This editorial originally appeared on September 19, 1985
Gov. Mario Cuomo told the state’s newspaper publishers in Montauk last week that he’s not unalterably opposed to opening the Shoreham nuclear power plant. “I reappraise Shoreham … all the time,” he said. “Someday you might write one [editorial] that convinces me.”
Well, let’s give it a try.
The governor’s official opposition to Shoreham dates back to Feb. 17, 1983, when he announced that he would not be party to any effort to impose an independently developed emergency evacuation plan on Suffolk County. But the next day, after the county legislature had voted not to participate in emergency planning, Cuomo said he thought it was “possible to do a plan” and “premature” to rule out Shoreham’s opening. He even offered to mediate between the county and the Long Island Lighting Co. “If LILCO shows a little imagination, if the county officials are willing to cooperate,” he said, “then nothing is impossible.”
It’s never been clear why the governor changed his mind. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has expressed no qualms about Shoreham’s safety and sees no obstacle to a successful emergency plan apart from the refusal of the state and county to participate.
Back in early 1983, LILCO’s top management lacked credibility and Shoreham’s emergency diesel generators were suspect. “Rate shock” threatened customers while the utility’s main concern seemed to be for its shareholders. What’s more, it looked as though Shoreham’s power wouldn’t be needed for many years.
The picture looks quite different now:
- LILCO’s new management team is firmly in charge, complete with a veteran of the State Power Authority’s Fitzpatrick nuclear plant overseeing operations at Shoreham.
- The company has suspended dividends on both common and preferred stock and has undertaken an extensive austerity program to ward off bankruptcy. Both stockholders and employees have taken a beating.
- The Public Service Commission, acting on a petition by the state, has deemed imprudent about $1.35 billion of LILCO’s Shoreham expenditures. That means the company’s customers won’t have to bear those costs.
- It’s extremely unlikely that LILCO’s customers will entirely escape paying for Shoreham even if it’s scrapped. In a case involving a project abandoned by Consolidated Edison, an appellate court unanimously rejected the governor’s and attorney general’s interpretation of state public utility rules that don’t allow ratepayers to be charged for a power plant unless it’s “used and useful.”
- Various plans to phase in higher rates are on the table. Long Island won’t get hit by one enormous rate increase no matter what happens to the plant.
- Shoreham’s flawed DeLaval diesels have been rebuilt, tested and approved by the NRC. Three new Colt diesels are at the plant and can be substituted for the DeLavals when it shuts down.
- Except that LILCO lacks the legal authority to implement it and the state and county won’t cooperate, Shoreham’s emergency plan has essentially been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and an NRC licensing board.
- Recent scientific findings suggest that a 10-mile radius for the evacuation zone around a nuclear power plant may be unnecessarily large. Suffolk’s contention that evacuation is impossible at Shoreham is based on an even larger 20-mile zone.
- The NRC has pronounced the plant fit for operation and LILCO fit to operate it. If no major technical or operational flaws crop up during low-power testing, the only obstacle to a full-power license is the lack of an approved and tested emergency plan.
- Long Island’s economy has been booming beyond anyone’s expectations. As a result, electricity consumption has far exceeded state projections. Instead of the 3.1 percent growth in consumption that the State Energy Office projected for 1983-84, consumption increased by 8.4 percent. As it turns out, electricity sales here reached the level last year that the energy office had predicted they would not attain until 1994, a full decade later.
- It will take years to get additional transmission lines to Long Island. In contrast, Shoreham could soon begin to furnish badly needed power. That would require only imagination and cooperation.
- Last weekend Cuomo said it would be a debacle to lose New York City’s Westway road project “after 10 years of passing every test there was, every environmental hurdle, every agency test.” Why doesn’t the same standard apply to Shoreham?