If Maine’s 700,000 electors decide this week to end the state’s flirtation with nuclear power, it may be because of a three-pound wrench socket.That object, dropped by a technician, set off last week’s explosion in a Titan missile silo in Arkansas, 1,200 km away, killing one and injuring 21 air force personnel and causing the evacuation of 1,000 people from the town of Damascus. Afterwards the Pentagon said there had been no risk of the Titan’s nuclear warhead exploding. But they admitted that the blast could have caused radioactive contamination within a “limited area,” and that was enough to set shock waves reverberating in the state whose rock-
bound coast, bucolic ambience and Yankee practicality had, until then, made the no-nukes campaign seem a touch forlorn.
Led by Raymond Shadis, a 38-yearold sculptor and teacher, the no-nuke group hopes to close Maine Yankee, the 840-megawatt reactor located at Wiscasset, some 70 km north of Portland, which currently provides one-third of the state’s power. Shadis with his wife, Patricia, got the antinuclear ball rolling with a 50-km march from the power plant to the state capital at Augusta on Independence Day, July 4,
1979. They had been shocked into action by the accident at Three Mile Island and a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered a temporary shutdown of Maine Yankee, three kilometres from their farm home. To hold a referendum they needed 37,000 signatures, but wound up with 55,834, the largest number in the history of Maine’s initiative petitions. Since then, local groups have raised $179,000 in campaign funds from
concerts, garage and bake sales and a direct-mail drive.
The nuclear industry has taken the threat seriously. Private utilities and companies such as Westinghouse Inc., which makes reactors, poured an estimated $1 million into a radio, TV and newspaper advertising blitz urging Maine’s citizens not to reject nuclear power. Meanwhile industry spokesmen, like John Menario of the Save Maine Yankee Committee, have pointed to the reactor’s safety record and warned of economic chaos if it should close.
Shadis and colleagues reject these “textbook arguments” and insist that conservation and co-generation by pulp mills using their waste heat could make up the electrical shortfall. But even if an antinuclear law were approved, the issue would probably still face a court challenge on the grounds that nuclear power control is a federal not a state matter. Through it all, neighboring New Brunswick has a stake in the outcome: if the Wiscasset nuke were shattered, Maine’s power-brokers would probably come shopping in the province, which is building its own reactor at Point Lepreau on the Bay of Fundy.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.