Nu­clear plant clos­ings over­whelm small towns

Once the power stops flow­ing, so does the money

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By John Seewer

oak har­bor, ohio» Liv­ing in the shad­ows of the Davis-Besse nu­clear power plant’s cool­ing tower, which soars above Lake Erie in Ohio like an over­sized light­house, brings with it some give-and-take.

On the plus side, it gen­er­ates tax money that once paid for a high school swim­ming pool and au­di­to­rium. Then there are the stock­piles of ra­di­a­tion pills and emer­gency drills for stu­dents in case of a dis­as­ter.

For the small, mostly ru­ral towns that are home to 61 U.S. nu­clear plants that pro­duce one-fifth of the na­tion’s elec­tric­ity, each one has been like the golden goose sup­ply­ing high­pay­ing jobs and money for roads, po­lice and li­braries.

But those same places and their res­i­dents are brac­ing for what may come next be­cause of the soar­ing costs of run­ning ag­ing re­ac­tors that have speeded up the clos­ings of a hand­ful of sites and are threat­en­ing at least a dozen more.

Towns that al­ready have seen nu­clear plants shut­tered are now deal­ing with higher prop­erty taxes, cuts in ser­vices and less school fund­ing — a new re­al­ity that may linger for decades.

In Wis­con­sin, the tiny town of Carl­ton saw the source of roughly 70 per­cent of its yearly bud­get dis­ap­pear when the Ke­waunee nu­clear power plant closed four years ago. That re­sulted in the first town tax in its his­tory.

“Fi­nan­cially, we ben­e­fited, but now we’re go­ing to pay the price for the next 40 years,” said David Hardtke, the town chair­man.

When oper­a­tions ceased at the Crys­tal River Nu­clear Plant along Florida’s Gulf Coast, “it was like some­thing go­ing through and wip­ing out a third of your county,” said Cit­rus County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Randy Oliver.

To make up the dif­fer­ence, prop­erty tax rates went up by 31 per­cent and 100 county work­ers were let go — so many that Oliver wor­ries there won’t be enough to evac­u­ate res­i­dents and clear roads if a ma­jor trop­i­cal storm hits.

While the na­tion’s fleet of nu­clear power plants wasn’t de­signed to last for­ever, clo­sures are hap­pen­ing ear­lier than ex­pected be­cause re­pair costs are as­tro­nom­i­cal and it’s harder to com­pete with cheaper nat­u­ral gas-fired plants and re­new­able en­ergy sources.

The for­mer head of the nu­clear in­dus­try’s trade group said last year that eco­nomic pres­sures have put 15 to 20 plants at risk of a pre­ma­ture shut­down.

FirstEn­ergy Corp. will de­cide by next year whether to close or sell its plant in Penn­syl­va­nia and two in Ohio, in­clud­ing Dav­isBesse, un­less the states change reg­u­la­tions to make them more com­pet­i­tive.

The un­cer­tainty around Davis-Besse and a plan to lower its value caused the lo­cal school board to shelve plans to build a new ele­men­tary build­ing for the district, which stands to lose $8 mil­lion a year with­out the plant.

New Or­leans-based En­tergy Corp., owner of the Pal­isades nu­clear plant in Michi­gan, an­nounced plans late last year to close in 2018 even though it has a li­cense to keep op­er­at­ing another 14 years.

How much the losses will add up to isn’t clear yet, said Den­nis Pal­gen, a town­ship su­per­vi­sor where the plant has op­er­ated since 1971.

“We’re just in a state of limbo right now,” he said, adding that plans to buy a new firetruck are on hold.

The plant and its 600 work­ers have been good neigh­bors, he said, buy­ing back­packs for school chil­dren and emer­gency gen­er­a­tors for the town­ship. “The list goes on and on,” Pal­gen said.

In some cases, util­i­ties are pay­ing com­mu­ni­ties and schools dur­ing the first few years to help ease the sud­den loss of their largest em­ployer and tax­payer.

But what makes re­cov­er­ing tough is that al­most all nu­clear plants are in outof-the-way places that have be­come heav­ily re­liant on them. And they em­ploy spe­cial­ized work­ers who are quick to leave for stil­lop­er­at­ing lo­ca­tions.

To make mat­ters worse, many closed sites can’t be re­de­vel­oped for new uses be­cause they’re still stor­ing ra­dioac­tive waste.

Some hope the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new bud­get pro­posal to re­vive the moth­balled dis­posal site at Ne­vada’s Yucca Moun­tain even­tu­ally will al­low for new de­vel­op­ment at the for­mer plants.

“We have be­come a de facto nu­clear waste dump. It just sits there, and sits there for­ever,” said Al Hill, the mayor in Zion, Ill., where spent nu­clear fuel re­mains stored on prime prop­erty along Lake Michi­gan even though the plant shut down 20 years ago.

On top of that, the clos­ing took away half the city’s tax base and pushed prop­erty taxes to the high­est in the state, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to lure new busi­nesses, Hill said.

Left be­hind are empty store­fronts and lit­tle foot traf­fic, said Chris Daisy, who runs a down­town bi­cy­cle shop.

“It’s had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on this town,” he said. “It’s ter­ri­ble. Any town with a nu­clear power plant in it or near it is in dan­ger of suf­fer­ing the same fate.”

Boats stored for win­ter sit near the Davis-Besse Nu­clear Power Sta­tion along Lake Erie in Oak Har­bor, Ohio. FirstEn­ergy Corp. will de­cide by next year whether to close or sell its plant in Penn­syl­va­nia and two in Ohio, in­clud­ing Davis-Besse.

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