Chesterton Tribune

Nuclear plant in the Indiana Dunes? Japan's crisis brings back memories

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By VICKI URBANIK

As Herb Read listens and watches the news about the radiation leaks and explosions at Japan’s nuclear power plants following this week’s earthquake, recollections of the local nuke fight “absolutely” come alive for the veteran environmentalist.

The time period was 1967 to 1981, when NIPSCO proposed its Bailly I nuclear power plant to be built next to the existing coal-fired plant at Dune Acres.

The anti-nuclear fight inspired Read and other Save the Dunes Council supporters to form the Concerned Citizens to bring legal challenges to the project. The appeals went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1977, the Bailly Alliance, a coalition of citizens, environmentalists, labor, and others was formed to take the fight public. The group leafleted, picketed, rallied, testified in Washington, and otherwise fought tooth and nail to keep a nuclear plant out of the Indiana Dunes. The group’s efforts culminated in a 1981 march and rally of 2,000 people in the adjacent Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

At its peak, the Bailly Alliance included local chapters throughout Northwest Indiana, even as far away as South Bend. One of its offices was on 2nd Street in Chesterton.

As the fight intensified, a third group, Porter County Citizens Concerned, was formed to challenge the fact that the plant lacked a variance from the Porter County BZA.

That fight was still underway when, on August 26, 1981, NIPSCO announced it was scrapping Bailly I after digging a hole and starting to drive the pilings.

The estimated cost of the project had risen from less than $100 million in 1967 to more than $1 billion in 1981.

Ultimately, NIPSCO was required to refund $81 million spent on the project obtained by what the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana said was an illegal rate increase for the incomplete plant.

According to Read, NIPSCO sold its reactor to a company in Japan.

The reactors that exploded in Japan this week were the same type that NIPSCO proposed here, GE boiling water reactors.

Read said the issues now unfolding over the safety of nuclear power were the same ones debated nearly 30 years ago here.

The efficiency of the coolant, the health effects of radiation leakage, and the numbers of people who could be harmed were among the concerns argued here just as they are now in Japan.

In the Bailly fight, opponents tried to argue that the efficiency of the cooling would be a problem, but that argument wasn’t allowed in testimony, he said.

Estimates of the area’s population were also skewed, Read recalled, citing a map that identified one area near the plant as “forest cover.”

Read said in actuality, the area included an apartment building, and he submitted photos of that building to the NRC. But the NRC determined that his photographs weren’t legitimate, since the official map showing the forest cover was prepared by a professional mapmaker.

Bailly I was ultimately stopped after one particular delay over the proper foundation for the plant. Read said NIPSCO found that it couldn’t drive the pilings down to bedrock -- as the opponents had predicted -- and proposed resting the foundation pilings in sand and clay.

Read said “diehard nukes” might argue that the disaster in Japan is a half a world away, but the debate over the cost and safety of nuclear energy needs to be reopened.

“I absolutely think it would open a Pandora’s Box,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of this story were written by Chesterton Tribune Managing Editor David Canright, a member of the Bailly Alliance Steering Committee from 1978-1981.

 

Posted 3/17/2011