Showdown at Shoreham

Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant

by Will Davis

The story of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant on Long Island, New York was once well known in the industry and in utility circles; the plant, which took a very long time to construct and which faced considerable cost overrun, was heavily opposed by locals and in fact was never placed in operation.  The specific details of the plant’s long but non-operational history are, though, considerably more interesting and, in many ways both more revealing and more depressing than such a brief description implies.

SPARK OF OPPOSITION

According to US AEC WASH-1250 (1) “organized resistance to nuclear power plants first emerged in the period beginning about 1962″ and was “regionalized in the New York City and California areas..”  The opposition in New York was primarily because of the proposed Ravenswood nuclear plant, a Consolidated Edison project that was popularly opposed by former AEC Chairman David Lilienthal.  According to WASH-1250 Lilienthal was quoted as saying that he would not continue to live in Queens, New York were the Ravenswood plant completed.  “CANPOP” – or, the Committee Against Nuclear Power Plants – was one organization formed in the area to oppose ConEd’s plan, and as is recalled by WASH-1250 “persons attending public meetings were greeted with literature headlined ‘No Hiroshima in New York’.”

Consolidated Edison never actually ordered the plant, it turns out; the company pulled its application for the Ravenswood project before the licensing process with the AEC had moved very far along.  The outcome though was that nuclear power was on the radar screen of local activists who, apparently, did not seem to care about rising energy prices generally in the region or pollution from fossil fired power plants.

SHOREHAM SEES THE SAME

It’s not a surprise then to discover that just a few short years later in the mid-1960’s when Long Island Lighting Co. (LILCO) announced and then ordered a nuclear power plant to be constructed on the north end of Long Island, there was a ready base of opposition.

Shoreham was ordered in 1967, with the AEC authorizing construction in 1970.  That meant that Shoreham, like so many other contemporary plants, was about to run into a regulatory buzzsaw of changing requirements, moving targets and of course compliance with NEPA as a result of the Calvert Cliffs decision.  That in part helped ensure delays and, with those, cost overruns.  But it was the organized opposition to the plant that pushed the experience from the frustrating to the farcical.

According to the brochure “The Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant – An Overview,” which was published by LILCO in 1982 the first public hearings on the project were scheduled for March, 1970.  The story LILCO tells in the publication is exceedingly frustrating:

“Meanwhile, an intervenor group, calling itself the Lloyd Harbor Study Group, was formed.  This group asked for and obtained six months of delay in the opening of the hearings.

The hearings finally opened in a school gymnasium in Rocky Point on September 2, 1970.  In the ensuing weeks, months and years of interminable hearings, Long Island was treated to a new phenomenon in the conduct of what was supposed to be an austere, administrative proceeding.  The process was supposed to be one in which the evidence was submitted, facts examined, issues resolved, relevant cross examination conducted, and, as a result of this, a license would be issued or the Company could have been required to modify its designs.  As a practical matter, the AEC did not even allow applications to get as far as the hearing process if their staff did not believe the plants to be licensable.  The Shoreham hearings were very different.  The plant’s opponents turned the hearing into what they called ‘multi-media confrontation,’ designed to attract press attention and spur the development of an anti-nuclear movement.

This took the form of bringing in a total impostor, claiming to be an expert with a PhD and an MD; endless days of reading aloud from newspaper and magazine articles; interminable ‘cross examination’ without regard to whether it contributed to an intelligent determination of issues relevant to the proceeding; and an imaginative variety of other devices to delay the proceeding and attract the attention of the press.”

The only good thing to come from this deliberate and embarrassing circus put on by the anti-nuclear operatives was that, according to LILCO, “the agency (NRC) tightened up its rules so that other companies would not be subjected to similar sabotage of the licensing process.”

Control room, Shoreham; from LILCO brochure.

Control room, Shoreham; from LILCO brochure.

MAJOR COST DRIVERS HIT SHOREHAM

LILCO described six considerations in the plant’s delay and cost overrun other than organized opposition.  Briefly paraphrased, these were:

1.  Changing regulations caused the owners to be unable to get jobs bid on fixed price contracting, forcing cost-plus contracting except at the very end of construction.

2.  Inflation shot up to 10.3 percent per year in the 1970’s and, worse, inflation in the market for construction supplies went up to around 300 per cent in some cases.

3.  Interest rates shot up in the 1970’s as well, “to levels which would have been almost unthinkable a decade earlier” which seriously drove up the cost of loans.  LILCO said that over a third of the Shoreham project cost was interest on (loans for) construction work in progress, which it could not recover from ratepayers at that time.

4.  Rapidly changing regulations required “innumerable” plant design changes and unfortunately affected parts and structures already installed.  The tearout of installed components often disturbed other installed components so that costs snowballed on the changeouts.

5.  Several factors contributed to cause late delivery of scheduled parts and materials to the plant.  Project managers were then often forced to install what they had on hand rather than wait for all the parts to perform work in the originally specified order (a failing that sometimes happens in project management when percent completion is the only metric of importance.)  This led to various “best of the bad choices” construction process changes in terms of winging the construction schedule and procedure while maintaining the requisite level of quality and integrity of work required by the NRC.

6.  The containment was completed fairly early in the process but continuously changing equipment requirements, driven by changing regulations, led to numerous changes of, or additions of, equipment inside that already-crowded structure.  According to LILCO, “While the engineers were able to design these components into the structure, their installation was a cumbersome and costly process.”

COMPLETED BUT NEVER COMMERCIAL

Setting the reactor vessel at Shoreham.

Setting the reactor vessel at Shoreham.

Shoreham was finally declared complete in 1985 and preparations were made to load fuel and start up.  Adding insult to injury, the plant had experienced incredibly bad luck in 1983 when one of its diesels broke its crankshaft (kicking off the whole TransAmerica – DeLaval Diesel debacle that affected numerous plants nationwide when it was discovered that all suffered from torsional vibration problems.)  The plant was actually operated at 5% power, but was destined ultimately never to operate as intended.

New York Governor Cuomo, father of the present Governor, negotiated with LILCO to shut down Shoreham permanently in 1989; with the Legislature of New York having passed the Long Island Power Association Act to set up an authority to take over Shoreham and decommission it, the fate of the plant was sealed.  Before a decade more had passed, Shoreham was decommissioned; the nuclear steam supply system was removed, and the plant could never operate as a nuclear plant (although there were plans to power the original turbine with steam from a fossil plant.)

Shoreham had ultimately, according to the New York State Comptroller, taken about $5.6 billion to construct; according to LIPA, the decommissioning (taking only two years, from 1992-1994) cost about $181.5 million.  Although the entire region continued to experience increasing generating costs, nuclear was ultimately not to be allowed to stabilize those costs for New Yorkers.  Uneducated fear and party line politics, assisted by numerous external factors, had won.

Today the site sits almost unused; while there are some small power generation and distribution assets on the site, the power output is nothing like that which would have been available for Shoreham.  Further, had the plant been completed it would only have been in operation at this point for about 30 years – meaning it would have a long time to go given the general trend to push nuclear plant lives out to 60 years and perhaps beyond.  The plant itself is an off-limits shell occasionally visited by curiosity seekers (a dangerous trip, given the unmaintained nature of the empty hulk) which stands as a testimonial to past days of hope and promise on one side and activist obstruction on the other.  In a world now looking at needing vastly more electric power to meet needs and reduce pollution, the Shoreham tale can be a cautionary exercise for both sides if viewed soberly.

(1) WASH-1250; The Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors (Light Water Cooled) and Related Facilities.  Final Draft, US Atomic Energy Commission July 1973.  This report never made it beyond this final draft version, and was instead replaced by the very different and much more analytically oriented WASH-1400 Reactor Safety Study so well-known in nuclear energy.

Will DavisWill Davis is a member of the Board of Directors for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. He is a consultant to the Global America Business Institute, a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and he writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is also a consultant and writer for the American Nuclear Society, and serves on the ANS Communications Committee and the Book Publishing Committee. He is a former U.S. Navy reactor operator and served on SSBN-641, USS Simon Bolivar.  His popular Twitter account is @atomicnews


Feel free to leave a constructive remark or question for the author in the comment section below.

11 thoughts on “Showdown at Shoreham

  1. Sid Kere

    I worked as a nuclear engineer at Shoreham for four years (1986-90). As such, I have a few comments. In spite of the cost overruns, delays and mismanagement it is possible the plant would have opened but for the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

    As for poor management decisions, I used to hear while working there that some higher-ups made a late decision to increase the design power by 50% (from 540 to 820 MW) after the design of all the major components had already been completed. The architect Stone & Webster was only too happy to oblige for an additional fee. The redesign and rework added greatly to cost estimates and schedule delays, not to mention increased scrutiny and inspections by the NRC.

    Then, there was the poor public relations that Long Island Lighting Co (LILCo) was never able to overcome, exacerbated by the fact that the President & CEO of the company was on vacation in Greece during a major hurricane (Hurricane Gloria) and power outage during 1985. The CEO, I am told, did not cut short his vacation and return to Long Island to supervise the extensive recovery operations. The executive happened to be of Greek ancestry. That was neither good for company morale nor for its public relations. The news media had a field day.

    Sometime before 1990 (the year I left the company) LILCo hired an outside executive with experience in shutting down nuclear plants. I saw the writing on the wall, although some of my optimistic colleagues held on to hopes of completion and commercial operations. Soon negotiations started with Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) on how best to recover their investment in the plant. The plant was indeed completed, successfully started up and ran at 5% power for about two days. Thus, the Shoreham plant could be officially declared “used and useful,” a fact that strengthened the company’s bargaining chip with LIPA. I heard that LILCo was able to recover their investment fully by means of a phased rate increase; and it seems that everybody came away happy, except the ratepayer.

    Finally, the story was that earlier, LILCo had considered plans to build a couple of nuclear units about 40-50 miles east of Shoreham village on the North Shore at Jamesport, in which case the well-heeled and powerful New York elite living in counties closer to the metropolis would not have raised such a hue and cry. After all, ConEd plants have been operating pretty close to New York City for many years. Wrong place, wrong time and poor public relations!

  2. Tom LaGuardia

    Will,

    You forgot to mention that then Governor Mario Cuomo took up the anti-nuclear movement and demanded the Reactor Vessel be drilled through with holes so it could never operate as a nuclear plant again. They became known as “The Cuomo Holes.”

    I consulted for LILCO during its licensing period, and assisted LILCO and the other Mark II Containment reactors to determine whether the GE design for the Downcomers, post-accident pressure relief tubes in the Suppression Pool (called Rams-Heads because of their shape) would be sufficient to condense the steam quickly. Dartmouth College was contracted to build a model of the Downcomers in a suppression pool to determine the thermodynamic properties of steam condensing in the pool. They discovered the phenomenom of “chugging,” where the condensing steam would create a steady-state dynamic negative-pressure void in the Downcomer and suck up the pool water back in the Donwcomer and be forced back down into the pool by the released steam causing extreme “water-hammer” literally shaking the model pool and the building. The GE design never anticipated this phenomenon, and provided no lateral support for the Downcomers. In an accident they would shake around like spaghetti!
    The initial postulated reactor LOCA accident steam release would push the air from the Primary Containment down the Downcomers down into the bottom of the Suppression Pool Suppression Pool. Since the air was non-condensable, it would fill the bottom of the pool with air causing the pool water to swell quickly such that the pool water would flood up to the Suppression Pool roof causing the roof to lift off its supports. The rapid water upward rush would cause the unsupported Downcomer and all other pressure relief tubes to shake around uncontrollably. The same effect would occur when that flood of water would recede back down in the Suppression Pool.
    The Pressure Relief tubes (straight vertical tubes) were similarly unsupported in the Pool, and their steam blast would also cause havoc in the Pool and to the other Downcomers. The Rams-Head re-design was intended to dissipate the steam flow safely.
    The Team of Mark II Owner’s Groups, GE, AEs and consultants studied all these problems and eventually came up with a re-design to address these safety problems which were back-fitted into all existing and planned Mark II designs. Ultimately, the re-design was accepted by the NRC and licensing and construction of Shoreham was permitted to proceed.
    As a consultant to LILCO, I was proud to have participated in this potentially serious safety issue that was prevented.

  3. Brian Campbell

    Never knew this Sad Story until I saw it in “Pandora’s Promise”. Good Technology, killed by Changing Regulations and Anti-Science Fearmongers.

  4. Bob

    Just one of many Nuclear construction projects that failed. What about the rest. WPPSS, Midland, Zimmer, Perry 2, et.al. There were several that were planned, but construction never started. And now VC Summer 2&3. A comprehensive report would be very interesting.

  5. Carl Landstrom

    As I recall, Shoreham was unable to obtain a full power license due to the county’s unwillingness to cooperate with the approval of the E-Plan following TMI. A similar fate was fortunately overcome by Seabrook, where I was assigned at the time. Having grown up on LI and spending my entire adult career being involved in nuclear plant startups and station support, Shoreham was a great disappointment. The throwing away of a production ready power plant was an enormous, unnecessary expense for my parents and other residents of the island because we allowed the ignorance of a few and the willingness of the politicians to please the vocal to the detriment the whole.

  6. Joseph Talnagi

    Another thing that Shoreham got caught up in was the whole post-TMI emergency planning debacle. When EPZs and EPs were mandated, LILCO dutifully drew them up for Shoreham. At the time the NRC required local emergency organizations to commit to participating in emergency plan exercises. If they didn’t, your EP was not approved. No EP, no full-power operating license. Suffolk County officials realized this was a back-door means of exercising a local veto of the plant’s federal license. This added further delay and that, combined with the high interest rates, made the whole enterprise unsustainable.

    Anti-nuclear Suffolk County political figures used the excuse of “Long Island Can’t Be Evacuated” (which has been re-tooled as the argument for shutting down IPEC). Ironically, when Hurricane Bob came slamming up the coast a few years later, those same officials dusted off the Shoreham evacuation plans and got most people safely out of harm’s way using the very same plans they said a few years before “would not work”. I guess that meant they would not work if it was for a nuclear plant. Anything else and those same plans would work just fine.

  7. Steve Nesbit

    It is interesting to note that the barely used fuel in the Shoreham core was eventually transported to the Limerick reactor in Pennsylvania in more than 20 truck-barge-rail shipments. Another data point in the incredibly safe record of transporting radioactive materials.

  8. chuck lukacsy

    I worked at Shoreham from December 1979 until January 1990 for General Electric – Nuclear Energy Business Operation – GE-NEBO) as a electrical/I&C technical director. You might wasn’t to mention that it was (IMO) the most inspected nuclear plant under construction; we were inspected it seemed constantly. Some of them were simple idiots. Refer to the first picture, we’ll I am returning from lunch with a few Ebasc… (rhymes with Hasbro) employees hired to do a vertical-slice inspection of the Core Spray system. I round the bend, and the concrete cylinder with the green corrugated steel at the top comes into view, one of them remarks ‘that is the oddest cooling tower I ever saw’ . Almost hit the guard rail, silently drove and parked.
    I met many really good workers there, lots of posers too. We were like family, softball games, lunches, dinners, picnics, you name it.
    One thing I did not see mentioned was the organization created to ‘move’ construction/modification along – that was UNICO – Unified Construction – equal between LILCO and S&W (the AE); as the NSSS vendor I and other GE folks were always involved in discussions, meetings, memo trading… it was downright difficult to get a decision from UNICO – they usually had to get the okay from their ‘side’. I think Shoreham was a well built plant, but and here is the sad part, LILCO while trying to keep it together, would have difficult time maintaining and operating the unit. Remember this was a relatively small single unit plant about to be run by a utility that had no other nuclear plants.
    Anyway, thanks for the memory jogger!

  9. John Basile

    Left out of the major reasons for cost overruns are the property taxes paid annually. As I recall they paid up to 52 million a year for well over 10 years. Normal procedures for assessments required a plant to be “used and useful” in order to qualify for full assessments. I believe politics would have been different if LILCO had not made these payments. At the time the 2 Indian Point units paid less and they were in service.
    John Basile
    Former IP Plant Mgr. for Con Edison

  10. Heather Matteson

    You didn’t mention the role of Tony Earley, recent/previous CEO of PG&E?

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