On a rainy June 3, 1979, there was a large gathering of people on the Long Island shore near the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. According to some observers, there were 15,000 people in the crowd, but others dispute that number and say it was considerably fewer. The purpose of the rally was to organize and inspire opposition to the nuclear power plant. Some in the crowd claimed that their fear was inspired by the way they understood the results of the well publicized accident that had occurred in March 1979 at the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, PA.
According to a recent article in the Riverhead New-Review titled A look at the Shoreham nuke protest, 30 years later the gathering and subsequent fence climbing protest that resulted in 600 arrests were catalysts for organizing a broad based effort to halt construction and to prevent the plant from ever operating. According to the article, there was also a lot of local support for the project based on the clean energy it would generate, the taxes it was going to pay, and the jobs it was already generating.
The opposition effort was not successful at stopping construction or halting the expenditure of more than $6 billion at a time when a billion really meant something. Shoreham was completed and licensed to operate by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission based on their evaluation of its construction and safety documentation and the demonstrated results of low power testing. However, the organized opposition managed to prevent the plant from operating commercially and producing the expected electricity that could have been sold to pay back the loans incurred during the construction process.
The final cost of the effort is still being computed. The current residents of Long Island are still paying elevated electricity rates to pay back the construction loans and to purchase power – mainly produced by burning natural gas – at a higher rate than would have been required if the source of the heat to produce the electricity was uranium instead of fossil fuel.
I have a saying I often repeat when I want to remember the way that the world really works – “One man’s COST is another man’s REVENUE.” Not only are the costs of Shoreham still being tabulated, but so are the revenues. Some wealthy and powerful people continue to benefit by selling the fuel that would not have otherwise been needed to produce the power that the plant would have generated.
Those of us who favor the intelligent use of atomic fission to supply heat for electricity production, ship propulsion and industrial uses would do well to keep the protests in mind and think about ways to more successfully help our neighbors understand why we have made our choice for energy supply. I know there is at least one former Shoreham protester, who may or may not have attended the June 3, 1979 rally, who has become one of today’s most effective advocates for atomic fission as a way to Save the World. She got there through a personal journey of discovery assisted by the efforts of a patient, respected neighbor who explained why he favored the use of nuclear fission.