Over two decades ago, eleven years before Millstone III nuclear power plant
in Waterford, Connecticut went on line, I testified as a private citizen to
the Department of Public Utilities Control that building another Millstone
didn't make economic sense for the average citizen, or for society as a
whole. I pointed out some of the hidden costs of nuclear power and touted
the financial benefits of conservation and direct use of the sun's energy
to satisfy our needs. Northeast Utilities, backed by reactor
manufacturers, extolled atomic energy as cheap, reliable and safe. The
utility company and the state's regulators could have saved us all a lot of
money and worry if they had listened then.
At that time, environmentalists and the nuclear industry argued about
whether people living near or downwind of the plants would be more
vulnerable to cancer, whether "perfect" operating conditions with no human
or mechanical errors were possible, whether the plants would fail
catastrophically, and if radioactive wastes could be safely stored. The
accumulated evidence proves that environmentalists were right about most of
these issues. Yet, it is economics which turned out to be the downfall of
Millstone III was restarted last month after a costly two-year shutdown to
address safety problems and concerns about Northeast Utilities' attitude
toward its employees, particularly whistle blowers. In June, 1996, the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ranked Millstone III in the category
reserved for the worst nuclear plants in the nation. Plant number III,
representing an investment of two-and-one-half billion dollars, is the
largest of three nuclear plants operated by Northeast Utilities on that
site. The other two reactors on Millstone Point remain shut down. By the
end of this year, NU hopes to restart Unit II, which was ranked the third
worst plant in the country before it closed in 1996. NU recently announced
plans to decommission Unit I, twelve years before the end of its license.
Unit I is simply not worth fixing.
Building these very expensive, high-tech, centralized nuclear power
stations was obviously a big mistake. Power companies, reactor makers and
government regulators all encouraged our society's enormous investment in
this unreliable and dangerous technology. Nuclear-generated electricity
(once advertised as "too cheap to meter") now costs about twice as much as
energy from other sources, and is many times more expensive than
conservation. About one-fourth of our electricity bill pays for the cost
of the Millstone units, even when they're not producing any electricity.
Under deregulation, all electricity users in Connecticut will continue to
pay for those failed plants for a long time to come.
In just the last two years, these non-functioning plants have cost NU and
its shareholders over a billion dollars for replacement power and extra
operating and maintenance costs. The problems on Millstone Point devalued
NU's stock, forced it to suspend paying dividends and lowered ratings on
its debt securities.
Nine smaller electric companies which are non-operating owners of Millstone
III, recently took legal action against NU for "an arrogant game of
brinkmanship with the NRC".
And, the problems of decommissioning toxic reactors and disposing of
radioactive wastes still remain. Both of these challenges are likely to be
expensive and will wind up on the taxpayer's tab.
We should learn from our mistakes. These nuclear plants were built to
generate enormous amounts of cheap electricity. It is painfully clear now
that these exorbitantly expensive and dangerous power plants were a big
mistake that all of us will be paying for, with our electric bills and with
our taxes, into the foreseeable future.
Now, the same folks who brought us nuclear power are back with another
"get-rich-quick" scheme for clean, cheap electricity we can buy. The
utilities are smaller, the reactor builders want to sell large,
natural-gas-gulping turbines, and the regulators call it deregulation.
Milford, Oxford and Bristol are among the local towns targeted for these
These plants will burn great quantities of natural gas, a limited fossil
fuel resource. Almost half of the heat produced by burning the gas will
escape directly to the environment, and lots of water will be needed for
cooling. All of this, to give us the illusion that we can continue to
increase our electricity consumption. Conservation and direct use of the
sun's energy are still much better solutions.
If we don't learn from history, we'll be truly sorry.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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