Nuclear Power that Wasn’t

Seven Days has posted up a facinating article about two other proposed Nuclear Power Plants that could have been located in the state of Vermont, but were rejected by citizen movements against their construction:

But what if a nuke with a 50-story-tall smokestack had been built in Orwell, alongside the Mount Independence historic site and half a mile from a fault line? And how would Chittenden County residents feel about a nuclear plant with roughly twice the generating capacity of Vermont Yankee on Lake Champlain in Charlotte?

Those weren’t hypothetical questions 40 years ago. Few remember the controversies today, but in the 1960s and ’70s, Charlotte and Orwell were seriously considered as sites for nuclear energy facilities.

Nascent citizen movements put an end to both plans. And their victories helped nurture a conservation ethic that has since spread around the world.

Many concerns were expressed in regard to the nuke that Central Vermont Public Service proposed for Charlotte, recalls Nancy Wood, now the editor of the Charlotte News. “The big one that ended the idea of the plant was the impact of thermal pollution on Lake Champlain,” she says. Activists associated with the Lake Champlain Committee argued in the late-’60s that heated water discharged from the 1000-megawatt station would badly damage the lake’s ecosystems.

In Orwell, the fledgling Vermont Public Interest Research Group aided locals opposed to a later plan by the same utility and by the Vermont Electric Power Co., aka VELCO, for what would have been known as the Hough Crossing nuclear plant. One of the key objections involved its potentially destructive impact on Mount Independence, which was then gaining recognition as Vermont’s most important Revolutionary War site. The Orwell plant was “the first project of its kind defeated for reasons of historic preservation,” says Shoreham attorney Ron Morgan, a leader of the Mount Independence Coalition.

Two other locations in Vermont came up as potentially suitable for nuclear plants in addition to the one on the Connecticut River that became the home of Vermont Yankee. CVPS spokesman Steve Costello says his company purchased “several hundred acres” in Shoreham in the ’60s with a view toward possibly constructing a nuclear or fossil-fuel facility there. At least theoretical consideration was also given in a 1974 VELCO report to splitting atoms for energy on the banks of the Missisquoi River in North Troy.

Full Article

This is the first that I’ve heard of these two plants, and despite the numerous issues that we’ve seen with Vermont Yankee, I can’t help but wonder what the state would have been like with these types of resources at our disposal. Despite the problems in Japan, the risk with earthquakes here is rather minimal: the bigger issue seems to be with the actual handling of the plant itself, as Vermont Yankee seems to have pieces falling off of itself every couple of months, or springing a leak. I’m not overly concerned with the safety of nuclear power: the health record, especially placed into context with things coal and oil fired power plants, looks much better.

Additionally, what could have happened in Vermont with the power avaliable the state at these sites? Safety and risks non-withstanding, Vermont Yankee provides a lot of power to the state, and there are persistant rumors that IBM wouldn’t be thrilled with the loss of Vermont’s only nuclear power plant. Would we have gained other, high tech industries here in the state? It’s a game of ‘what if’ that we might see happen in the state when VT Yankee goes offline.

That being said, I’m really beginning to dislike the passive-aggressive ads that have been playing on 107.1 FRANK FM that has people talking about the jobs that could be lost with the closure of the plant, and how horrible that would be. Yes, while I agree that the loss of jobs in this day and age is not a good thing, that shouldn’t be the defining criteria or motivation for keeping it open, especially as the plant has some serious issues that have undermined our confidence in the running of the plant. While it’s power for the State, I really don’t think that an increased risk is a good thing for all Vermonters. It’s best to play it safe here.