1967: Ipswich Nuclear Missile Site
1970: Nuclear Power Plant
In 1970 a proposal was made to build a nuclear power generating plant on the site of the former town dump at the end of Town Farm Road in Ipswich. MEPP Inc., an organization of 29 Massachusetts Municipal Electric Departments, had been studying Ipswich as a potential power plant location for six years. The suggestion was made that the Ipswich-Rowley area was particularly well-suited for a nuclear generation facility because of the shallow depth of bed rock geological formations and the proximity of a large body of cold war for condenser cooling.
The Board of Selectmen “realizing the need for information as to the safety of such an operation, financial arrangements with the Town, rise in water temperature at the outlet of the cooling system, and the ecological performances of the plant,” appointed a nine member Nuclear Power Plant Advisory Committee to conduct a study, submit a report to the Board and gather information in order to bring the issue to a vote. The committee conducted over two dozen meetings during the following year but was unable to establish a consensus.
The Board of Selectmen, along with other interested persons, paid visits early in the year to Haddam Neck in Connecticut and to Plymouth, Mass. to observe firsthand the Nuclear Power Plants located in those communities. The plan showed a pair of concrete cooling pipes 12 to 20 ft in diameter crossing the bay, then buried under the Plum island Wildlife Refuge and discharging into the Atlantic Ocean. MEPP printed and distributed a newspaper-style promotional titled “Plum Island Soundings” that claimed the Ipswich tax rate would be reduced by two thirds when the plant is operational and that “it has been estimated it is a thousand times more likely that an individual will be stuck by lightning that the he will be injured by releases from a nuclear power plant.”
There was tremendous opposition to the proposal by Ipswich residents, including our state representative Jack Dolan. Joseph Borysthen-Tkacz recalls going to a hearing, “I pointed this out to the presenter, saying that this would never happen. I got a ‘deer in the headlights’ look from him.” Mildred Hulbert was another opponent: “I sure was against it. Got about 100 signatures, and stood up at town meeting (shaking in my boots) and stated my reasons.” The Hulls on Eagle hill distributed a pamphlet and urged people to attend the town meeting an vote against the article. The League of Women Voters of Ipswich published a pamphlet titled “We Want to Vote, but are we ready?” stating the advisory committee had not fulfilled its objectives of informing Ipswich citizens and making a determination if the plant was in the best interest of the town and its citizens.
An all-day teach-in was sponsored by the League of Women Voters to discuss the merits and liabilities associated with the 1,100-megawatt nuclear plant proposed for Ipswich. Dr. Manson Benedict, head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Engineering, defended nuclear power, but Dr. Ernest Sternglass, professor of radiation physics at the University of Pittsburgh charged that the plant he low-level emissions released by nuclear reactors would be dangerous, citing “an extensive study” that linked low-dose radiation to leukemia.
The proposal was soundly defeated at the 1971 Ipswich Town Meeting, and the developers next focused briefly on siting the plant across the Eagle River in Rowley. Eventually a location was selected further up to the New Hampshire coastline and a power plant known as Seabrook Station was completed in 1986 after years of opposition and protests by the Clamshell Alliance. A 24-hour occupation in 1977 at the site of the two proposed nuclear power plants in Seabrook resulted in 1,414 people being arrested. Joe Prosser from Ipswich remembers, “Some us even as teens protested at the Seabrook NH nuke plant before it was put on line! I Saw many people during a peaceful protest get beat up and arrested by the police.” (*The author of this post was there too, but wasn’t arrested.)
Article 32: To see what action the town will take relative to approving the concept of having a Nuclear Electric generation facility constructed on land owned by the town of Ipswich generally known as the old town farm.
- Moved by Mr. Bialek, Selectman, that the Town express its interest regarding the concept of a nuclear generating facility in the Town of Ipswich and that town encourage further investigation into the question of such a facility, provided that no such vote shall be interpreted as endorsement of any proposed legislation, and it is further understood that MEPP legislation, insofar as it affects Ipswich will not be submitted without the approval of the Board of Selectmen, the Town Manager, the Nuclear Power Plant Advisory Committee, and Town Counsel and that any such legislation shall contain the requirement that a vote be cast by the Town before any such plant may be built.
- Mrs. Betty Siegel of the League of Women Voters asked if the Nuclear Power Study Committee had taken a vote on said motion.
- Mr. Masse of the Nuclear Power Plant Advisory Committee answered that the advisory committee is not an official town committee — its role being to advise the selectmen and that action of the Selectmen takes precedence. He further explained that there will be two more votes before the town can be committed to such a facility.
- The Finance Committee recorded themselves as in favor of the motion.
- Mr. Gary Hull of Eagle Hill Road spoke in opposition to the motion.
- Mr. Charles K. Cobb, Jr., selectman and chairman of the Conservation Commission, moved for indefinite postponement of the article. Seconded. He presented views which predicated the motion.
- Mrs. Betty Siegel of the League of Women Voters stated that the League is not against further study of a nuclear plant, but it feels that the town does not need a directive from town meeting to pursue such a course.
- Mr. Alexander Sweenie spoke for indefinite postponement
- Mr. John Pechilis, chairman of the Electricity Advisory Board, spokesman for and representative of Ipswich to MEPP strongly urged the people to vote for the article and in detail presented MEPP’s views.
- Mr. Philip Stewart moved the question to cut off debate. A 2/3 vote was required to accomplish said motion. Hand count showed 479 voting in the affirmative, 197 opposed; 452 needed for passage. Motion carried.
- Hand Count on motion to indefinitely postpone the article showed 475 voting in the affirmative; 281, opposed. Motion for postponement was carried and so declared by the Moderator.
Article 33. To see what action the town will take relative to accepting proposals for the development of a Nuclear Electric Generating Facility on land now or formerly, owned by the Town of Ipswich. It was moved by John Pechilis, chairman of the Electricity Advisory Board, that the motion be indefinitely postponed. The motion was carried by unanimous vote.
- 1971 Ipswich Town Meeting
- Brian Balogh: Chain Reaction: Expert Debate and Public Participation in American Commercial Nuclear Power 1945-1975
- Ipswich Chronicle, Nov. 1967
- MEPP: “Plum Island Soundings”
- Testimony by John W. Goffman