March 14, 2023
Two Republican lawmakers are looking to bring nuclear power back to Maine.
Reps. Mark Walker (R-Baldwin) and Richard Campbell (R-Orrington) both have bills in that could potentially open the door to the generation of electricity using nuclear power in Maine for the first time since 1996.
Campbell’s bill would provide subsidies to companies that produce marine nuclear power modules.
According to the bill’s summary, those subsidies would be equivalent to the subsidies currently offered to solar and wind power manufacturers.
Those modules could then de deployed up and down Maine’s waterfront to provide power to coastal communities.
Walker’s proposal would form a study commission to evaluate the potential benefits of nuclear power.
Nuclear power first came to Maine with the construction of Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company’s Wiscasset facility, which operated from 1972 to 1996.
Maine Yankee was a 900 megawatt Pressurized Water Reactor that cost $231 million to build, which is $1.8 billion in today’s dollars.
From its very beginning, Maine Yankee had zealous opposition, including then-Gov. Ken Curtis and host of outside environmental groups.
But the plant’s opponents weren’t successful at convincing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend the its license before it started operating.
In 1980, 1982, 1985, and 1987, environmental groups unsuccessfully ran ballot initiative campaigns to have the plant decommissioned or nuclear fission generally prohibited in Maine.
Eventually in the 1990s, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cracked down on the facility, ordering them to make a host of safety upgrades. The owners decided those upgrades would be cost prohibitive, so the decommissioning process began.
Despite the relative safety of nuclear power, there remains a strong stigma against the technology. That sense of danger has only be exacerbated by accidents like Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
Although it remains legal to build nuclear power plants in the U.S., the regulatory burden is so extreme that very few nuclear power plants have opened since the initial surge in construction during the 1960s and 1970s.
The last nuclear plant to open in America was in June 2016 in Tennessee. Currently, there are only 54 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
For comparison, the U.S. has 224 coal-fired power stations.
According to ISO New England, the company that operates Maine’s electricity grid, nuclear power from the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire comprises 20-30 percent of Maine’s electricity generation on a daily basis.