An advocate for nuclear safety

When more than 50 people showed up at a 2012 meeting to grill Millstone Power Station officials about plans for on-site nuclear waste storage in Waterford, John "Bill" Sheehan led the pack of questioners. During the last year, Sheehan's final one as chairman of the Nuclear Energy Advisory Council, only a handful of local residents attended council meetings.

Whether local public attention to nuclear energy waxed or waned, Sheehan's seriousness of purpose was always steadfast. He represented the public's best interest and strived to ensure the nuclear plants operate safely and effectively.

When he handed over his notebook of files and a thumb drive after stepping down as advisory council chairman in September, Sheehan aptly reflected on his and the council's role in this manner: "The price of good navigation is constant vigilance, and that applies to good nuclear power." The retired Navy captain and former executive officer of the Groton Submarine Base also added this wisdom attributed to Adm. Chester Nimitz, who played a key role in assuring development of the world's first nuclear-powered submarine the Nautilus: "Nuclear power is safe, but it's only safe because it has alert watch standards. You need to continually pay attention and keep up to date, try to improve and think ahead."

All residents of southeastern Connecticut certainly owe Sheehan thanks for his continual attention. He was advisory council chairman for 10 years and a council member for 18. Sheehan said he hasn't yet decided whether he will continue as a council member.

Certainly, much has changed in terms of Connecticut's nuclear energy landscape during Sheehan's tenure. The Connecticut Yankee plant stopped producing electricity in 1996 and Millstone's Unit 1 ceased operation in 1998. At one point, the Millstone plants paid 80 cents of every tax dollar collected in the town of Waterford.

Nuclear energy also generated its share of critics and skeptics. Fueled in part by accidents such as the Three Mile Island partial meltdown in 1979 in Pennsylvania, a large local contingent that has largely now gone silent, for years protested expansion of Millstone specifically and reliance on nuclear energy in general.

Regardless of interest and opinion, the advisory council provides an important local conduit between the public and the nuclear industry. Although other states' councils field public input only about decommissioned plants or have councils comprised only of state officials, Connecticut appropriately continues with this council of private citizens.

As state Rep. Kevin Ryan now begins his term as advisory council chairman, we advocate the council continue doing what it's long been doing so well – acting as the public's eyes and ears and providing constant vigilance where it still is needed.

 

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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