IT’S A SAFE BET that no one less appreciates such glowing references to nuclear plants than officials of Public Service Company of New Hampshire, the state’s prominent utility. They have a large interest in the town of Seabrook’s nuclear namesake currently rising from the coastal marsh. My first glimpse was from several miles distant. By chance it was the day that a giant crane gently placed the 214-ton cap atop the containment building of Unit I. Unit II, its twin, is not as far along. With both units operating, Seabrook Station could produce an awesome 2,300 megawatts of power.
A few weeks later, escorted by company representatives, I got a better look at the plant. When completed, they said, the massive concrete-and-steel containment buildings (enclosing the actual reactors and their radioactive fuel) will each be able to withstand the impact of a fighter-bomber crashing into it. The highlight of the tour was a journey nearly 300 feet underground to cavernous tunnels that will cycle cooling ocean water through the condensers. All told, Seabrook Station is an impressive engineering feat. But is it a good idea? That question has been debated for a decade. It is being debated still:
“Seabrook is necessary,” said Public Service president Robert Harrison, “because Madrid is at the end of the oil pipeline.
We all know the folly of dependence on unreliable sources for our fuel.
“There are risks associated with nuclear power, but there are risks associated with coal-fired plants, with getting on an airplane, with walking across the street. Society accepts certain risks.
“We have to have energy. How should we produce it? It’s a matter of weighing choices and getting down to what I think is an inescapable answer.”
To some, that answer is escapable.”The solution to our energy problem is obvious, and it need not include nuclear,” said Robert Backus, attorney for one of the groups opposing Seabrook. Backus favors converting oil-fired plants to coal, alternatives such as hydro, and conservation. “The demand for additional power in New England has died down,” he said. “That should be good news; conservation is in the national interest. But it’s not good news if you’re building a nuclear plant.”
Before Seabrook can obtain an operating license, federal regulations require a plan to evacuate the area in case of a serious accident. Battle lines are being drawn along nearby ocean beaches.
“The beaches are the key,” said Backus. “You have a potentially dense population without adequate shelter, not even the shelter of the clothing we wear most of the time. They are downwind from the reactor, and there’s a marsh behind them.”
Harrison responds: “Whatever has to be done—if we have to build roads—we’ll do it.
First word on the presidential race comes from these voters—plus a few others—in the far northern hamlet of Dixville Notch only moments after midnight on the day New Hampshire inaugurates the primary-election season. Onetime country boy Neil Tillotson, foreground, established a factory and revitalized a resort hotel here, breathing new life into this community near land homesteaded by his great-grandfather. Says he of the north, “People here don’t work for you. They work with you.”
That’s a 3.5-billion-dollar plant, and it’s not going to sit idle while we figure out how to get the people off the beach.”
SEABROOK lies at the southern end of New Hampshire’s 18-mile-long coast, shortest in the nation. It was to the coast, just three years after Plymouth Rock, that the first settlers came to the rentals. Unlike the Pilgrims they did not come seeking religious freedom. Instead, in grand New Hampshire tradition, they came to make money. They were fishermen.