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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Growing up with a nuclear plant neighbor

    Originally, I was destined to don the green and gold colors of New London. If somebody was looking for me prior to my fifth birthday they only needed to center their search between the housing project on Laurel Drive, and the intersection of Colman Street and Garfield Avenue. Finding me wasn't difficult, you just needed to look for the big fat kid with the Buddha belly, sporting tight tan high-water corduroy pants, an uneven crew cut, unapologetically dripping chocolate syrup over his ripped and worn Chicago Blackhawks knockoff jersey.

    Life was simpler back then.

    However, before I could fully integrate and ingratiate myself with the notion of growing up a Whaler, mom remarried and we made the four-mile trek to start a new life as part of Lancer Nation. My new pops, a construction magician, was building a house in Waterford, literally a stone's throw from the Millstone Nuclear Power Station. Editorial Board Editor Paul Choiniere's column Jan. 31 — “Is Millstone’s Nuclear Waste Dump Status Permanent?” — reminded me what it was like growing up in the shadow of Millstone’s steam stack.

    Those old enough to remember Millstone’s infancy can confirm the 3 a.m. loud bangs, almost like sonic booms, followed immediately by the daunting release of mammoth amounts of steam. From our front porch a giant cloud, backlit and illuminated by the lights of the power plant, could be seen rising and dispersing into the atmosphere. Venting was random, yet consistent and always deafening. Night and day would bleed together as the plant’s afterglow created a sense of perpetual twilight.

    In the early 1970s it would be commonplace to be privy to the inner office happenings at 314 Rope Ferry Road, Waterford. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, whatever might be said on the Northeast Utilities loudspeakers was audible to the surrounding neighborhood. We all knew when "Mr. Stevenson" was needed in engineering or if “John from maintenance's” wife was waiting patiently on line 3. These sights, sounds and smells were part of my childhood.

    The Millstone Power Station complex consists of three nuclear power units; Unit 1, a boiling water reactor, began commercial operation on November 29, 1970 and, on July 17, 1998, Northeast Utilities announced its retirement. Unit 2 is a pressurized water reactor that began commercial operation in December 1975, and Unit 3, also a pressurized water reactor, commenced commercial operation on April 23, 1986. The operating units use once-through cooling water systems, including a condenser and service water flow. According to a Yale study, the facility pulls about 2.2 billion gallons of water per day from Long Island Sound — 3% of the mean tidal flow estimated for the Niantic Bay — to cool its nuclear reactors.

    Millstone provides essential, irreplaceable power for so many in the Northeast, and eventually replacing that power will be problematic. The chance for a catastrophic meltdown is minimal and weighing the ecological impact versus other forms of energy elevates nuclear power as a continual, practical option.

    However, storing highly radioactive nuclear waste at Millstone is unacceptable and short-sighted. Waterford and the surrounding towns and cities have lived with the uncertainty and at times instability and growing pains of nuclear power. This area should not have to babysit something so menacing.

    Currently, on a concrete pad in Waterford, rest dozens of canisters and containers filled with dangerous radioactive material. And although it may feel like a local issue, there are over 80,000 metric tons of used, or spent, nuclear fuel sitting in casks on-site at power plants around the country.

    Yucca Mountain is the answer. A permanent disposal site for used nuclear fuel has been planned for Yucca Mountain, Nevada, since 1987, but politics has blocked it from becoming a reality.

    Finland, Switzerland, and other European nations, along with at least a dozen other countries, are planning deep geological repositories for their nuclear waste. So far, $7.5 billion has been spent on Yucca Mountain, and, as of September 2016, there was a reported $36 billion in the nuclear waste fund created under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. It's time for elected leaders to stand up and fight for a plan to permanently store this threatening byproduct of nuclear power.

    Connecticut Senators Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy (the talker and the walker) should sit down with other legislators, including Congressman Joe Courtney, and develop a plan to help secure the health and safety of Connecticut residents and fight to protect the state’s precious environmental assets.

    Represent your constituents and offer a bill to move radioactive waste to Yucca.

    Lee Elci is the morning host for 94.9 News Now radio, a station that provides "Stimulating Talk" with a conservative bent.

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