The Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant was a completed $6 billion General Electric nuclear boiling water reactor located adjacent to the Wading River in East Shoreham, New York that was closed by protests from local residents in 1989 without generating any commercial electrical power. The Shoreham project became a public symbol for the cost overruns and public opposition that palgued the U.S. nuclear industry in the 1970s and 1980s.
The plant was conceived by the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) and was built between 1973 and 1984. Its location on Long Island Sound — near the mouth of the small stream that forms the border between Brookhaven and Riverhead towns — was largely rural at the time (although within 60 miles of Manhattan).
It drew increasingly intense opposition after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, resulting in delays and cost increases before New York Governor Mario Cuomo pulled the plug in a state takeover of the plant. The state would ultimately take over LILCO also.
After completion, Shoreham received a low power license and underwent low power testing, but never produced any commercial electric power, due to the fact that New York Governor Mario Cuomo's representatives did not sign the Emergency Evacuation Plan. This meant that it could not receive a full power license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). On May 19, 1989, LILCO agreed not to operate the plant in a deal with the state under which most of the $6 billion cost of the unused plant was passed along to Long Island residents. The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), headed by Richard Kessel, was created in 1986 specifically to buy the plant from LILCO (which it did in 1992). The plant was fully decommissioned in 1994
LILCO President John J. Tuohy announced plans for the plant on April 13, 1965 during a stockholder's meeting. The plant was to be the first commercial nuclear power plant on Long Island and initially had little formal opposition, as Brookhaven already had multiple research nuclear reactors at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, about 20 miles south of Shoreham. LILCO purchased a 455-acre (1.84 km2) site in an area which was sparsely populated at the time. They announced the plant would produce 540 megawatts, cost between $65 and $75 million and would be online in 1973.
At the time, demand for electricity was increasing more than 10 percent per year on Long Island and the Atomic Energy Commission was strongly encouraging all power companies to use nuclear power.
In 1968, LILCO increased the size of the plant from 540 to 820 megawatts and announced plans to build two more 1,150 megawatt reactors in Jamesport, New York, a hamlet twenty miles east of Shoreham. This proposal, however, was not received without widespread public disapproval. It was deemed an unnecessary endeavor, with the public concerned over LILCO's seemingly over-ambitious plans to increase nuclear capacity on Long Island. This proposal also came at a time when the demand for nuclear energy on Long Island was declining. From 1973 to 1978, peak electrical demand rose by only 2-3 percent per year, contrary to the 40 percent increase predicted by LILCO in that same five year period. The reactors at Jamesport were never built, but in the time spent negotiating over this proposal, public opposition over nuclear energy on Long Island increased.
Construction began in 1973 but cost overruns caused its estimated final cost to approach $2 billion by the late 1970s. This was due in part with failures to recognize and adjust accordingly to new standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1971, the AEC adopted new regulatory requirements that involved a new American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) piping code. LILCO failed to accomodate for these new adjustments, and as a result, the containment building became overrun with piping and electrical systems, and the resolving of this problem caused further delays and costs. In 1974, the NEC issued a regulatory guide stating the minimum distance required electrical cables and conduit so that the electrical system would not be shut down from a single accident and prohibit the safe shutdown of the reactor. LILCO continued with contruction, ignoring the criteria set. LILCO's vice president of engineering at the time, Matthew Cordaro, blamed the problems and delays encountered on the time it took to obtain the construction permit. By the time the permit was finally obtained, plant designs were no longer in agreement with NRC regulations.
Low worker productivity was also held accountable for delays in construction, as well as the high costs. A PSC audit of LILCO's construction projects in 1978 observed that craft workers devoted only 21 percent of their time at work doing actual work. This was blamed on poor oversight and supervision by authorities at the plant.
The first small anti-Shoreham demonstration took place in June 1976. On June 3, 1979, following the Three Mile Island incident, 15,000 protesters gathered in the largest demonstration in Long Island history. 600 were arrested as they scaled the plant's fences.
LILCO's problems were compounded by NRC rules in the wake of Three Mile Island, requiring that operators of nuclear plants work out evacuation plans in cooperation with state and local governments. Politicians from local entities nearly unanimously joined the opposition, saying their communities could not be evacuated quickly in case of an accident, as any land evacuation off the island would involve traveling at least 60 miles back through New York City to reach its bridges.
Among the groups joining the chorus for closing the plant were Lloyd Harbor Study Group, the Farm Bureau, The Long Island Safe Energy Coalition and its newsletter Chain Reaction, Safe'n Sound with its Sound Times newspaper, the S.H.A.D. Alliance (modeled on New Hampshire's Clamshell Alliance), and the Shoreham Opponents Coalition.
On February 17, 1983, the Suffolk County Legislature announced with a 15-1 vote that the county could not be safely evacuated. Newly elected governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, ordered state officials not to approve any LILCO-sponsored evacuation plan.
The plant was completed in 1984. In 1985 LILCO received federal permission for low-power tests not to exceed 5 percent over the next two years.
Confidence in LILCO took a hit in 1985 when it took nearly two weeks to restore power to all of the island following Hurricane Gloria.
Between 1985 and 1989, as local communities continued to refuse to sign the necessary evacuation plan, LILCO proposed asking the U.S. Congress to approve a law for the evacuation — a proposition that proved to be futile.
On February 28, 1989, Cuomo and LILCO chairman William J. Catacosinos (Newsday) announced a plan to decommission the plant, which involved the state taking over the plant and then attaching a 3 percent surcharge to Long Island electric bills for 30 years to pay off the $6 billion price tag.
Finally, in June 1989, the facility was closed down and the nuclear energy used to fuel it was removed. Three years later, the internal engines powering the facility were dismantled. The plant was finally decommissioned on October 12, 1994 with its $6 billion dollar price tag—an amount 85 times larger than its original estimate.
Decommissioning the plant was estimated to cost around $450 million. It eventually cost $186 million to decommission the reactor, with the radioactive materials license ending in May 1995. The low-pressure turbine rotors are currently in use at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station. LILCO paid Philadelphia Electric Company $50 million to take its fuel to the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant.
In 1995, LILCO's sky-high rates, and residual public anger over Shoreham, prodded Cuomo's successor, George Pataki, to reverse himself and broker a partial public takeover of LILCO by LIPA. The debacle led to the state takeover of LILCO itself in 1998 as it became the Long Island Power Authority.
The electric transmission infrastructure has remained, connecting it to the Long Island electric grid. In 2002 the Cross Sound Cable, a submarine power cable capable of transmitting 330 MW, was laid from the Shoreham plant across Long Island Sound to New Haven, Connecticut. During the Northeast Blackout of 2003 the cable was used to ease the effects of the blackout on Long Island. After extended negotiations with Connecticut the cable was put into permanent use.
In 2005, two 100-foot-high wind turbines with 25-foot blades were erected at the plant and attached to the electric grid, generating a peak power of 50 kilowatts each (1/8000 of the power that the nuclear plant would have generated).
The two, 50 kilowatt (kW) AOC wind turbines, situated on a 47-acre parcel of property owned by LIPA at Shoreham, are part of LIPA’s Clean Energy Initiative (CEI), a multi-year $355-million program implemented at Governor George E. Pataki’s direction to promote energy conservation and efficiency, and to research, develop and implement the use of alternative energy technologies such as wind and solar power, and fuel cells.
The Shoreham wind project is the most recent development in LIPA's Land-Based Wind Turbine Demonstration Program, which is being advanced in cooperation with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). NYSERDA is providing grant funding for the installation of the land-based turbines as part of its research and development efforts.