Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, Wiscasset, Maine
The Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Wiscasset, Maine was operated from 1972 until 1996. During this time, it was the state’s only nuclear power plant and a topic of intense debate. As soon as construction of the plant began in 1968, environmentalist groups began protesting it. Many of these protests came from Citizens for Safe Power, a local group that was opposed to the use of nuclear power.
While these protests did not prevent the plant from being constructed, they did lead to close inspections by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In 1995, the NRC began investigating potential safety problems at the plant. The plant’s owner, Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company, eventually announced that correcting every problem found by the NRC would be too expensive, and the plant was closed. Decommissioning of the grounds lasted until 2005.
Nuclear Power and the Environment
Nuclear plants use radioactive materials such as uranium to heat water until it becomes steam; this steam then powers turbines that generate electricity. This makes them a relatively clean source of energy, since no fuels are being burned, which means no emissions are being released into the air. However, nuclear power carries certain controversial risks of its own.
One problem is that radioactive materials are highly dangerous. Exposure to high levels of radiation can be very harmful for people as well as the environment. Because of this, nuclear plants have to be carefully designed to prevent radioactive leaks or other catastrophes.
Even when a nuclear power plant has been closed, the risks can continue. Decommissioning a nuclear plant is a delicate process that usually takes years to complete. Workers must carefully take the plant apart and safely dispose of any remaining radioactive materials. They must also be prepared for other hazardous materials that older plants can contain.
For example, many power plants constructed prior to 1987 contained asbestos. This relatively cheap mineral is highly resistant to flame and chemicals, which once made it a popular component of cement, safety equipment, and more. Unfortunately, asbestos is also linked to deadly conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Anyone who has worked in a power plant of any kind – or has helped to decommission one – needs to be aware of this potential risk.