• U.S.

The $5 Billion Nuclear Waste

2 minute read

Spread over 500 acres of waterfront on Long Island, 55 miles east of New York City, lies a vast, intricate and inert tangle of 20th century technology. Completed 4 1/2 years ago, it has cost $5.3 billion to build and maintain. But the Long Island Lighting Company’s Shoreham plant has never gone into service — and probably never will. Last week LILCO agreed to sell the idle facility to New York State for $1. If the deal is approved, as expected, by several state and federal agencies, the plant will be dismantled and the pieces carted away, as soon as the state can figure out how to dispose of the radioactive core.

The agreement capped two decades of controversy over Shoreham. The plant was not licensed by the U.S. Government to go into service, mainly because the surrounding communities would not accept LILCO’s emergency-evacuation plan. Though the utility clung to the hope that it might get a license, Governor Mario Cuomo became determined that the plant would not start up. To ensure Shoreham’s demise, the state decided to buy the facility, but talks with LILCO dragged on for six months, to the point where New York prepared a $7.8 billion takeover bid for the entire utility. Cuomo set a deadline of midnight, May 25 for LILCO either to sell the plant or face a takeover battle with the state. At 1:30 a.m. on May 26 the agreement was announced.

For LILCO, the $1 price is not as bad as it sounds: as part of the deal, the state will guarantee the company minimum annual rate increases of 5% for at least three years and possibly a decade. Thus LILCO customers will be forced to pay part of the $2.5 billion that the utility still owes for the construction of Shoreham. For the beleaguered U.S. nuclear power industry, though, there was no consolation. After a decade in which not a single new atomic power plant was ordered and 78 that were planned or under construction were canceled, the industry got its biggest and costliest tombstone.

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