In 1960s, early ’70s, NYSEG eyed Yates for nuclear plant

Posted 24 September 2023 at 9:43 pm

Project became inactive due to added costs and concern from fault line near site

The pristine beauty of Lake Ontario is pictured from the Yates shoreline. (Courtesy of Michael Loftus)

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

“Illuminating Orleans” – Vol. 3, No. 31

YATES – In the 1970s, a second rural Orleans County site was considered as the location of a nuclear facility.

Beginning in the 1960s, NYSEG began to acquire parcels of land in the Town of Yates and the neighboring Town of Somerset in Niagara County in anticipation of the construction of an atomic electric generating station.

The Journal-Register of May 11, 1972, announced that the New York State Atomic and Space Development Authority (ASDA) had selected a site in the Town of Yates for study as a possible location for the construction of an atomic power generating station.

The site, referred to as the Morrison Road Site, was an area bounded by the Lake Ontario shoreline, Foss Road and Morrison Road. Construction costs would range from $350-$400 million and completion would take eight to ten years. A site in the Town of Wilson was also under consideration, as was a site in Cayuga, Town of Sterling.

Speaking at an Albion Chamber of Commerce dinner held at Marti’s Restaurant in Albion, on May 24, 1972, ASDA chairman James G. Cline outlined the positive aspects of the plant. Members of the Orleans County Industrial Development Authority and the Orleans County Economic Development Authority were also in attendance.

Mr. Cline and other members of the ASDA staff claimed that the overall impact of the plant would be minimal and that it would provide considerable economic benefit. Analysts had determined that the site in question consisted of “low- viability farmland that was marginal at best.” The power transmission route would be underground and out of view. Discharged water would not interfere with lake ecology, surface algae or critical marine life. Similar plants showed no radioactive buildup, even after ten years of operation.

However, residents of the Town of Yates were not impressed.

The Journal-Register of 14 June 1972 reported on an “Open Letter” prepared by a group of Lyndonville signers who urged a letter-writing campaign to local, county, state and federal officials protesting the installation.

Among those who signed the letter were Bartlett Breed, Bernard Brinsmaid, Mr. & Mrs. James Whipple, Mr. & Mrs. Robert Whipple, Mr. & Mrs. John Eppolito and many others. The letter began:

“The signers of this letter are opposed to the building of an atomic power plant in the Town of Yates, or indeed, anywhere on the river and lake front between Buffalo on the west and Rochester on the east.”

The arguments against the proposed plant were cogently argued, the probability and disastrous consequences of an accident being the foremost cause of concern.

The letter pointed out the false claims and spurious logic used in the promotion of the proposal. It referred to the findings of the Brookhaven Report (1957) which questioned the safety of nuclear energy and clearly outlined the catastrophic consequences of an accident which the Atomic Energy Commission had acknowledged.

It also explained the conundrum caused by the Brookhaven Report: based on the findings of the report, utility companies refused to build atomic plants unless covered by insurance, but insurance companies refused to provide the necessary insurance to utility companies who planned to build atomic energy sites.

However, the Price-Anderson Act (1957) circumvented this roadblock. Under this act, the government and the private insurance industry would provide a limited amount of coverage for atomic power plants, thus freeing utility companies from liability in the case of a catastrophic occurrence.

The letter argued that the insistence that atomic power plants be situated in rural areas was a further indication of their inherent dangers. It cited the dangers of low-level radiation and of toxic radioactive wastes. It also pointed out that the Federated Sportsmen’s Clubs of New York State, representing some three hundred thousand members, had called for a moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants in the state.

The topic generated a great deal of discussion, articles, and Letters to the Editor in 1973 and 1974. Then, on July 25, 1975, NYSEG announced that plans for the construction of nuclear power plants in Somerset and Yates were suspended, following the discovery of a geological fault reported by the US Geological Survey.

The existence of the Clarendon-Linden Fault which extends some 60 miles from Attica to Lake Ontario would necessitate investigation into the geological and seismic factors which could potentially disrupt stored nuclear material and would greatly increase construction costs. The Morrison Road site was deemed inactive, and Somerset was designated a prime site for a coal-fired power plant.