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Power The Almighty Buck

Its Nuclear Plant Closed, Maine Town Is Full of Regret 380

Posted by samzenpus
from the and-you're-done dept.
mdsolar writes in with a story about the fallout from a nuclear plant closing on a small town in Maine. "In a wooded area behind a camouflage-clad guard holding an assault rifle, dozens of hulking casks packed with radioactive waste rest on concrete pads — relics of the shuttered nuclear plant that once powered the region and made this fishing town feel rich. In the 17 years since Maine Yankee began dismantling its reactors and shedding its 600 workers, this small, coastal town north of Portland has experienced drastic changes: property taxes have spiked by more than 10 times for the town's 3,700 residents, the number living in poverty has more than doubled as many professionals left, and town services and jobs have been cut. 'I have yet to meet anyone happy that Maine Yankee is gone,' said Laurie Smith, the town manager. 'All these years later, we're still feeling the loss of jobs, the economic downturn, and the huge tax increases.'"
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Its Nuclear Plant Closed, Maine Town Is Full of Regret

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:11AM (#44901341)

    Think of the space probes

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:16AM (#44901383)

    The real issue isn't with Maine Yankee leaving...it's that the members the town thought it would be around forever.

    The problem they are experiencing is the same one that most small towns (and some big ones) experience when they tie all their hopes and dreams on one industry instead of using tax revenues generated from that industry to help pull additional industries into their city.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:30AM (#44901503)

      At some point, this is going to happen to San Francisco, and the entire so-called Silicon Valley.

      While the economy of this region was once diversified, ranging from professional services to software development to computer hardware development to heavy industry, we've seen much of that flee over the years.

      These days, the companies and people that remain are nothing compared to the giants of days gone by. They are strangers walking through the ruins of what was once a great civilization. They try to imitate what they see, but they lack the inherent essence of what The Valley was in its heyday.

      Some people call it economic stagnation; I prefer to call it rampant hipsterism. That which mattered has been replaced by that which is superficial. Where we once had leaders and innovators, now we have manchildren who wear tight jeans, large glasses, and act with the maturity of toddlers.

      When Bill Hewlett was in the room, everyone listened to him, even when he wasn't saying anything. But today, we get to hear self-entitled young men prance around in fedoras, taking photos of everything while subsequently going on about social media and Web 2.0 and Ruby-on-Rails.

      If it can happen in Maine, I think it can surely happen in California. The parallels between the two are astounding.

      • by Virtucon (127420) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:15AM (#44901883)

        If it can happen in Maine, I think it can surely happen in California

        It can happen anywhere and it can happen for all the wrong reasons, especially in California because what people don't realize is that business will grow and prosper where it's welcome. Last year California lost 5.2% of its businesses [businessweek.com] and while the experts can't agree on a clear "why," I think that California has become more anti-business, anti-growth over the past few decades. I was born and raised in So. Cal and lived out there through the end of the 80s but even then it was still growing. Sure the recent recession has hit everybody but the decline in California is inevitable; Overpriced housing such as in Orange County [patch.com] means that even middle class wage earners have a very hard time of living there, which also helps to drive up the costs of labor. [doctorhousingbubble.com] You can blame speculation on most of that but without mass transit and massive urban sprawl it creates huge amounts of gridlock. [time.com] Add to it the anti-business legislation that's been passed and you have a perfect storm brewing over over-inflated housing prices, employees who can't get to work because of long commutes and an anti-business attitude [calchamber.com] and ranking highest in the nation on taxation in most categories [caltax.org], that makes California downright a sucky place to make a living and conduct business. As they say "it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there."

  • What a surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Racemaniac (1099281) on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:17AM (#44901389)

    A small town loses a lot when the big business that was there has left.

    Not quite sure why it's worth an article, or why it matters that it was a nuclear power plant though.

    • Yeah, they could just as well have written about the next village where the fish factory closed. Or about the boom times in tiny villages in North Dakota where they've found oil.

      • Re:What a surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MightyYar (622222) on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:39AM (#44901583)

        Yes, it's called a "company" town, and it happens wherever there is a single major employer. Often the employer is the reason the town exists as more than a little village in the first place, so it's not at all clear how one would expect it to exist unchanged when the employer leaves. It happens to big towns, too... Remove Disney from Orlando and see if anyone wants to hit the center of Florida in the middle of the summer.

      • by sycodon (149926)

        For that to be a complete analogy you'd have to have national organizations lobbying the federal government to not license the fish factory, develop an entire movement opposed to fish factories, and then have the government regulate the fish factory to the point of insolvency.

    • Re:What a surprise (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:43AM (#44901611) Journal
      Nuclear plants are rather trickier than some industries to redevelop (the fuel casks are stuck in regulatory limbo, the rest of the plant is just a massive structure, much of it radioactive enough to reduce the otherwise significant scrap value and require special procedures, built durable enough that it'll be expensive to demolish) which increases the odds that Maine Yankee HQ will do their best to classify the site as some sort of minimally-operational status in perpetuity, because hiring a couple of guards to wander around and punch the clock is cheaper than fully pulling out, leaving the town with a big derelict structure.

      They are hardly alone in that, though. All kinds of industrial processes (especially anything inherited from the good old days when Men Were Men, Cigarettes were a health food, and PCBs were a Miracle of Science), even if their buildings are cheaper to tear down, leave the underlying site in lousy enough shape that it's usually cheaper just to say 'eh, fuck 'em' and choose a greenfield location somewhere else. Even something as minor as a gas station can be Wacky Remediation Fun Time if their storage tank leaked before they went under or moved.

      (The only other aspect, though the article is polite, or feckless, enough to ignore it, is that nuclear plants operate under an NRC license, which is of limited duration unless renewed, which requires a variety of testing steps, so their demise is probably rather more predictable than the usual '$FOOCORP moves to China to save 10 cents per widget' story. If your town is basically fucked without its resident nuclear reactor, you really want your town leadership to be well informed(or doing their best to batter down the doors and demand to be made aware) of exactly where in the lifecycle the reactor is, whether HQ is looking for a renewal, whether there are issues that would scuttle that, etc. Predicting a 'Haha, Outsourcing Surprise!' event is relatively challenging. Predicting whether or not a reactor will get recertified or mothballed may not be trivial; but it's a much better defined problem. My guess is that there's a really ugly backstory there. Either the town ignoring the problem to bask in the present, the operator stonewalling/flimflamming the town until it was time to give them the shaft, some of both, some other flavor I'm not thinking of; but that would be the one major wrinkle distinguishing a reactor from any other 'industrial site not easy to remediate'.)
    • There is to this day a great fear over having a nuclear plant nearby for some. They constantly seek to block new plants and close existing ones. Except this points out, just because you close the plant doesn't mean it is gone and you could tank your local economy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by fermion (181285)
      I am sure that Virginia is still quite unhappy that it's slaves were freed. I know is Texas and California, on a while, are are quite unhappy that they have to comply with clean air regulation that in both states dramatically increase the cost of energy. I am quite unhappy that I cannot have a still in my backyard, and I am sure many of my neighbors would to like to cook meth.
  • by johnjaydk (584895) on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:17AM (#44901391)

    On one side we have a lot of people talking technology and facts about something that few people understand and can't observe.

    On the other we have people who are afraid, on a gut level, about something they don't understand and a deep mistrust towards the technical people. The technical people consider these guys stupid and irrational.

    A sane dialogue is a complete nonstarter. They can't even agree about what's sane.

    • Then there are those of us that do understand, and have a moderate distrust in human ability to foresee everything, and to do adequate safety checks, etc.

      Personally, I think nuclear power is A Good Thing. From what has happened so far in the world though, it looks like we need to implement more modern reactor designs to avoid any more radiation leaks from human negligence, or the occasional natural disaster.

    • by spectrokid (660550) on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:44AM (#44901619) Homepage
      Safe nuclear power is not a technical problem. It is a political problem. In Fukushima, the authorities knew the generators were crap. So the debate gets a third angle: do you trust the engineers? Well maybe. But do you trust the politicians?
    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      The same problem applies in all activism scenarios, whether we're discussing nuclear power, fracking, education, human rights, politics or war.

      On the one side, you have all the people who cry for an absolute stop to the activity in question, and the other side will be pushing for the absolute requirement to do whatever it is. The two extremes dominate the debate, and anyone not in an extreme is derided as not being dedicated to the particular cause. Both sides are full of PhD-holding experts in tangentially

    • I suspect that there's at least one other variable: There is a large universe of things that the techies say are safe and doable, if done according to their advice. However, by the time the plan actually gets executed, it is fairly common to discover that... certain liberties were taken... (in fairness to the techies, often against their advice) in some of the expensive-and-boring-safety-features parts of the plan. This leads to a rather smaller universe of things that techies say are safe and doable and wh
    • by jonnyj (1011131)

      I'm a strong supporter of nuclear power, but I believe that the 'stupid and irrational' people actually bring insights into important issues that are often overlooked by technical folk. And this article raises thought-provoking issues that I've never heard acknowledged in the media by any nuclear expert.

      Any conceivable nuclear safety regime requires plant employees to act with honesty, integrity and procedural rigour. But what happens to honesty and integrity when the future economic prosperity of your fa

    • I'm a technical guy from age ... hm. 5 i think. Been in tech business long time, started professionally when i was 16. Like..work in a IT company doing coding and server management. 28 now.

      I'm not hating on nuclear tech. I'm hating on fukushima scenarios and then the world that is totally apathetic towards such scenarios. If the price to pay is to pollute this planet (our home btw) even further and more severe, then yeah.. we need to double think what and how we' doing stuff. Even if there's a remote chance

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:18AM (#44901395)

    Settlements come and settlements go. That is the nature of the settlement! This has been the nature of settlement since the very beginning.

    It does not matter if it is primitive people sleeping around a fire in tents, or a large city of antiquity, or an American town of today. Changing times bring changing economies which bring changes to where people reside.

    So why the surprise? Why the dumbfounding? When situations change, people must change. They must move. They must adapt. It is the way of the world; the way it has always been.

  • It sounds like the (sadly not atypical) story of what happens to a company town when the company leaves, more or less regardless of the flavor of company.

    The fact that a bunch of nuclear waste casks prevent any redevelopment of that part of the site certainly doesn't help (though, nuclear plants are one of the flavors of facility that are wildly expensive to shut down permanently even if they could get rid of the casks).
  • They had 17 years (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lemental (719730) on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:21AM (#44901425)
    They had 17 years to move out. I don't fault the plant closing, If you have that much lead time, I would have gotten out.
  • This is a story about a facility closing and the town losing jobs, this is not a story that supports Nuclear. If you are want to build nuclear plants to create jobs, the tail is wagging the dog. Supposing, just supposing, the plant had an accident and all those people had to evacuate. Do you think they would have been sad to see it close? Now that would have been a nuclear story.

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:26AM (#44901467)

    the fallout from a nuclear plant closing

    Maybe the fallout will cause a mutation in the town's economy.Together with the economic downturn it could be a toxic combination, resulting in an civic apocalypse.

    • by Enry (630)

      That's a pretty radical statement. Remember that this is still a gray area.

      Sievert.

      • As opposed to the glowing green area associated with most nuke plants.

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        That's a pretty radical statement. Remember that this is still a gray area.

        Sievert.

        That's clever. If I hadn't commented I'd mod you up!

  • I think of "regret" as something you feel over an action you took (direct or indirect). But this town didn't act to close the plant; in fact the residents were quite happy with the economic boom that came with its operation. So, "Its Nuclear Plant Closed, Maine Town Is Full of Sadness," perhaps?
  • by tlambert (566799) on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:33AM (#44901525)

    Contrary to the other posts in this thread...

    It's doubtful that the activists who caused the closure actually live in the town; they are likely from out of area, and just uniformly against nuclear power for the sake of being against nuclear power.

    From the article, it looks like there isn't a NIMBY in town, and that the town is actually filled with PIMBY's ("Please In My Back Yard").

    • by OzPeter (195038) on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:38AM (#44901569)

      It's doubtful that the activists who caused the closure actually live in the town; they are likely from out of area, and just uniformly against nuclear power for the sake of being against nuclear power.

      From TFA

      But the plant faced serious allegations of safety violations and falsifying records around the time it was closed, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Agency investigators found Maine Yankee relied on inadequate computer analyses to demonstrate the adequacy of its emergency core cooling system; “willfully provided inaccurate information” to the NRC about its ability to vent steam during an accident; and provided falsified records of safety-related equipment.

      Yeah .. damn commie hippie activists. Causing a proud 'Merkin company to close down.

      • by tlambert (566799) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:02AM (#44901773)

        From TFA

        But the plant faced serious allegations of safety violations and falsifying records around the time it was closed, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

        Well, yes, and I could allege you eat babies. That doesn't make it true. It would cost you a lot of money to prove otherwise, however. One of the common tactics to stall the construction of a nuclear power plant is to rely on the AEC forcing multiple redesigns during the construction process. Before anything is built at all, and then after each redesign, you demand an environmental impact statement, in case the answer is different, and there's another two years. Believe me, these groups are not averse to implementing what in Congress would be called "filibustering" in order to delay plants and increase their costs as much as possible to prevent them being built.

        Agency investigators found Maine Yankee relied on inadequate computer analyses to demonstrate the adequacy of its emergency core cooling system; “willfully provided inaccurate information” to the NRC about its ability to vent steam during an accident; and provided falsified records of safety-related equipment.

        There are enough conflicting regulations, and enough changes in regulations, that if you measured an office building built 5 years ago in California against current "earthquake ready" standards, you would find some "violations" where it would meet current code, were it to have been constructed that way last week. The important point to consider is that despite this, not one operational accident or failure as a result of these supposed issues.

        • by OzPeter (195038) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:19AM (#44901937)

          Just because you say

          The important point to consider is that despite this, not one operational accident or failure as a result of these supposed issues.

          doesn't mean that an accident or failure cannot occur.
           
          And if an accident does occur, then you are relying on safety systems to mitigate the effects. But when statements like willfully provided inaccurate information; and provided falsified records of safety-related equipment. get bandied about, you cannot trust in the ability of those safety systems to mitigate to the expected level of operation. At that point it is either fix it or shut down. In this case the operators chose to shut down.
           
          This has nothing to do with complex regulations. The operators were simply caught out being negligent.

    • They killed the goose that layed the golden eggs.

      The uber-green and anti-nuke activists likely don't live there, and probably consider these folks collateral damage in their larger fight. Ideally, such activists would be up-front about the economic costs of some of their stands. Even beyond this now-impoverished small town, growing economies need affordable energy; that's just an economic fact. High energy costs reverberate through the entire supply chain, and raise the costs of virtually every good-and-

  • by hessian (467078) on Friday September 20, 2013 @07:39AM (#44901579) Homepage Journal

    The modern time is an abomination because economics runs our lives.

    Since that's the case, it's prudent to think economically and to never rely on only a couple industries in a town.

    If your employment opportunities are (1) nuclear plant or (2) "fishing, I guess" then you're in for a rough ride if either of those shits the bed.

    And since economies are both cyclic and random, expect that to happen.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      And it's worth pointing out that fishing and lobstering is also in trouble in Maine, because fishing and lobster stocks got really depleted about 15 years ago. So that leaves lumber, paper, farming (particularly blueberries, apples, eggs, and potatoes), maple syrup, shipbuilding, and tourism as your options for work.

  • ""I'll take a little radiation if I can get a job" - Working people have been fu&*ed over for so long in this country, those are the kinds of decisions people are forced to make" George Carlin - Jammin' in New York.
  • people are afraid that they will not receive proper habitation or compensation when their traditional homes be flooded for the reservoir of hydroelectric plant. I concede that Maine Yankee may not have been clean, but usually people leaving near a nuclear power plant are at risk of reallocation due to a possible accident, while people living near to a area designed for a hydro plant are planned to reallocation (and almost nobody sees the tragedy in this situation). Nuclear power may not be clean, but ever
  • What an idiotic choice of words. It makes it sound like more anti-nuclear drivel about how radioactive waste is leaking from the closed plant or something. Or that every closed plant instantly becomes Chernobyl. This isn't sim city where plants auto-explode after 50 years.

    • Also, who cares about 3700 people in a small town in Maine? (besides those people themselves) As if this is the worst economic or environmental consequence of the plant closing. What about the pollution caused by the coal plants they are firing up to replace this Nuclear plant?

      • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:03AM (#44902401)

        Also, there is plenty of stupidity to pass around:

        - The author of the article made it very vague as to when the reactor shut down. It was shut down in 1997 [wikipedia.org], which the article does not mention. I am not sure if the 600 workers the article talks about were involved in decommissioning or were former workers let go in 1997. If these are decommissioning workers then shouldn't it be obvious when the project would be finished? Why does everyone treat it like a big surprise? Or were they surprised back in 1997?
        - The plant had run unsafe and falsified reports to the NRC. No wonder it was closed down.
        - A town of 3700 has 7 fire engines and a bunch of other crap they can no longer afford. Well did they expect the gravy train to never end? Sounds like the residents of the town were idiots too.
        - This lady: “Most of my family died of cancer, and I think the plant was the reason,” said Thompson, 55, a cashier at a fireworks shop. Because no cancer is hereditary, and the author trusts the gut feeling of an old woman over actual medical science. Ace reporting there.

  • by joeaguy (884004) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:51AM (#44902255)

    There are an enormous number of cases where government cannot find the will to do the right thing because so many people's livelihoods are dependent upon doing the wrong thing. Fixing healthcare, ending the war on drugs, reining in surveillance, saner military and foreign policy, a lot of people stand to loose well paying jobs if these things come to pass. This isn't just come greedy CEO who isn't going to make as huge a profit. Its middle class professionals and skilled workers who will be obsolete because what they do is harmful to the world.

    How do we structure plans to do the right thing in a way that deals with this problem? A lot of the political pushback comes because of this issue. Congresspeople need to protect jobs in their districts, even if they are jobs that make the world a worse place. How do we do better while having a plan for the people and communities left behind?

    The flip side of the argument in those in this position take a big gamble. A small town with a sustainable fishing economy expands to support a new nuclear industry that won't be there forever, but never really establishes or expands parallel industries that can survive independently. When nuclear goes, the infrastructure for it is still there, costing money, but the people and taxes to support it are not. In the meantime, its original economy from before the nuclear plant has gone through change and neglect. Its a story that plays out again and again in small formerly industrial towns. The clock turns back, but there is no support for doing that sanely, and so negative feedback loops happen, and as a nation we loose the stomach for change. If we better addressed this issue, maybe more could get done.

We don't know who it was that discovered water, but we're pretty sure that it wasn't a fish. -- Marshall McLuhan

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