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Seabrook Nuclear Reactor

Seabrook Nuclear Reactor


Americans once looked to nuclear energy as the nation's great hope for power generation in the twenty-first century. Today, nuclear power plants are regarded with suspicion and distrust, and new proposals to construct them are met with opposition. Perhaps the best transition in the perception of nuclear power is the debate that surrounded the construction of the Seabrook Nuclear Reactor in Seabrook, New Hampshire.

The plant was first proposed in 1969 by the Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSC), an agency then responsible for providing 90% of all electrical power used in that state. The PSC planned to construct a pair of atomic reactors in marshlands near Seabrook in order to ensure an adequate supply of electricity in the future.

Residents were not enthusiastic about the plan. The marshlands and beaches around Seabrook have long been a source of pride to the community, and in March of 1976, the town voted to oppose the plant. Townspeople soon received a great deal of support. Seabrook is only a few miles north of the Massachusetts border, and residents and government officials from that state joined the opposition against the proposed plant. In addition, an umbrella organization of 15 anti-nuclear groups called the Clamshell Alliance was formed to fight the PSC plan.

The next 12 years were characterized by almost nonstop confrontation between the PSC and its supporters and Clamshell Alliance and other groups opposed to the proposal. Hardly a month passed during the 1970s and 80s without news of another demonstration or the arrest of someone protesting construction. The issues became more complex as economic and technical considerations changed during this time. The demand for electricity, for example, began to drop instead of increasing, as the PSC had predicted, and at least three other utilities that had agreed to work with PSC on construction of the plant withdrew from the program. The total cost of construction also continued to rise. When first designed, construction costs were estimated at $973 million for both reactors. Only one reactor was ever built, and by the time that it was finally licensed in 1990, total expenditures for it alone had reached nearly $6.5 billion.

The decision to build at Seabrook eventually proved to be a disaster financially and from a public relations stance for PSC. The company's economic woes peaked in 1979 when the courts ruled that PSC could not pass along additional construction costs at Seabrook to its customers. Over the next decade, the company fell into even more difficult financial straits, and on January 28, 1988, it filed for bankruptcy protection. The company promised that its action was not the end for the Seabrook reactor and maintained that the plant would eventually be licensed.

A little more than two years later, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) granted a full-power operating license to the Seabrook plant. The decision was received enthusiastically by the utility companies in the New England Power Pool, who believed that Seabrook's additional capacity would reduce the number of power shortages experienced by consumers in the six-state region.

Private citizens and government officials were not as enthusiastic. Consumers faced the prospect of higher electrical bills to pay for Seabrook's operating costs, and many observers continued to worry about potential safety problems. Massachusetts attorney general, James Shannon, for example, was quoted as saying that Seabrook received "the most legally vulnerable license the NRC has ever issued."

As of July 2002, Seabrook was operating at 100% power and providing electricity for over one million homes.

See also Electric utilities; Energy policy; Nuclear fission; Radioactive waste management; Three Mile Island Nuclear Reactor

[David E. Newton ]

RESOURCES

PERIODICALS

Shulman, S. "Embattled Seabrook Wins License at Last." Nature (March 8, 1990): 96.

Wasserman, H. "Clamshell Alliance: Getting It Together." Progressive (September 1977): 1418.

. "Clamshell Reaction: Protest against Nuclear Power Plant at Seabrook, N.H. by Clamshell Alliance." Nation (June 18, 1977): 744749.

. "Nuclear War by the Sea." Nation (September 11, 1976): 203205.

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