019 natural gas fueled about two-thirds of Massachusetts’ total electricity net generation in 2019, and Governor Baker announced a carbon neutral energy goal for the state by 2020 which included massive state resources for solar and wind technologies instead of nuclear. Executives announced that nuclear energy simply became so uncompetitive in Massachusetts that they were forced to pull out of the state.

Massachusetts Needs to Reconsider Nuclear Energy

“The shutdown of Pilgrim will likely lead to a short-term spike in greenhouse gas emissions until power generators can match typical energy needs with more renewable sources.” — Eric Wilkinson (Environmental League of Massachusetts Director)

In 2019 despite having a license to operate until the year 2035, board members pulled out early by laying off a total of 550 workers. Members of the press were invited in for what would be a mock shut down of the last footage seen inside of the control room before it was decommissioned. Associated Press labeled it as “the end” of Massachusetts nuclear era. A state that was going to house the largest number of nuclear plants in the region, would now be the leader of the anti-nuclear movement going forward. The shutdown of Pilgrim represented reality welcoming the new century.

Seabrook (1990–2050*)

1500 protestors storm Seabrook site trying to destroy police barricade Oct 6th, 1977. (Boston Globe)

When the word “Seabrook” is uttered at the dinner table of a New England family, it either brings great joy or raged filled anger. This plant is the most controversial which I am going to discuss in this article, and it was where the anti-nuclear movement first began in the entire country. It’s been an iconic and contested symbol of New Hampshire that must be mentioned here. This was in fact the last nuclear plant built in New England, but it first started construction all the way back in the year 1965. It was set to be the first commercial power plant in the country to go online. What was when the Public Service Company of New Hampshire decided upon a site along the Great Bay and Puscataqua River. Construction permits were denied because the Air Force at the time was too concerned that if a tragedy did occur, it would endanger the lives of those living near or on the base. After all back in the mid 1960’s these radioactive behemoths were considered experimental, and were never thought to be a success by many in the energy field. Seabrook was about to prove everyone wrong.

A new 900 acre site was selected along the Hampton Harbor, and construction immediately began by the year 1976 after the town of Seabrook approved the development design. However just as fast as it started it would be stopped. In the late 1970’s, Massachusetts and New Hampshire was the beginning of the anti-nuclear movement that would later on sweep the world. In 1974 we experienced Sam Lovejoy knocking down the Montague tower, and two years later we would have the Clamshell Alliance form. Upon news that construction started up, the group organized the first and largest anti-nuclear march in American history to the construction site with the goal to halt it.

From 1976–1977 the Clamshell Alliance occupied the ground of the workers, the largest protest on May 1st, 1977 when over 2000 arrived and participated in a massive chainlink arrest, where 1414 were sent to prison of trespassing. This involved state police from Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. New Hampshire ended up being forced to release all of the prisoners as it was costing taxpayers thousands of dollars each day. Various public universities in the surrounding area including UMASS and Wesleyan University allowed students to make up final exams they had missed, and various professors participated in the peaceful act of disobedience.

In that year because of the protests, it caught attention of the New England regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency who wound up rejecting their license for their cooling tunnel that would have discharged hot steaming water in to the Atlantic Ocean. This was in fear it would harm sea life. This was part of the reason why nuclear plants started developing cooling towers around the country to avoid the controversy, but the New Hampshire utility company would end up taking the EPA to court and won. However after news of Three Miles Island, six of the surrounding towns within a ten mile radius of the plant started petitioning to halt construction including then Governor of Massachusetts Mike Dukakis. This eventually backed the support of Jimmy Carter heading into the 1980’s, which gave momentum for Reagan’s victory in New Hampshire where he pledged he would fast track construction to finish Seabrook.

“If Seabroook is not finished, one day New Hampshire will have the cleanest air and the coldest homes and the darkest nights of any place in the nation.” — Candidate Ronald Reagan (Keene State 2/17/84)

By the early 1980’s investors started pulling funding and construction was at a virtual standstill. By 1984 the planned construction of the second water reactor was cancelled which would have made Seabrook a 2395MW plant, or in other words the largest nuclear plant in New England. This was after 25% of the construction on the second reactor was already completed and $800 million spent. This caused the utility company to go bankrupt, causing another decade of delay and cost overruns exceeding 7 billion.

“Seabrook has been a paradigm of fragmented and uncoordinated government decision making and a system strangling itself and the economy in red tape” — EPA Commissioner Richard T. Kennedy

Construction of the first reactor was finally completed by 1990, and a decade later a new owner NextEra Energy put new hope into the future of nuclear power in New Hampshire. In 2019 the NRC renewed Seabrook’s license another 20 years marking the next relicensing inspection to be in the year 2050. This plant has an amazing history and backstory, in that incredibly the power plant which was detested the strongest has outlasted everyone else. It truly is a miracle that this plant even exists in New England at all. After construction was delayed for nearly three decades.

Shoreham (1986–1989)

Headquarters of Shoreham Plant along Long Island Sound now state property sits abandoned in 2007.

This power plant was technically not located in New England, but it was directly adjacent from Millstone along the same Long Island Sound so I felt it was appropriate to talk about and showcase it’s history, and boy is it an interesting and controversial history at that.

This power plant was originally set to become an 820MW generating facility and it began construction in the early 1970’s. It was set to be New York’s fifth nuclear power plant. Beginning in a 1966 report in the Democrat and Chronicle, the Long Island Lighting Company announced plans for new 455 acre construction along the north shore of Long Island, in the town of Brookhaven between the villages of Shoreham and Wading River. It began as a $261 million dollar project under company president John J. Tuohy. The New York State Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority under leadership of William J. Ronan pushed the power company to nearly double the size of the reactor from its initial 500MW by providing subsidies. The Atomic Energy Commission originally came out with this assessment upon its construction and design approval with no initial backlash from local community. At the same time Long Island Lighting Company proposed an additional 1150MW nuclear plant in Riverhead, where they offered to pay 80% of Riverhead’s town and school taxes, but it was never approved and construction was ultimately cancelled. At this time there were future plans for 17 other nuclear plants from other companies in the area around Long Island and all were cancelled after exit strategy plans could not be approved.

“The nuclear plant proposed for the Shoreham site can be constructed with reasonable assurance that it can be operated without undue risk to the health and safety of the public.” — 1970 Atomic Energy Commission Report

The Shoreham Plant was constructed as a forced-circulation boing water reactor, with a net electrical output of 19,000KW. General Electric furnished the nuclear steam supply system and turbine generator. Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation designed and constructed the plant.

In 1970 we would witness the first of a start to a major opposition from outside forces. In August and September of that year a group of 40 scientists from around the nation formed a large parade that summer opposing the construction of the fifth nuclear plant in New York State and they were determined to stop it under all measures which had to be taken by requesting that all construction be postponed until further studies could be done. On September 21st after delaying a meeting twice, a group of environmentalists spoke to a panel run by State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. James Watson. Also Dr. Karl Morgan and Edward Struxness of Oak Ridge National Laboratory to argue to the opinion that no amount of radiation is safe exposure in a lab setting.

“As the environmentalists prepared their case, there already was evidence at the United Nations meeting, sponsored by the AEC and the International Atomic Energy Agency, that a lot of the magic has rubbed off the genie of nuclear power.” — Ithaca Journal (8/25/1970)

Also commenting was Yale Professor Daniel Merriman arguing against the idea of discharging warm water into the Long Island Sound. By the way, this is later why we mandated cooling towers on nuclear sites.

“We have detailed studies which shows the effects of heated water from a nuclear plant on the Connecticut River, which flows from upper New Hampshire to Long Island Sound. We have found so far that such harm as the heating produced the wasting away of catfish, is far offset by the benefits of nuclear power. However the capacity of the river to carry more heat without harm may be approaching its upper limits.” — Professor Daniel Marriman (United Nations Conference 8/25/1970)

We also had this alarming opinion by Ralph Nader’s Llyod Harbor Study Group, also for its opposition for being built within 1500 yards of a Project Nike nuclear silo. The fear was that the plant would be used to reprocess plutonium, a solution for waste which would not be tolerated. However the company spoke that it was a complete coincidence.

“The Shoreham nuclear plant would have the equivalent of a dozen Hiroshima bombs stored up and you’d get two lovely targets in one. What a ridiculous situation.” — Lloyd Harbor Study Group (9/26/1970)

“Technology of nuclear power is not yet safe enough, too little it known about the long-range effects of low-level radioactivity. We should instead move towards plants which use conventional fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal that can be cleaned up and rendered pollution free.” — Lloyd Harbor Study Group (8/30/1971)

To the company’s response they defended their decision and record of safety, and their apparent close consideration to environmental factors.

“Facing a rapidly growing population, we want to build a nuclear facility on the island’s north shore, near Shoreham, on Long Island Sound. This can be accomplished without compromising the environment. There will be no detectable increases in radiation exposure and no detectable effects on the Sound. We know of no form of power generation in the quantities required for our system which has more favorable effects or creates less impact on our total environment than nuclear power generation.” — Andrew Wofford (Engineer @ Long Island Lighting Company)

Well the trial ended with state legislatures delaying construction permits until further environmental consideration and studies could be performed. The dissenters officially won the battle for the time being to stop production.

“Stymied by community opposition over safety and environmental factors, the Long Island Light Company confirmed yesterday its decision to suspend preliminary construction of its nuclear power plant in Shoreham because it lacks a permit from the Atomic Energy Commission.” —Daily News (8/07/1971)

“Licensing this plant would be a colossal gamble with the health of future generations. Maybe no harm would be caused, but I would certainly not want to be the one who threw the dice on so great a gamble.” — Congressman Lester Wolff D-NY (9/22/1970)

Construction would be delayed for four years from 1969 to 1973, until finally in the year 1973 it was eventually found to be in the favor of the utility that they had proven their environmental and safety policy was accurate. Construction was permitted on April 12th, and Lloyd appealed the decision. The plant would receive massive backlash during its construction with a series of non stop protests every summer from the Concerned Citizens Of Suffolk. In 1978 a group of 40 protestors stormed the plant. The largest following the Three Mile Island incident in 1979, with a reported 16,000 marched outside of the Shoreham construction site, and 800 entered the plant in civil disobedience and were arrested on site. The movement was fronted by Sierra Club and Audubon Society, headlined by speaker Barry Commoner. Including local residents lawyer Tom Twomey, farmer Bill Nohejl, and Peggy Clark. Radio station WBAI broadcasted live from the site for four hours.

“I think we showed the people we were willing to put ourselves on the line and get arrested for the cause of getting these plants shut down. People who wouldn’t ordinarily get involved are starting to. A majority of the cops said they were on our side. They helped us hop the fence.” — Mark Brooks (Spring Valley Resident)

The plant finally completed construction in 1981 and was ready to be set online more than a decade after construction had been started, with a construction cost which had now toppled $1.5 billion from delays. However the protests had great influence on Governor Mario Cuomo who in 1983 ordered state officials not to approve any evacuation plans, after public opinion started to shift in Suffolk County around the fear of a meltdown. Commissioning of the plant was delayed for another three years, and this had an extremely negative effect during Hurricane Gloria.

In the year 1985 we would finally bring the day of celebration for the company who fought for 16 years to bring their project to reality, with a workforce of the saw the reactor finally being allowed to be ran at lower power on 5% capacity. It looked like the beginning progress being made. However by this time the project had reached a whopping $6 billion dollars in costs. Unfortunately as history played out, in the following year in 1986 we would witness the worst era for the nuclear industry, as we watched hopelessly the worst meltdown in world history at Chernobyl. This would shift any remaining public opinion against the commissioning of this plant at full capacity. At this time the project had reached a whopping $4.5 billion dollars in costs, with project that should have taken five years to complete.

With local counties being instructed to holdout on evacuation plans from public pressure, by 1989 Governor Cuomo announced in a surprise move that he would be declaring the land as government property, and seized ownership of the plant and immediately ordered the plant be decommissioned which cost $123 million. All together when all was said and done the state of New York consumed $6 billion in debt, and to pay it off Cuomo proposed attaching a 3% surcharge on Long Island electric bills for the next three decades. The plant was fully decommissioned by 1994, and the region lost out on thousands of engineering jobs and eliminating three million tons of carbon per year if it had been activated. New York would never build another nuclear plant again, and today Long Island is still owned by public utilities. This would leave a permanent stain on the legacy of nuclear power in the state.

Vermont Yankee (1972–2014)

Oringal headquarters of Vermont Yankee plant along Connecticut River since demolished in 2019.

This was one of the more iconic of New England nuclear plants, and it was the last Yankee to be closed down having stood the test of time as others around them were retired. Up until 2014, nearly three quarters of Vermont’s energy production came from here. Vermont was nuclear dominant state. In 1967 the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation apart of the conglomeration of the “New England 8” set their eyes on Vernon, a small town in Vermont along the Connecticut River for the foundation of a new 650MW nuclear plant that would power up to 40% of Vermont’s energy needs. It was designed by General Electric along with the hydroelectric plant that was located upstream and built around the same time period as the other Yankee projects.

As you can imagine this was a huge financial resource for the small town community. The nuclear plant added $115 million to the town’s $8 million total assessed evaluation. The town was able to cut taxes on residents from $4.90 to 3.60, and the plant brought in sometimes over 90% of the town’s tax revenue for multiple decades, bringing in hundreds of new families and large housing projects erected to house the workers. It really was the idea of a modern “company town” throughout the 20th century.

State legislature however had a history through the plant’s life of trying to shut it down. After the NRC granted license to operate by 1971, the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution petitioned the Natural Resources Defense Council of Vermont to sue the NRC in attempt to block the license. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in a landmark 1978 decision Vermont Yankee v. Defense Council (1978) that a state legislature could not impose rules on the Nuclear Regulator Commission and thus the license had remained valid and could not be revoked. In response the area was subject to more protests during the 1980’s led by Congressman Bernie Sanders.

Vermont Yankee Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council

The plant itself had an unfortunate demise. In 2010 we experienced the worst nuclear meltdown since Chernobyl in Japan labeled the Fukushima disaster. The state Senate in Vermont then voted in a 26 to 4 decision revoke Vermont Yankee’s license extension using Fukushima one of their reasonings along with groundwater contamination that they were never able to prove. In response the utility company Entergy brought Vermont to court again, until in 2013 the lower federal courts ruled again that Vermont did not have the right to legislate what should be federal regulation and a 20 year license extension was granted ending a seven year effort to shut down the plant.

“Based on the results of this inspection, the NRC determined that Entergy-Vermont Yankee (ENVY) appropriately evaluated the contaminated ground water with respect to off-site effluent release limits and the resulting radiological impact to public health and safety; and that ENVY complied with all applicable regulatory requirements and standards pertaining to radiological effluent monitoring, dose assessment, and radiological evaluation. No violations of NRC requirements or findings of significance were identified.” — NRC 2010 Statement

Shutdown of Vermont Yankee will eliminate jobs, resulting in ‘very, very sharp hit’ on region’s economy

A Post-Nuclear Reality Settles In For Vernon, Vermont

However summer of that very same year, Entergy announced they would be pulling out of Vermont and closing down the plant, citing the reduced cost of natural gas pushing them out of business. Vermont Yankee should be considered an achievement as the fourth longest lasting nuclear plant in New England up to that point and the last of the original Yankees. 550 jobs were lost earning an average of $105,000 during decommissioning. Today Vermont has mostly switched to hydro as their second largest source of energy.

Yankee Rowe (1961–1991)

Original site of Yankee Rowe plant along the Massachusetts Sherman Reservoir demolished in 2007.

This plant had a rich history in New England. In 1954 the Yankee Atomic Electric Company ( YAEC) made plans to choose a location for what would be the project to build the United States first commercial nuclear power station. It was a conglomeration between ten New England utility companies which saw the importance of making New England the pioneers of atomic energy. One of the most important early phases of the Yankee project was the concise effort to choose a reactor type which was well enough developed to give praise of reliability and at the same time with sufficient potential to become economically attractive. As it turned out, Yankee which turned out to be a pressurized water reactor and the boiling water plant at Dresden, Illinois owned by Commonwealth Edison Company produced nearly identical amounts of power and have together produced about two thirds of the electrical output at that time of all the nuclear plants in the United States.

Construction began in 1958 when the location of Rowe in far western Massachusetts along the Sherman Reservoir was approved, and by summer of 1960 it was fully operational in just two years, only being beat by Dresden by two months. Its startup witnessed a giant celebration in the community. With the opening of the visitor center, New Englanders and school children flocked for miles to see the wonders of what power from the atom was all about.

“President William Webster said the start of the reactor last night represented a major achievement for New England and all of the world.” — North Adams Transcript (8/20/1960)

Construction workers building Yankee Rowe reinforced steel sphere reactor structure in 1958.

This 185MW pressurized water reactor pumped electricity to Massachusetts for over 32 years, even though Leslie Groves of the Manhattan Project planned this as an experiment that was to be retired after 5 years as no one thought nuclear could compete with coal and oil. The plant was so successful it paved way for eight more nuclear plants in New England. During its three decade run this plant was recognized as having one of the best safety records of the entire American nuclear industry. Yankee Rowe went 297 consecutive days without a shutdown during 1990, and was in service 80% of the time since 1986, well above the prevailing industry average of 65%.

During the early 1990’s the Unions of Concerned Scientists (UCS), New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution (NECNP), and Green Peace activists in Massachusetts started blocking workers from entering the plant, as we reached towards the year 2000 when the plant’s license was about to expire. This location would end up being the first plant in the country that requested what was a 20 year license extension, the first of 47 nuclear plants which would soon be up for renewal. GreenPeace and other organizations used the opportunity to take Yankee Atomic to court to stop the renewal.

Unions of Concerned Scientists demands closure of Rowe

“Anti-nuclear protestors were kept outside the Yankee Rowe training center in tiny Monroe Bridge, where the press conference took place, about a mile from the nuclear reactor.” — Rutland Daily Herald (7/09/1991)

Despite having the best safety and efficiency record in the country, being one-fifth the size of most other larger power plants in the nation, and having rebuilt up-to-date electronics and monitoring instruments that even some of the newest plants at the time did not have including a newly proposed cooling system to mitigate disaster, UCS and NECNP petitioned the NRC along with the city council that the reactor containment systems became “brittle” and were at risk of melting down from age. It’s a phenomenon known as ductility. NRC ultimately decided not to renew the license unless they rebuilt the reactor which was deemed too costly, and ordered the plant to shut down. Problem is later on, it was found that all power plants in the United States would later be scrutinized for this safety factor. Three decades later it has been shown that ductility has posed no real threat of a nuclear meltdown, because that was predicated in the design with test coupons in the vessel.

Newspapers reported the chance of a pressurized thermal shock incident was 1 in 100,000 power plants or 1 in 1 million at the time. Later on that number shrunk down to 1 in 1000 chance depending on who you asked. However the protestors did get their wish as decommission was eventually announced.

Politicians praise closing of Yankee Rowe

“Politicians were pleased, but nearby residents were disappointed by the shutdown of the Yankee Rowe nuclear power plant in Rowe, Mass.” — Rutland Daily Herald (10/02/1991)

I have to completely disagree with Rep. Bernard Sanders. I think it’s an overreaction. It’s a reaction to people’s anti-nuclear sentiment.” — Stamford Civil Defense Director William Levine (10/02/1991)

When the plant closed down the region lost 250 jobs, and decommissioning the plant cost utilities $608 million which then raised rates. Original estimates suggested it would have cost $50–100 million to rebuild the reactor vessel. In my interview last year with former Manger of Finances Bob Capstick he could not remember what caused the cost overruns, but he also noted that Rowe was competing with the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire which could spread its regulatory and operating costs over 1200MW versus Rowe’s 185MW and this also played a factor. This would be the second to last Massachusetts nuclear plant closed down. Ever since nuclear waste has sat encased in concrete capsules, after its original plan to send the waste to Argonne National Labs was cancelled. The location was only supposed to serve as a temporary waste site for a period of ten years according to a Boston Globe article published in 2006 criticizing cost overruns. When this plant closed down the small Bay State community in Rowe suffered tremendously with economic hardship, as the plant brought in upwards of 40% of the town’s property tax revenue. A major supermarket in town closed, and plans for a new local restaurant were scrapped according to the Rutland Daily.

Independent writer outside of Boston.

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