Scouting Long Island’s Decommissioned Nuclear Power Plant

Driving on Route-25a through East Shoreham, you’d never guess there was anything unusual about the gated road heading off toward the coast.

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But go down a ways…

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…and suddenly, it’ll appear through the trees…

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Long Island’s only nuclear power plant, closed and shuttered since it was decommissioned in 1994.

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Today, it sits completely empty, a relic of 1970s design permanently frozen in time.

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A month ago, I heard that the now vacant Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant was available as a filming location, and I immediately set up a tour. It’d certainly be the first nuclear power plant to have in my files, and I was absolutely fascinated to see what still remained inside.

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Construction began on Shoreham’s GE Mark II Boiling Water Reactor in 1973 and finished 12 years later in 1985, when it received its testing license and began operating at 5% capacity. That’s as far as the plant ever got.

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Public opposition had been growing steadily during this period, in large part due to Three Mile Island’s partial meltdown in 1979 and the Chernobyl tragedy in 1986. The state and county eventually sided with the opposition and refused to approve the plant’s emergency escape route plan, which prevented it from obtaining an operating license.

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In 1992, the $6 Billion facility was sold to the state for $1 (the cost was passed onto LI tax payers as a 3% surcharge on electric bills). The two-year decommissioning process commenced, the first time in US history that a licensed commercial nuclear reactor would be dismantled.

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The process was completed in 1994 following the removal of 5 million pounds of radioactive waste and 560 irradiated fuel rod assemblies. The plant has been vacant and dormant ever since.

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As we arrived at the doors to the facility, I noticed the first of what would turn out to be hundreds of warning signs still posted throughout.

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We headed in.

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As walked through the first few industrial rooms and corridors, my initial thought was that the plant seemed massive once you were inside.

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It only took about four or five turns before I was completely lost.

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Every once in a while, we’d come to a large open shaft going up to the roof, giving a sense of the height.

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Despite being decommissioned, equipment is everywhere, some of it still in use.

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I will admit, it takes a lot of self-control not to reach out and touch the thousands of buttons and levers you pass at every turn.

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Also, there are pipes everywhere. I feel like I saw every possible variation of pipe and duct during my tour.

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Finally, there are a lot of safety stations still in place, like this area radiation monitor.

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Ditto the chemical burn first aid stations…

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…and these cabinets containing emergency breathing apparatus:

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After heading deeper into the plant, we came to a pair of double doors. We stepped through…

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…and traveled back in time to when modern computers did not exist.

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This is the reactor control room, an absolutely mind-boggling assortment of buttons, knobs, switches, lights, levers and cranks.

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The equipment spans three entire walls…

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…along with several work stations in the middle of the room. Look at that computer!

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The desk calendar was last changed on November 8, 1994:

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One of my favorite control arrays was this desk…

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…which features a colorfully eye-pleasing – and easy to read! – set of lines connecting various systems with their indicator lights:

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More switches…

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…gauges…

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…monitors…

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…and more switches:

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I was also intrigued by this grid of buttons, which depicts the status of the fuel rod assembly. You’ll note the word SCRAM on many of them, industry-speak for an emergency shutdown of a reactor.

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Nearby, this diagram appears to monitor the overall reactor status, with more indicator lights and colorful connector lines:

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Lining the top of the equipment stations were several tables of error messages, which I imagine you prayed would never light up:

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The operator at this station was lucky to get a big-screen monitor:

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Make your System Op quick calls here:

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If you look at the rug, you’ll see a darker stripe running along the perimeter of the room. I was told that this was referred to as the “velvet rope,” and NO ONE was allowed to set foot into it without authorization from the office overlooking the control room.

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This is that office:

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From the control room, we headed down several more tunnels toward the reactor…

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…passing more warning signs.

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The Shoreham reactor was encased in two layers of containment. The outer layer, or secondary containment, is a 7-foot thick wall of reinforced concrete, traversed via this passage:

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To enter the primary containment area, one would have to climb into this claustrophobic tube and securely close the enormous steel door…

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…then wait on that bench for the door at the other end to open:

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A phone for communicating with the outside world while sealed inside:

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We stepped through the inner door…

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The tour continues – Click here to go to the next page!

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38 comments

  1. Great write-up. Hope to see it in a movie some time!

  2. Live-action Simpsons movie?

  3. MomVee, I was thinking that too! I mentally inserted Homer Simpson into a lot of these pictures.

  4. SO SO FASCINATING!!!!! Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Let’s reunite Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas for “The China Syndrome 2: Revenge of the Isotopes.”

  6. I can’t stop thinking about Homer Simpson meanwhile I read your great post. Thanks for sharing!

  7. This is so friggin’ awesome! Another one that is a classic!

  8. Great tour, looks a LOT like where I work ;-)

    >Every once in a while, we’d come to a large open shaft going up to the roof, giving a sense of the height.
    These are the hoistways used for lowering equipment and materials to the various elevations of the building. There would have been an overhead bridge crane at one time for servicing this hoistway.

    >Despite being decommissioned, equipment is everywhere, some of it still in use.
    These load centers presumably still power the lighting and environmental equipment OR service the natural gas powered combustion turbine plant on the site using the existing transmission infrastructure.

    >I was also intrigued by this grid of buttons, which depicts the status of the fuel rod assembly.
    This is actually a display of the position of the *control rods*, not the fuel assemblies; you’ll find both in the reactor pressure vessel of course. Control rods would be raised into the core from below the reactor vessel to change the power level or immediately shut down the reactor.

    >the word SCRAM
    The industry urban legend (no idea whether it is true of course) goes back to the earliest research reactors where the control rods would be held up by a rope and pulley and if anything started to perform unexpectedly, the “axe man” (literally a man with an axe next to the rope) would be told to cut the rope – i.e. Start Cutting Rope Axe Man!

    >Lining the top of the equipment stations were several tables of error messages, which I imagine you prayed would never light up:
    A lot of these were pretty routine, a simple as it was getting close to time to change an air or water filter as the differential pressure across it started increasing. Some you very much did NOT want to illuminate!

    >To enter the primary containment area, one would have to climb into this claustrophobic tube and securely close the enormous steel door…
    This is called the personnel air lock. It would take a minute or so to close the outer door and open the inner door. There is usually a phone and intercom inside the air lock. Under a panel in the floor is a tool kit to allow you to remove the bolted on blind flange of an emergency air port to let in breathing air in case you got stuck.

    >A phone for communicating with the outside world while sealed inside:
    This is actually a GAI-tronics system handset. It lets you make a page announcement to the entire plant or communicate with another party on a specific line selected by rotating the knob below the red and white strip of tape. You can’t dial a phone number from it. The panel to the left controls the opening and closing of the doors and valves in the air lock.

    > Every once in a while, you’d pass by a “Hear-Here” booth, which I imagine offered some quiet when talking on the phone in a noisy environment:
    Meh, they’re not really that helpful other than identifying where a phone or GAI-tronics handset is located!

    > And finally, one more control room, this one dedicated to the operation of the containment building:
    > I gravitate toward the more colorful panels:
    I think this control room was likely for radwaste processing or plant water chemistry. The panels discuss various waste tanks, deionizers, and acid / caustic supplies (used for bringing water to a neutral pH for further processing, use in the plant, or discharge).

    Keep up the great work!

    • No natural gas fired plants in that area at all. In fact, No natural gas within almost a mile of that place. Those electric “peaking” plants are diesel fired units.

  9. Most folks east of the plant were firmly against its opening, since we were essentially written off in an evacuation plan. Unless you had a boat with which to go a direction other than west, you would have been screwed.

  10. Every horror and sci-fi movie made in the next 25 years will use this location. Wow.

    P.S. Very cool comment from Jason too.

  11. I would want to press every single one of those buttons… and flip every switch. I’m normally not OCD, but when I see buttons and switches… I go nuts. If I’m walking past a fire alarm, I literally have to walk along the opposite wall because I think I’m going to one day reach out and pull that alarm.

    I have issues… :-)

  12. Another great tour. This building would be the perfect location for a movie or crime scene tv show.

  13. If you take the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry this plant is of only four structures on Long Island visible from the Connecticut side. The others are the smokestacks of the (conventional) power plants in Port Jefferson and Northport, and Stony Brook hospital.

  14. Would be a good The Following episode

  15. my husband and i loved your photos of the Shoreham Nuclear power plant.
    he worked on site in nuclear engineering for many years, up until it closed.

  16. I heard that Sacha Baron Cohen was filming a movie there a few years back.

  17. Gotta ask, since you had to drive past it on 25A to get to the power plant, is Tesla’s old buiding still there?

    • Some of the building are still there, but in rough shape. An nonprofit just raised a bunch of money and bought the property to turn it into a Tesla museum. They’re over at http://www.teslasciencecenter.org/ if you’re interested, they’re usually looking for volunteers to help clean up the grounds on weekends when it’s nice too.

  18. I worked at the Shoreham Nuclear Plant for two years. I still remember the day coming up the drive and the stacks coming into view…it was like I was coming upon a movie set. Met wonderful people, some of which I still keep in touch with today…and all with a common goal to get this plant online. I worked on many of the “drills” and you would absolutely swear the melt down, or whatever other scenario they came up with, was actually happening. There was deadpan seriousness in that room and everyone had a job to do and took it VERY seriously. It always impressed me to see the dedication of those people who worked on that plant and worked so tirelessly to get it ready to open. Probably the most safest nuclear plant ever built…such a shame it never came on line. We could use that power today!!!

    • I agree such a shame it never opened. My dad worked there several years and very proud of it.

    • Yes, it is a shame it never came to be. People are still paying for it and they got what they wanted. Trouble is that most people want this and that, as long as it is not in there back yard. If all you can do is complain about this and that, then you to are part of the problem. “Put it in someone else’s back yard, not mine”

  19. All the flickr links go to a page that says “Oops! You don’t have permission to view this photo”.
    Great photos! (but would love to see bigger versions)

  20. Best place I’ve ever worked at Miss SNPS…..!

  21. I worked at SNPS for over a dozen years as a security supervisor. These pictures sure brought back a lot of lost memories. The best job I ever had in my over 50 year working career. What a waste of time and money decommissioning this plant. This plant was ready to go, as were all of us dedicated employees. SNPS …gone but never forgotten.

  22. Yet another detailed and well-thought out post! thank you

    I find it tragic that the people of Long Island has to eat that extra 3% over the sale of the property. $1?!? What an outrage.

  23. Real dinosaurs died and decomposed millions of years ago. This modern dinosaur will be an eyesore forever. And just think of the cost just involved in decommissioning this plant to this sorry state. Just say no to nuclear!

    • “Fuel rods would have been loaded into the reactor via these tracks, first passing through the seven-foot thick outer shield…” is not quite correct. That access is for removing and replacing the control rods, which on a BWR enter from the bottom. The fuel was loaded from the top when the reactor vessel head was removed during outages.

      Other wise, this is a great set of pics!

  24. Thank you Jason for explaining the to the people especially the narrator about what they really were looking at. You were spot on, since I was there as an operator for many years. Crew “C” to be exact. The pictures do bring back many memories. For that I thank the scout for braving the elements :-) .

  25. Nick,
    I worked on that Decommissioning from early 1992 to July 1994, on the Termination Survey (the final radiological cleanliness survey). Thanks for the trip down memory lane….even got to see my old office window from the outside.
    Couple of corrections I could offer: the plant actually was granted a full power operating license by the NRC…on a Friday; the following Monday, the utility (LILCO then, LIPA now) and the State of NY announced the decision to abandon the plant…talk about a blow to the solar plexus of everyone who had sacrificed family time to meet all those milestones! Unfathomable.
    The second photo of additional “shielding walls” actually shows walls that were once intact but contaminated at a low level. The walls were cut apart and left standing at these spatial intervals to fall below the allowable radiation levels set by the NRC at the time (“dilution is the solution”). In fact, I wrote the work instruction for applying those grid marks that you see on the structures, defining one square meter.
    Not every grid was surveyed….the draft NUREG at the time allowed for random or systematic surveying of some areas, depending on the degree to which the area was affected by reactor operation. Certainly, in the containment, every floor grid received a measurement.
    You do refer to the “reactor” in your photo captions….actually, the reactor vessel was cut up and removed in rings by a radial cutting arm….kind of like cutting a tin can into rings, working from the inside. The metal was sold to the US Govt to serve as shielding material in areas of their facilities with even higher levels of radiation.
    The fuel itself was shipped by barge to the Limerick power plant in Pennsylvania, which could use it in its reactor…in fact, Limerick was paid to receive the fuel. (“May I gas up your car? In fact, let me pay you to receive the gas, and I’ll even deliver it to you”…what a deal!)

    Please feel free to consult me for any other “behind the scenes” stories you might be interested in….there’s a great film waiting to be made about that Shoreham project itself.

  26. Fabulous post! Long Island holds plenty of surprises. Back in the late 70s, we considered building a custom home near Huntington. The real estate agent showed us several properties, one of which had a decommissioned, empty missile silo.

  27. Christopher John

    That Control Room! What a fantastic tour, Nick! Seriously appreciate you sharing this with us!

  28. I worked for Stone &Webster Engineering. I was the youngest Administrative Asst. At age 20. I met my husband there, who recently passed but would h ave enjoyed all of these photos. My father worked there as well, a union Sheet Metal foreman. Thank you

  29. My good friend, Nora Bredes, was the most instrumental person in stopping this plant. She later went on to become a Suffolk County legislator and was just an all around amazing woman, friend, and mother. She passed away a few years ago from breast cancer but I know stopping Shoreham was one of her proudest achievements.

  30. +919649673702 call me

  31. What a waist, all of the money spent to plan and build and then to sell to the state for a dollar just to spend more of our money for decommissioning. Very, very sad state we live in, shame on New York!

  32. Richard Williams

    I worked there for 8 1/2 years and can recognize everyone of those pictures. I worked in every part of that facility. So did many others. It had three backup systems in addition to the normal operational systems. It was safe as any one of them at the time. For those protestors out there consider this when you are sitting in your dark unheated house someday in the future. Driving a car to the local stores is much more dangerous then this plant was. The earth is not flat.

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