Due West of Burlington, New York Wants a Nuke | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Due West of Burlington, New York Wants a Nuke


Published April 25, 2011 at 6:52 p.m.

Ed note: Kevin J. Kelley contributed this post.

Ridicule might seem the right response to the undeterred effort to build a nuclear power plant in Massena, N.Y.

Despite the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima complex in Japan, Massena Mayor Jim Hidy says an atomic energy plant is just what his village needs. “In light of the Japan incident, I'm even more confident we should have it,” Hidy says. “The nuclear plant was about the only thing still standing there after the earthquake and tsunami.”

Besides, the mayor notes, Massena doesn't lie on a fault line, as some have said, but rather on a “glacial retreat.” And that's not as geologically significant, he says he's been told.

The town does lie on the St. Lawrence River, an abundant source of coolant for a nuke and a body of water “not likely to have a tsunami,” Hidy points out.

He and Town Supervisor Joseph Gray began in January to pitch Massena, 90 air miles west of Burlington, as a perfect site for a new nuke. They say they have the support of New York's senior U.S. senator, Charles Schumer, as well as several local lawmakers.

But such a plant is never going to be built, insists Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It's somebody's pipe dream,” she says. “It's not real.”

The unstaunched radiation releases in Japan are having the effect of ensuring “we're not going to see any nuclear plants built in the United States, except maybe a couple in the South,” Haight predicts. “The finances have always been iffy.”

Hidy acknowledges there's no firm proposal for splitting atoms in Massena. There hasn't even been a feasibility study because “we're holding off on doing something that would cost us money.” And even if a nuke builder were to arrive in Massena tomorrow with a bulging bank account and a phalanx of lobbyists, a plant couldn't start operating until 2025 at the earliest, Hidy concedes.

The nuke plant is actually just the latest in a series of dreamy development schemes, notes David Sommerstein of North Country Public Radio. The Massena area has also tried to lure a major aquarium, a Nascar racetrack, a 20,000-cow ethanol plant and an underground atomic supercollider, Sommerstein recalled in a recent blog post.

There's no doubt that most locals are permanently smitten with the prospect, no matter how improbable, of bringing hundreds of high-paying jobs to what the mayor says is “as close to a depressed area as you can get.” He figures that 95 percent of Massena residents support the possibility of having a nuke as a neighbor.

Massena has been hurting so much that its story actually is downright sad.

The latest blow came in 2009 when a bankrupt General Motors closed a local power-train plant, taking away 500 jobs and leaving behind a toxic-waste site. Massena still has an Alcoa factory, but it's been downsized since the company's merger with Reynolds Metals 10 years ago.

Two of the area's biggest employers are the Mohawk Bingo Palace and the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino. Many of Massena's downtown storefronts are empty, due in part to a nearby Walmart , Hidy says, that “put a lot of the mom-and-pop shops out of business.”

Massena might even be disappearing.

Its population dropped to about 10,500 in 2009 — a 6.6 percent decline from the previous census. About 20 percent of those who remain are living below the federal poverty line. And Hidy, a 60-year-old sales rep for a local trucking firm, estimates the town's average age at close to his own. “The younger people have all left here for greener pastures,” he says. “We've got to do something to help this community.”

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