Tag Archives: nuclear power

Sam Vail, Fukushima, And Why Westporters Should Be Very, Very Worried

For better or worse, Westporters are experts at the NIMBY game. Cell towers, group homes, a new synagogue — there are tons of good reasons those things should go in your back yard, not mine.

In 1967, we thought we took care of the NIMBY nuclear power issue for good. A utility company’s plan to build a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island — a mile from Compo Beach — was defeated (despite many Westport proponents). We now own the rocky isle.

So — as tragic as the 2011 failures at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were — they generated little concern here. After all, Westport is 6,578 miles — one vast ocean, one large continent — away.

Of course, as “60 Minutes” made clear last Sunday, the disaster is far from over. The crippled plant still releases high levels of radiation daily. It seeps into ground soil, evaporates into the air, and leaks into the Pacific.

Children are particularly vulnerable to radiation. And — because wind and ocean currents know no borders — even affluent, suburban Americans may be at risk.

Sam Vail knows the dangers well. A native Westporter, his career took him to the very same Fukushima plant that continues to spew poisons today.

He is very, very worried.

After graduating from Staples in 1982, Sam learned commercial diving at the Florida Institute of Technology. He joined an Essex, Connecticut company that cut and welded dams and other underwater structures — including power plants.

In 1989 he became certified to work on nuclear reactors. Soon, he was sent to Fukushima. He returned a couple more times. It was lucrative work — but the more Sam saw, the more worried he became about the safety of nuclear power.

Watching news coverage of the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent power plant disaster was “mind-blowing,” Sam said last week. He was about to leave for Costa Rica — he’s now a solar power consultant — but he wanted to talked about what he’s seen.

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

“The first reactor that blew up was the first one I’d worked on over there,” Sam noted. “I knew how bad things would be.”

The more he’s learned over the past 3 years, the more worried he’s grown.

“This is the worst man-made industrial accident in the history of the planet — hands down,” Sam said. “I’m not a physicist. I just helped fix the reactors. But I don’t think they can entomb this. It’s an incredibly serious situation.”

Sam is surprised that — notwithstanding the “60 Minutes” report (which focused on the life of one displaced farmer) — scant media attention has been paid to the ongoing Fukushima crisis.

On Tuesday, April 29 (6:15 p.m., Westport Library), he’ll do his part to raise local awareness. The World Network for Saving Children from Radiation is showing “A2-B-C,” a documentary about the aftermath of radiation exposures.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

Immediately after the film, Sam will join a Q-and-A session. Other panelists include Mariko Bender (a Fukushima native now living in Connecticut), and Dr. David Brown, a Westporter and Fairfield University professor who is an expert in environmental ethics and toxicology.

“This isn’t about politics,” Sam said. “It’s about the health of our planet. The particulates are already here.

“Five years after Chernobyl, there was a spike in thyroid cancer and other thyroid abnormalities.

“Well, Fukushima will make Chernobyl look like a tea party.”

Sam applauds environmental organizations that are trying to educate people about nuclear power (including the dangers of not-very-far-away Indian Point).

His library appearance is another way to do that. Sam Vail will be in his home town, half a world away from the Fukushima nuclear reactors he worked on.

But in many ways, Fukushima is also in our back yard.




Cockenoe Fukushima?

Now that Hurricane Sandy is a fading memory, alert “06880” reader Nick Thiemann wonders what might have been.

Not “what if the storm was even more powerful?” Rather, “what if things turned out differently back in the 1960s?”

That’s the year United Illuminating proposed building a 14-story nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island. Which they’d bought, for that very reason.

Plenty of people were aghast.

And plenty thought it was a great idea.

Cockenoe Island.

Proponents were clear. Nuclear power was seen as a clean, inexpensive source of power — the fuel of the future.

The arguments against were twofold. Some believed nuclear power was dangerous. Others simply wanted to maintain the island for camping, clamming, and picnicking. (Teenagers would add “partying” to the list.)

The Westport News — a feisty upstart, just beginning to challenge the established Town Crier — took up the cause. For 2 years, editor Jo Brosious crusaded against the nuclear power plant — and for the right of Connecticut towns having the right of eminent domain over all utilities.

The Town Crier argued that the facility would reduce local taxes.

In 1969 — helped by a New York Times editorial strongly supporting Westport’s wish to preserve Cockenoe (and, Nick Thiemann says, a casual conversation in Hartford between Governor John Dempsey and Westport State Reprsentative Ed Green) — a deal was struck. UI would sell the island to the town for $200,000, if  Westport dropped its proposed eminent domain legislation. State and federal funds covered 75 percent of the purchase price.

The RTM voted unanimously to buy the land.

In 1970, Life magazine cited the deal as a resounding conservation victory. A photo showed Jo Brosious at Compo Beach, with Cockenoe Island — pristine, not nuclear power plant-ed — in the background.

Which is how Cockenoe remains, 42 years later.

It’s still a place for camping, clamming, picnicking (and partying) (and rats).

But imagine for a moment — as Nick Thiemann does — what might have happened to a nuclear power plant during last month’s hurricane.

Can you say “Cockenoe Fukushima”?