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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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  • Shift (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:12AM (#44901357)
    And in North Dakota, the opposite thing is happening. We can't all have everything, we need to select the best and least toxic way to fuel our country's demand for energy and pursue it. The Mainiacs would be screaming twice as loud if the nuclear plant had suffered an event that released even modest levels of radioactivity into their pristine environment. They should be celebrating - they gambled, they won. (Except for the multi billion dollar cleanup, even without a meltdown.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:16AM (#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.

  • What a surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Racemaniac (1099281) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:17AM (#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.

  • by johnjaydk (584895) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:17AM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:18AM (#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.

  • They had 17 years (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lemental (719730) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:21AM (#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.
  • Re:Shift (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thaylin (555395) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:26AM (#44901477)

    And in North Dakota, the opposite thing is happening. We can't all have everything, we need to select the best and least toxic way to fuel our country's demand for energy and pursue it. The Mainiacs would be screaming twice as loud if the nuclear plant had suffered an event that released even modest levels of radioactivity into their pristine environment. They should be celebrating - they gambled, they won. (Except for the multi billion dollar cleanup, even without a meltdown.)

    Except that Nuclear is still the best solution if you are talking about the least toxic, unless you ignore all the fracking, and greenhouse emissions, and other issues that comes with burning carbon fuels. Renewable is not there yet to support the people.

  • by hessian (467078) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:39AM (#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.

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

    by MightyYar (622222) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:39AM (#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 spectrokid (660550) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:44AM (#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?
  • Re:Shift (Score:4, Insightful)

    by robthebloke (1308483) on Friday September 20, 2013 @08:54AM (#44901705)
    Less toxic indeed [youtube.com]. I'd personally prefer more renewables, combined with increases in energy efficiency, over nuclear any day. We've already had one windscale [youtube.com] here in the UK, I'd prefer to not increase the chances of another. If accidents can be caused by nothing more than a stuck valve [youtube.com], human error [youtube.com], or a natural disaster; then I'd prefer to be a NIMBY in this case.....
  • by The Tyro (247333) * on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:02AM (#44901771)

    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-service that normal people use.

    Everybody wants clean air and water, but some green initiatives come with a serious price-tag.

  • by dutchwhizzman (817898) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:06AM (#44901803)
    Tell that to the people of Fukushima, Chernobyl or Sellafield, or several other sites. In theory, it's cleaner, but those pesky humans keep messing up the "near perfect" statistics. I'm not saying wind or carbon is the solution, but Nuclear has proven to be a lot less safe and clean than the statistics promised so far.
  • by gadget junkie (618542) <gbponz@libero.it> on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:12AM (#44901857) Journal

    I have read that nuclear is not really net clean. That the mining and preparation of the nuclear fuel is quite carbon dirty. Not to mention the enormous costs of the structures and transportation of the fuel and whatever. The amount of money we have spent on Nuclear was a waste compared to much greater advances we could have made in solar to achieve the same output.

    Clean or not, in solar Vs. Nuclear one big problem remains, which has conveniently left out of every economic equation: who pays for continuous availability? if any solar plant had to contract as baseline, i.e. find and/or build conventional plants to meet output at night or in bad weather, they'd be up brown creek without a paddle. After all, conventional plants have to state to the grid output and availability at the auction.

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:15AM (#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."

  • by johnjaydk (584895) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:16AM (#44901889)

    It's not common knowledge but most coal contains small amounts of radioactive material. When the coal is burned, this is either released into the atmosphere or put in some glorified dump along with the rest of the ashes.

    I say coal fired plants are plenty radioactive and not nearly as conscientious about handling as the nuclear guys.

    Lets not beat around the bush. The alternative to nuclear power is coal and coal fired plants are shooting up like mushrooms all over the world.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:17AM (#44901911)

    Which is far less than the mining or drilling for fossil fuels!

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:18AM (#44901921)

    Yes you do, but a little bit of uranium goes a long way. 1kg of uranium produces as much energy as 14 tonnes of coal. That energy equivalency isn't exact, because the uranium has to be refined after mining. I have no figures for how much that adds to the carbon emissions related with producing energy from uranium but it's not a factor of 14000. And despite failures, the uranium IS easier to contain. The pollution from coal or gas can't be contained at all on a commercial scale. It just spews into the air. The issue with nuclear is the intense toxicity and radioactivity of the byproducts. That calls for very careful reactor design with multiple levels of failsafes. With coal, oil and gas we have just assumed it was OK to spew millions of tonnes of crap into the air, but it turns out that it's not OK at all. The Earth can't absorb all that shit without changes to the atmosphere and oceans that affect life all over the planet.

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:19AM (#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.

  • by rasmusbr (2186518) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:20AM (#44901939)

    The research that concluded that was based on theoretical calculations.

    Empirical data paints quite a different picture. Here's a basic sanity check for you: if it took prohibitively huge amounts of diesel fuel to mine uranium the nuclear plant could not afford to buy uranium and stay competitive with oil-fired plants.

  • by gewalker (57809) <Gary@Walker.AstraDigital@com> on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:23AM (#44901977)

    So this Fox News story was idiotic. Solar only works in Germany because it is heavily subsidized. German consumers pay a great deal more for electricity than they would without the solar subsidies. Solar will always be expensive until you figure out a way to create a much less expensive solar infrastructure, such as nano-tech based solar that you paint on a road or a roof. You have to maintain solar arrays and the low power density means large areas are needed for solar capture, and the sun does not shine at night, so you have to solve the energy storage problem too.

  • Re:Shift (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:26AM (#44902021)

    Don't lump renewables all together. Hydro is quite viable (full disclosure: Yes I am an Electrical Management System analyst with a power company). We've been using hydro electric power for years. It's safe, efficient, and has minimal enviornmental impact. Yes the turbines do destroy a few fish, but we replentish those fish more than 10 fold. In the summer time here there are some days that hydro handles most of our load. We do have a couple of nat gas plants, and a coal plant that is shared with other utilities.

    Wind is the greatest rip off that's ever been pushed on the American people. On the hottest days it's the most still. So when load is highest the wind does us no good at all. On the more mild days when we don't really need it we're forced to purchase wind generation at a premium. Federal regulations have created a really sweet deal for wind developers. They give government grants (read: tax payer money) to develop these things, they subsidize the maintenance, and they force the power companies to buy the generation. The only problem is that wind is the most expensive form of generation. Coal costs ~$.05 / kWh where wind is ~$.55, nuclear is the cheapest option even taking into consideration the increase in security requirements, long term storage of waste, and decommitioning fund. So now in addition to paying for the wind farms to be built and maintained you as a tax payer and electrical consumer are paying an increased cost for electricity (yeah when it costs us more - we don't eat that - we pass it on).

    Solar and wind are good for some things if you have a means to store the energy on an individual basis. If you can build your own system to reduce the power you have to purchase it is a good thing environmentally and it's more cost effective than when done by governments and corporations. The problem is that most of the packages I've seen are still more expensive over the long term. When you talk about maintenance and initial cost that the cheapest option is still to purchase power from the power company. A system that costs $10k will likely last about 10 years, the batteries could need to be replaced as often as every two years. Those batteries also have an environmental impact when you dispose of them. Overall it's just not worth it financially, but if you are super concerned about the environment then maybe it's a good way to go.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:37AM (#44902139)

    I have read that nuclear is not really net clean. That the mining and preparation of the nuclear fuel is quite carbon dirty.

    The anti-nuclear lobby is very vocal. I suggest being careful of your sources, and doing some basic sanity checks. For example: to mine some uranium, you run the mining equipment on diesel fuel. So the cost of uranium is, at a minimum, equal to the cost of the diesel fuel used to produce it. The cost of uranium is only a smallish fraction of the cost of nuclear power (~10%?), while the cost of getting the same amount of power from diesel generators is higher (~150%?). So the CO2 emissions from mining uranium produce, at most, ~1/15 of the CO2 of fossil fuels, and probably a factor of a few less than this.

    Okay, there are big error margins on these numbers, but they're enough to convince me that the claims I've seen - that nuclear power produces as much or more CO2 than fossil fuels - are bogus. And, since solar and wind power are so much less energy-dense, I would expect the CO2 emissions from mining silicon/iron/etc for renewable energy infrastructure to be greater than those for nuclear.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@@@netzero...net> on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:47AM (#44902219) Homepage Journal

    Fukushima was a disaster waiting to happen.... just like Chernobyl. Neither plant had any indication of learning from previous experiences in the nuclear power industry and were plain cruddy designs that any newly graduated nuclear engineering student could have designed better. Both plants also required electrical power being supplied to those plants simply to operate.

    I'd also point out that even if you treat the designs of these plants as typical (which they aren't, nor are they anything approaching the design of a plant that would be built today) the amount of pollution and I dare say even radioactive debris contamination is far less than what you get from other energy producing activities around the world. No, it isn't perfect and there are some embarrassments in the nuclear power industry that certainly need to be examined with proper engineering reviews and teaching those lessons to the next generation so they can improve and do better.

    Still, it is a hell of a lot better to build a nuclear power plant today than it is to build dozens or hundreds of coal/oil/bio-diesel plants which generate electricity. Not only it is technically cheaper (especially if you use standard designs for those plants and not constantly try to re-invent the wheel for each new plant), but the impact on the overall environment is far less for nuclear power plants than it is for any other kind... including solar farms.

  • Re:Uh oh! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vivian (156520) on Friday September 20, 2013 @10:15AM (#44902511)

    A lot of the issues point to bad management by the town planners - there are several mentions of overspending in the article, such as for ladder firetrucks when the town has nothing over 3 storeys high, town water to even the most outlying rural surrounding areas, new sports uniforms every year, etc etc.
    Much of the tax burden would be to service some of the debt that was incurred while times were good, or support maintenance on excessively built out infrastructure - otherwise there's no need for tax to be proportionally higher than any other place.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@@@netzero...net> on Friday September 20, 2013 @11:16AM (#44903099) Homepage Journal

    It isn't for the lack of engineering ideas that offer a substantial improvement in terms of both safety and reliability to build nuclear power plants, instead it is a bunch of Luddite environmentalists who don't know a damn about even the periodic table, much less actually comprehend the basics behind nuclear processes that go into these reactors which are impacting public policy regarding permits and environmental assessments for building new nuclear power plants.

    One of the more "recent" design ideas is to build a pebble bed reactor [wikipedia.org] which would have survived both of the mishaps that hit Fukishima and Chernobyl. This basic design has the reactor shutting itself off through chemistry rather than active participation of the plant engineers when power fails or temperatures go too high. In other words, the core simply can't melt down.

    This is hardly the only design of its kind, and there are other ideas that clearly make building fission reactors much safer today than they were in the 1950's and 1960's. I would dare say quite a bit has happened in terms of nuclear plant construction since the 1971 commissioning date of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@@@netzero...net> on Friday September 20, 2013 @11:58AM (#44903651) Homepage Journal

    There were many other problems with both plants. Chernobyl in particular was widely acknowledged even in the industry and dare I say Soviet engineers as an outdated design even before it received power. And then the triggering event for the meltdown at Chernobyl was to deliberately remove the coolant from the reactor in a manner to intentionally cause a scram event in an operational reactor? Yeah, that was real smart.

    Then the Fukushima plant showed some utter brilliance by not only failing to have any sort of emergency plans other than scream at the top of the lungs and run out of the plant making sure Godzilla wasn't directly behind them, but also placing the back-up diesel generators that might have operated those pumps in a position that they were completely unusable if a tsunami ever hit nearby. Yeah, I guess Japan has never seen any of those freakish things of nature in its history. The plant was not only an older and poor design by current standards, it was even poor for the time it was built and "features" done strictly because it would save a few thousand dollars. Simply scathing critiques of the operation of that plant can be found from competent engineers and nuclear plant operators who have actually reviewed what happened. Fukushima simply didn't even follow existing standards of the nuclear power industry and neither did Chernobyl follow even the lax standards of the USSR when it had its problems.

    To me, the largest problem with some of the nuclear plant designs is that they try to maximize their efficiency by being these mega generation plants, thus generating the megawatts of power that you are complaining about here too. To me, smaller plants that are more dispersed in more locations is also a significant solution as you don't have nearly so much heat that you need to lose.

    As for showing you a currently running commercial reactor that does anything, I would also point out that there hasn't been any new commercial plants that have been commissioned since Three Mile Island, as environmentalists simply get in the face of anybody even trying. Don't you think it is possible for some new ideas to be developed since 1977 when the last plant was built in America? Yes, some new plants have been built elsewhere as well, but it continues to be a screaming match as the anti-nuclear skeptics continue to think anything with the word "nuclear" is pure poison. They also complain about too much Di-Hyrdrogen Monoxide causing all sorts of problems in these plants as well, simply because DHMO is such a dangerous chemical that also needs to be banned.

  • by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Friday September 20, 2013 @03:43PM (#44906539)

    First of all, your memory of how Chernobyl went wrong is off. You should read the account again, it has been extensively researched by now. It was a bad design, absolutely, and the engineers on duty did not understand what they were doing to it when they deliberately ran it at too-low power for too long, but they did not intend a scram. Anyway, we can discount Chernobyl, no one will ever build a reactor like that (alas, there are still Chernobyl-type reactors operating).

    I consider myself an environmentalist, so it is a bit annoying to be tainted with the "nuclear is poison" and "DHMO must be banned" brush. I think you give environmentalists too much credit though if you think they could stop nuclear power plants being built practically throughout the world. We have certainly been much less successful when it comes to coal mines and oil rigs, even though those are more harmful. The major difference seems to be that coal and oil is actually profitable whereas modern nuclear power needs more subsidy than even offshore wind power.

    Also, I remember arguments from the pro-nuclear side that Japan was an example of how nuclear power could be safe and profitable when it is done right. Well, it turns out it was not done right, and suddenly there is a lot of criticism about how Fukushima was built. Where are the critical articles about German power plants? About French? They were built at the same time, were they really built so much better? Let us see how the French handle a really hot summer where the rivers they use for cooling cannot provide enough water -- they have had that problem before, but at least there was still enough water to cool the reactors after they were shut down.

    Smaller nuclear power plants are even less economical, and if a storm hits you have to spread your people thin, trying to handle a bunch of spread-out plants generally located in out-of-the-way areas. That does not seem like an obvious improvement to me.

    Luckily it is all academic, only China and Finland are doing significant nuclear expansion, and the ones in Finland have turned out ridiculously expensive so they will not be trying that again. England is waving pound bills around desperately, but no one is biting, despite there being plenty of existing nuclear sites available where NIMBY'ism is a solved problem.

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