Waterford, Conn. (WTNH) - The crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan has re-awakened the controversy at home surrounding the development and use of nuclear power. Nuclear power is often touted as one of the keys to our energy future, but is this energy resource worth the perceived risk?
In 2006, the Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone was vocal in its belief that Millstone Nuclear Power Plant posed a serious threat. Now five years later that argument continues to this day, spawned by the recent events across the globe.
Nancy Burton heads the Coalition and believes Millstone is just as vulnerable as Japan's broken facility.
"I'm here today to talk about Fukushima and whether or not it could happen here at Millstone in Southeastern Connecticut and I am sad to say the answer is very definitely yes," she said at a March 18th news conference. "We at the Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone advocate immediate shutdown of Millstone."
The Dominion-owned plant located at the mouth of Niantic Bay opened in the 1970's. It generates enough electricity to power half a million homes. And when it was built, a power plant spokesperson says they prepared for the worst.
"All kinds of destructive natural phenomenon were looked at including tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes," Millstone spokesman Kenneth Holt said. "They looked at historical highs or worst cases for the area and the plants were not only designed to withstand those worst cases, but they have some margins built in so they can withstand some of the worst of the worst cases."
One of those worst cases includes a 6.2 magnitude earthquake. The state's largest recorded quake was a 5.9.
But Millstone detractors point to other concerns, namely Unit 1 which, although decommissioned, is similar to that of Japan's plant.
"Its spent fuel pool is elevated just as the reactors at Fukushima," Burton said. "They are elevated above the reactor and there's no containment separating them from the environment."
"That reactor hasn't operated for more than 15 years so that fuel is very cool right now relatively speaking," Holt said. "As long as we maintain that equipment and keep it cool we would not see problems like we see in Japan right now."
In March of 1979 the Northeast had its very own scare at Three-Mile-Island. A cooling malfunction at the Pennsylvania plant caused a partial meltdown. During those first few days no one was sure what to expect.
"It was scary," Storm Team 8 Meteorologist Dr. Mel Goldstein said. "I was special aid to Gov. Ella Grasso at the time, and it was a Thursday and there was concern at least on the part of her staff, what if Three Mile Island melted down? What would happen in Connecticut?"
Dr. Mel's expertise was called upon to help determine what a meltdown would do to the state.
"A lot of people can predict the weather but to understand the atmosphere is to understand the science of geophysics and our whole environment, and deal with something like Three Mile Island or other nuclear plants really requires all your knowledge.
Everything was considered, even the possibility of a food quarantine, but luckily the situation soon stabilized.
"Fortunately what occurred the water being poured into the reactor was bleeding out some of the hydrogen that was potentially explosive," said Dr. Mel. " Almost in the nick of time we were saved from having a disaster."
32 years later, Gov. Dannel Malloy said he also takes the safety of Connecticut's residents seriously. "I think every reasonable precaution has been taken, and if we set a new standard and something falls into that category of reasonable that will be taken to make sure these nuclear facilities are as safe as they possibly can be," he said.
It's a proactive approach.
"You have to check your systems, you have to drill, you have to be aware of risks," Malloy said.
No matter what mother nature sends our way.
"The (Millstone) facility itself has been built to withstand reasonable challenges that might come at it, for instance a hurricane."
And if Japan's facility is any lesson," I'm convinced based on everything I've learned thus far that the facility in Connecticut meets a standard well beyond that was previously met by the facilities in Japan."
For those living within view of the plant they aren't leaving anything up for chance, stocking up on potassium iodide pills just in case.
"Oh, we've seen a huge increase," East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica said. Formica said the day before News 8 spoke with him "there were 200 pills that we gave out - which is probably much more than what we gave out in the last number of years."
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