Marble Hill Nuclear Power Plant

Industrial / Indiana

Marble Hill Nuclear Power Plant is a now-demolished, never-completed power generating facility in Marble Hill, Indiana. All work stopped in 1984 after $2.7 billion had been expended.


History

In 1973, Public Service Indiana (PSI), now owned by Cinergy, proposed a nuclear power generating plant at Marble Hill. Located approximately 45 minutes north of Louisville, Kentucky, the $700 million power plant was projected to be the largest capital project in the state’s history. It would employ 250. 7

PSI proposed a 987-acre 9 nuclear facility with twin pressurized 1130 MWe Westinghouse light water reactors. 2 10 Both of the units would use two pressurized water reactors to produce up to 3,425 MW from each unit, and steam turbine generators would utilize waste heat to provide 2,360 MWe of total electrical power capacity. 9 10

PSI would retain 65% capacity of the plant, with 20% diverted to the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) and the remaining 15% by other entities such as the Kentucky-Indiana Municipal Power Association, the City of Richmond, Indiana, East Kentucky Power Cooperative and the Wabash Valley Power Association. 10

A maximum of 69 CFS of cooling water would be withdrawn from the Ohio River, of which 9 CFS would be returned via a pipeline with the dissolved solids concentration increased by a factor of six. 9 About 60 CFS would be evaporated by mechanical-draft cooling towers. 10

Approximately 115 miles of transmission lines would cross 3,475 acres of land, with the bases of the transmission towers using just 85 of those acres. The power plant would be served by a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad spur. 9

The proposed construction and start-up cost of Marble Hill ranged from $700 million to $1.4 billion, 1 $1.8 billion 7 and $4.3 billion. 8 Construction was set to begin in July 1976, with Unit 1 starting up in January 1982 followed by Unit 2 in January 1984. 10 A limited work authorization order was issued in December 1976. Due to setbacks and delays, Unit 1 would become operational in late 1986 followed by Unit 2 in 1987. 8

Construction on Marble Hill began in August 19771 7 At its peak, the facility employed 8,000 workers.

Controversy

Skeptics of the power plant accused PSI of forging numbers for the actual construction costs and debated that the actual prices were much higher. 1 Others were afraid of potential nuclear radiation leaks, fears that were intensified after the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant leak in March 1979.

In the Environmental Statement prepared by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the calculated dose of radiation for the year 2000 for people living 50 miles from Marble Hill would be ten man-rems per year, much lower than the 170,000 man-rems per year that the general population received from natural background radiation. 9

There were numerous inconsistencies and flaws in construction. 1 Charles Cutshall, a former employee of Marble Hill’s general contractor, Gust K. Newburg, filed an affidavit that stated he and other Newberg employees were told to cover up and hide construction defects before inspectors could spot them. The mistakes that were revealed in the affidavit involved the concrete pouring in the walls of the containment buildings that led to the concrete honeycombing.

Construction was stopped on three separate occasions during the summer of 1979 to investigate and correct the growing number of reports of poor construction. 1 PSI’s chairman, Hugh Barker, lashed out against the opposition in an employee magazine, “Watts Cookin.” In it, he claimed that “one is forced to ask what’s really behind the anti-nuclear movement? Who is fanning the flames of fear and irrational emotion?” He then attempted to answer his question with, “Two British experts on Soviet propaganda accuse the Soviet Union of funding and manipulating anti-nuclear movements in the west…the radicals among the anti-nuclear forces, by whatever name, clearly have as their goal, the transformation of our democratic, free society.”

Termination

As a result of significant cost overruns associated with construction complications, work at Marble Hill ceased on January 10, 1984. 3 Governor Robert Orr stated that the completion of the facility might cause PSI enter into bankruptcy and cause substantial increases in state electric rates.

Over $2.8 billion had been spent at Marble Hill at the time of its closure, 3 7 and $4 billion was required to complete the project. 7 Over 3,500 construction workers were laid off, which spiked the county’s unemployment rate to 24.8%. 6 By June 1986, the rate had declined to 10.3%.

Many of the unfinished plant’s components, such as its generators and reactors, were sold to other power generating facilities in 1986. 1 7 About $90 million was recovered to pay off Marble Hill’s $1.65 billion debt. 7 By 1987, only 50 people were employed, tasked with keeping the facility secure.

In November 1998, Marble Hill was sold to an agricultural equipment and lumber business.3 The land remained unused and was sold to a Michigan company in 2005.

The turbine structure was demolished in March 2007. 3 The initial implosion, using traditional dynamite, failed to budge the large structure. A second demolition effort collapsed the five-story building.

Financing and Debt

On January 4, 1988, the federal government sued Wabash Valley Power Association and its 24-member rural-electric cooperatives over a $500 million debt stemming from Marble Hill. 4 Filed in the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), the suit claimed that the REA lent Wabash Power $650 million towards the nuclear power plant.

After the power plant project was abandoned, Wabash Valley filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1985. 4 The association filed for a rate increase in 1986 to raise money to pay the REA debt, but that increase was denied by the Indiana Public Service Commission. Wabash Valley contended that it could not raise money to pay the debt because Indiana law and the state Supreme Court declared that electric utilities could not charge customers for a power plant that was never operational.

In 1994, six attorneys filed a settlement agreement with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, seeking $14.25 million in fees, or 9.3% of the $150 million they won for PSI customers in two earlier court decisions. 5 The commission set fees at $3.12 million, but the attorneys appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals where it brought the case back to the utility commission.

The lead attorney, Mike Mullett, stated that they would return to the Court of Appeals to receive the full amount. Of the $14.25 million, roughly $3 million was to be placed into a trust fund for customers to contest future cases before the commission. 5

Of the $3.1 million in fees, plus interest, that the court ordered PSI to pay after its May ruling, about $600,000 had been set aside for the trust fund. The remaining $2.5 million was split amongst the attorneys and clients. 5

On November 8, 1996, a state regulatory panel ruled that the six attorneys should share $7.98 million for winning a $150 million refund to PSI customers for costs associated with the abandoned Marble Hill plant. 5 The attorneys, who were seeking far more, appealed.


Gallery

Submitted by Mark Gish


Sources

  1. Blair, John. “Return to Marble Hill: Indiana’s rusting nuke.” Bloomington Alternative, July 27, 2003. Sept. 27, 2005 Article.
  2. “Marble Hill: Southern Indiana’s Nuclear Power Plant.” March 24, 2007 Article.
  3. Dick, Kaukas. “Building razed at Marble Hill power plant site.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), March 18, 2005. March 28, 2007. Print.
  4. “U.S. government sues Wabash Valley Power over Marble Hill debt.” Courier-Journal (Louisville) 16 Jan. 1988. 18 Dec. 2009. Print.
  5. Kusmer, Ken. “Marble Hill lawyers reject new settlement, vow to appeal again.” Courier-Journal (Louisville) 9 Nov. 1996. 18 Dec. 2009. Print.
  6. Egerton, Judith. “Madison is recovering from its tumble down Marble Hill.” Courier-Journal (Louisville) 4 Sept. 1986. 21 Dec. 2009: B. Print.
  7. Gardner, Bruce. “Elements reclaiming abandoned Marble Hill plant.” Indiana Weekly 11-12 Feb. 1987, East ed.: B1. Print.
  8. Marble Hill, on the move. N.p.: Public Service Indiana, n.d. N. pag. Print.
  9. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “Summary and Conclusions.” Draft Environmental Statement related to construction of Marble Hill Nuclear Generating Station Units 1 and 2. N.p.: Public Service Indiana, March 1976. Print.
  10. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “The proposed project.” Draft Environmental Statement related to construction of Marble Hill Nuclear Generating Station Units 1 and 2. N.p.: Public Service Indiana, March 1976. Print.
  11. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “Status of the project .” Draft Environmental Statement related to construction of Marble Hill Nuclear Generating Station Units 1 and 2. N.p.: Public Service Indiana, March 1976. Print.