The Battle to Stop the Shoreham Nuclear Plant, Revisited

“Shoreham Action is One of the Largest Held Worldwide,” was the headline in The New York Times about an event which happened 40 years ago this month. The article told of how “more than 600 protesters were arrested” on June 3, 1979 at the site of the then under-construction Shoreham nuclear power plant and “15,000 demonstrators gathered” on the beach fronting the plant in the protest of it.

That action was important in stopping the Shoreham plant from going into operation—and preventing the Long Island Lighting Company from building a total of seven to 11 nuclear power plants on Long Island.

The Shoreham site, which was where the first plant was to go up, is 60 miles east of Manhattan. There were to be three nuclear power plants at Shoreham and four, to its east, at Jamesport, and several in between. In addition to these plants on the north shore, LILCO also eyed building a nuclear power plant in The Hamptons on Long Island’s south shore, in Bridgehampton.

With the anniversary of the 1979 protest at Shoreham, on Facebook and in email-communication, that action 40 years ago was heralded as a turning point for this area—and indeed it was.

On Facebook, Catherine Green, a founder of the SHAD (Sound-Hudson Against Atomic Development) Alliance which organized the protest, wrote about being part of a “committed band of activists…protesting the nuclear power that powerful corporate forces were trying to shove down our throats…Eventually we won, but not before we had committed civil disobedience repeatedly…Not before we had systematically thrown out every pro-nuclear official in [Suffolk] county government and elected an anti-nuke legislature. Not before our dogged grassroots educating coupled with the shock of Three Mile Island had turned the tide of public opinion. It took 25 years.”

Civil disobedience and political work were big parts of the challenge to LILCO’s plan to turn Long Island—in the jargon of the atomic promoters then—into a “nuclear park.”

There was an array of complementing strategies—including lawsuits, insistence by Suffolk County, N.Y. government that there could be no successful evacuation of the area in the event a major nuclear plant accident, and the use by New York State of its power of condemnation. The Long Island Power Authority was created with the power to seize LILCO’s stocks and assets and eliminate it as a corporate entity if it persisted in its nuclear drive.

That huge demonstration on June 3, part of an International Antinuclear Day, encapsulated the strong resistance on Long Island to the LILCO nuclear push. The protesters, enduring rain, heard from speakers and were sung to by folk singer Pete Seeger who described the “immoral” basis of nuclear power.

The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident in Pennsylvania had recently happened. To come were the Chernobyl and, most recently, the Fukushima nuclear catastrophes.

Jack Huttner, also a founder of the SHAD Alliance, commented about the 40th anniversary on email, “What I miss the most…that feeling that I/we could do anything.”

Mitch Cohen responded: “Jack, we COULD (do anything), we DID, and we SHALL!!!” Cohen has, not too incidentally, continued as an activist as have a good number of others who were involved in the anti-nuclear fight in this area. Cohen is editor of a powerful just-published book, “The Fight Against Monsanto’s Roundup, The Politics of Pesticides.”

LILCO announced its plan for the Shoreham nuclear plant with an April 13, 1966 press release. It said the cost of Shoreham would be “in the $65-$75 million range.” I reprinted the release as a facsimile in a book on the nuclear drive that I wrote titled “Power Crazy.”

The final price—in the $6.5 billion to $7.5 billion range—was a 10,000% cost overrun.

Shoreham would have been the most expensive nuclear plant per kilowatt of electricity ever built.

Now that stands to be beaten. Nuclear power plants, besides being terribly dangerous, are terribly expensive. The only two nuclear power plants now under construction in the U.S. are plants named Vogtle 3 and 4 in Georgia—now projected to each cost $13 billion.

The economics of nuclear power, once described by U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss as “too cheap to meter,” were not only grossly underestimated—so have been the dangers. As then LILCO Chairman Charles Pierce told the Suffolk County Legislature in 1983, the probability of a major nuclear plant accident at Shoreham was once every 500 million years. In fact, we are seeing a major nuclear power plant accident occurring about every decade, with less than 500 nuclear plants in the world.

Still, a nuclear push continues nationally. The Trump administration is staunchly in favor of nuclear power.

As Scott Denman, long executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Safe Energy Communication Council, said in the email traffic on the Shoreham protest, “Nearly 100 reactors still operate [in the U.S.] and billions in bailouts for uneconomic reactors to remain on-line have been given away in NY, CT, NJ, IL and now likely OH and maybe even PA and other states. Billions more are now being lavished via current federal r&d on new reactor concepts no matter how…grossly expensive, dangerous and uncompetitive they are. Nuclear power is far from ended and is rather a clear and present danger….Our work is far from done; indeed it’s just beginning.”

The newest argument of the nuclear promoters is that nuclear power is needed to deal with climate change because a nuclear plant doesn’t emit greenhouse gasses. What they don’t say is that the “nuclear cycle”—including mining and milling of uranium and its “enrichment” so it can fission or split in a nuclear plant—is highly carbon-intensive with large amounts of greenhouse gasses emitted.

Shoreham was sold to New York State for a nominal $1 to be decommissioned as a nuclear plant. All that remains at the site is a concrete hulk, its nuclear innards removed.

With the end of Shoreham, the other proposed nuclear plants LILCO sought to build never got off the ground. Further, the two nuclear reactors at Brookhaven National Laboratory were shut down. BNL was established in 1947 on a former army base on Long Island largely to develop civilian uses of nuclear technology. There was a close relationship between LILCO and BNL throughout the Long Island nuclear drive. Phyllis Vineyard, the wife of BNL Director George Vineyard, was a member of the board of directors of LILCO. And the last chief executive officer and chairman of LILCO was William Catacosinos, formerly assistant director at BNL.

Because of that 1979 protest and decades of painstaking and difficult struggle, LILCO was stopped in its nuclear push—and this Long Island today is nuclear-free.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet, and the Beyond Nuclear handbook, The U.S. Space Force and the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear war in space. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.