WATERVILLE — Just after he was first elected governor, Paul LePage invited me to the Blaine House to discuss nuclear power with him. In light of his new determination to bring nuclear reactors to Maine, he’s forgotten what we talked about.

Nuclear power is hardly a panacea to produce cheaper electrical energy. In fact, the governor’s intention to bring “small” nuclear power stations to the state is faulty on all levels. It’s expensive, faces unresolved issues of safety and waste and is a threat to Maine’s natural beauty, as the experience of Maine Yankee demonstrated.

Since the dawn of the nuclear age in the 1950s, utilities have promised electricity “too cheap to meter.” They insist that improvements in technology and standardization of components have lowered costs.

The truth of the matter is far different. A new station at 1,000 megawatts now costs $7 billion, cost overruns are the rule, and they would be even higher without extensive government subsidies.

The leading nuclear company in the world, the French Areva, has lost billions of dollars on ongoing projects. The rejuvenated Russian industry has just been downgraded by the international ratings agency, Fitch, for its failure to meet construction targets and for cost overruns. In the U.S., where the nuclear industry has not begun a new station for decades, how could the story be any different?

Second, radioactive waste and spent fuel storage remain intractable problems both for Maine and for the nation. There is no national storage facility for the dangerous waste and none is planned, with the result that fuel is stored on site.


Maine Yankee was decommissioned in the late 1990s at a cost of $500 million and involved the shipping of millions of pounds of radioactive waste out of state. The utility determined it was cheaper to decommission the facility than to carry out expensive safety and maintenance repairs to extend the operating license.

America remains woefully unprepared for decommissioning its remaining 103 nuclear power stations in terms of cost (who will pay?), remediation and final disposition of waste.

As for fuel: Maine Yankee has 1,434 spent-fuel assemblies stored above ground in an 11-acre open air facility, surrounded by armed guards, in Wiscasset, the self-proclaimed “prettiest little village” in Maine. I’m sure that the town fathers and mothers are thrilled with the absence of municipal control over the disposition of the nuclear waste.

Throughout the U.S., 63,000 tons of spent fuel remain at power stations protected by special rules against terrorist attacks, but most people realize that these measures are inadequate.

As for the cheaper, smaller, “modular-style” reactors that the governor recommends, they are at least 20 years away. The closest thing is floating nuclear power stations, based on submarine reactors, that the Russians are building on barges for $300 million for 70 MW and 20,000 inhabitants. The U.S. has nothing of the sort.

When I spoke with Gov. LePage in January 2012, he wondered whether we might cut electricity costs in Maine if several of these barge-based reactors floated in inlets along Maine’s scenic coast.


Indeed, all reactors must be sited near copious amounts of water for cooling and power generation; the smaller-than-500-MW reactors of LePage administration dreams would likely have to be built along the coast and occupy sites several hundred acres in size. What would tourists and lobsters think?

How big is 500 MW (“small”)? It’s half a Seabrook nuclear reactor (itself costing $7 billion over 20 years ago). Maine could do much better and at lower cost with wind and solar, as a May MIT report concluded. The only advantage to nuclear power may be that it does not produce greenhouse gases.

The problems of nuclear plants’ huge cost, siting and radioactive waste are not particular to Maine. What is disturbing in light of this is the governor’s intention to limit public involvement in decisions about whether to pursue nuclear power.

To embrace an expensive, unproven technology whose operation is at least 20 years away reflects arrogance and lack of democratic principles that must be opposed by all Mainers.

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