The Failure of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant

Jared Gilbey
February 6, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: The Shoreham Power Plant represents an epic failure in the American nuclear industry. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant (see Fig. 1) was announced in 1965 as a way to decrease power consumption in Long Island, New York, which was increasing at exceedingly high rates per year. [1] It was to be a safe, economical source of electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes for several decades. Construction of the plant, located in East Shoreham, Long Island, began in 1973, but suffered from delays arising from environmental and safety concerns. [2] Though the reactor expanded to producing 820 megawatts of power, the plant never actually went into commercial operation, the only fully licensed nuclear power reactor never to do so. Construction of the plant ceased in the 1980s.


On June 3rd, 1979, over 15,000 people protested right outside the unfinished plant. This came as a reaction to meltdown and radiation leaks from a power plant in Pennsylvania. At the time, the protest was believed to be the biggest demonstration of any kind in the history of Long Island. Despite the rain, anti-nuclear protestors of all ages came together to make a statement against the plant. More than 600 people were arrested. [2] The clear views and intentions of these individuals were in line with the anti-nuclear sentiment that was prevalent in the United States, and even around the world, throughout the 1970s. This was especially evident when a local resident brought everyone together at the beginning of the protest, claiming that all individuals present were part of an international protest against nuclear power. The protest represented a pivotal moment not only in the eventual dismantling of the plant, but in the history of nuclear power in the country. Additional safety concerns regarding the Shoreham plant contributed to further delays. There was worry that in the event of a meltdown, residents would not be able to evacuate. In early 1983, it was ruled that safe evacuation was indeed not feasible. [3]

Dismantling and Aftermath

The plant officially closed on May 25th of 1988, and was decommisioned in 1994. [3] On October 12th, 1994, a two-year project to decommission the plant concluded. Richard M. Kessel, the chairman of the Long Island Power Authority, reported that all radioactive material from the plant was removed, which required over 300 truck shipments of more than 5 million pounds of waste to burial and reprocessing sites. [1] The power plant never received the license for operation was due to an evacuation problem, but not because of fear of radiation contamination. [4] The plant is responsible for $6 billion in debt due to its closure, though it was surprisingly only projected to cost $65 million. [2] As the image shows, the property sits without much use attached to it, three decades later, representing an epic failure of the nuclear industry.

© Jared Gilbey. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[3] M. Sivilli, "Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2017.

[2] J. T. McQuiston, "Shoreham Action Is One of Largest Held Worldwide," New York Times, 4 Jun 79.

[3] "Dismantling of the Shoreham Nuclear Plant Is Completed," New York Times, 13 Oct 94.

[4] J. Rather, "Planning the Fate of a Nuclear Plant's Land," New York Times, 1 Jan 09.