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CONELRAD: Atomic Secrets | Atoms Downtown [1963]
Nuclear power plant proposed for New York City - 1963

From TIME July 26, 1963


Atoms Downtown
Nuclear power plants make some people nervous, reminding them of atom bombs. So the Atomic Energy Commission is facing a tough decision: whether to let such plants be built inside big cities. All eleven of the nuclear - electricity generators built so far are located outside heavily populated areas, but New York's Consolidated Edison Co. wants to build a million-kilowatt nuclear plant in the heart of New York City, only two miles from Rockefeller Center. If AEC grants this request and others like it that will follow, it will surely arouse protests from nervous neighbors. If it refuses them, it will slow the development of cheap nuclear electricity, which it is charged with hastening.

Water Upstairs. Downtown nuclear plants are attractive for several reasons. They pour no smoke, fly ash or combustion gases into a city's overburdened atmosphere. Since they are close to load-centers, they need no long and costly transmission lines. What is equally important in crowded urban areas, a two-year supply of uranium fuel for a million-kilowatt plant can be stored in the space of an average living room.

TIME article on proposed nuclear plant for New York City - 1963But there is potential danger in any nuclear plant. After it has run for a while, the fuel in its core (Con Ed plans to use 113 tons of uranium oxide) is contaminated with fiercely radioactive fission products. If this unpleasant stuff got spread around the countryside by any sort of explosion, it would do as much harm as the fallout from an atom bomb. Millions of people live within a few miles of Con Ed's projected installation. To reduce this danger to a minimum, the plant proposed for the Borough of Queens, on New York's East River, will have fantastically elaborate safeguards. The reactor core will be housed in a pressure shell of steel 12-1/2 in. thick, weighing 627 tons. It will be fitted with numerous devices to shut it down instantly if anything goes wrong. Above the reactor are reservoirs of water doped with a "poison" that stops a chain reaction by absorbing neutrons. In the unlikely event that the pressure shell ruptures, the water will flood down and douse the reaction.

Big Dome. Even the dousing fluid will be safely confined, for the whole works will be housed in a vast domed vessel 182 ft. high and 165 diameter, with inner walls made of two layers of steel one-quarter inch thick separated by 2 ft. of porous concrete. Pumps will draw from the concrete any radioactive gas that seeps into it. And outside all this will be 5-1/2 ft. of concrete strongly reinforced with a network of steel bars. The great dome will be strong enough, say Con Ed engineers, to hold the most violent explosion that could possibly happen inside, and it will be tight enough to keep any trace of radioactive gas from reaching the outdoors. In normal operation, except for diluted gases discharged up a 500-ft. smokestack and harmless amounts of waste washed away by the swift Currents of the East River, no trace of radioactivity will escape from the plant. Says Harland C. Forbes, Con Ed's board chairman: "I think it represents the ultimate in safety."

Still, old fears die hard, and proponents of Con Ed's scheme last week were resigned to a bitter battle against the whole idea. The AEC has not yet given its approval, and bills have been introduced in New York City Council against nuclear power plants within the city limits. Until these are cleared away, Con Edison's bold plans will remain just plans.

TIME July 26, 1963

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