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Midland Nuke Plant Radiates Scandal

Midland Nuke Plant Radiates Scandal image Midland Nuke Plant Radiates Scandal image
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President and mainstay of the Saginaw group is Mary Sinclair, a determined woman who teaches a course on nuclear power at the University of Michigan's Residential College. Ms. Sinclair has been a science writer for Dow Chemical Company and the Library of Congress. She first carne to Ann Arbor in 1 970 to study the nuclear issue, and last year completed a degree in Environmental Communications with the School of Natural Resources. Legal bludgeon man for the Intervenors is a Chicago corporate attorney named Myron Cherry, a inoving agent in the Palisades controversy as well as at Midland. "Offending officers of Consumeras Power (ought to be) indicted and tried for criminal violations of the Atomic Energy Act," Cherry said recently in a typical statement. He has become notorious for his harrassment of Consumer's and AEC officials, as well as his tips to newspersons. The Midland hearings took a year and a half to finish, but they seem to have functioned mostiy as a line of defense against enjjfronmentalist issues. During the hearings, says Cherry, the AEC refused to allow the Intervenors to cross-examine the authors of the environmental impact report, question and evacuation plan or raise the issue of the utility's quality control record. Now Consumer's is close to leading the nation's Utilities in quality control and safety violations. Another anti-nuclear coup could soon be scored with the Intervenors' suit against Consumer's in the U.S. Appeals Court. Besides Consumer's massive investment in the Midland plant, the Intervenors' suit also challenges the AEC's hearing rules. Their task is made more difficult by the fact that Intervenors have to raise their own money and hire their own legal talent. The right lawyers aren 't easy to find, costs quickly run into the tens of thousands of dollars and access to proceedings are severely limited by AEC rules. "Catch-22 stuff, you know," Cherry told the SUN. TEA AND SYMPATHY But while environmental arguments are still mostly inadmissable in AEC hearings, quality control of construction is another thing. Since construction began, the AEC's regional office in Chicago has been earnestly trying to enforce its complex, stringent regulations. By the time violations reach the agency's higlier realms, however, there is still a great deal of sympathy for the Utility's problems, its economie necessities and the status quo. Last December after quality control violations shut down the plant, for example, the AEC's director of regulation, L. Manning Numtzing, met with two Midland bankers, the director of the Midland Chamber of Commerce and a leading minister. The meeting was arranged by Midland's Congressman, Rep. E.A. Cederberg, a ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee and a backer of the nuclear plant. According to participants, Muntzing told the Midland businessmen that the hearing necessary to reopen the plant "would go away". Although Muntzing denied the report, what did go away was the order stopping construction, seven days later. AEC inspectors had steered the utility through an announced inspection prior to the meeting, and when the hearing was finally held the next summer, AEC inspectors said there were no longer any quality control problems at the site. Lacking money and independent experts, the Intervenors failed to contest the proceeding. Consumer's turned the hearing into a show-case for the nuclear future. THE CITY OF DOW The nuclear power controversy has staggering consequences for the future, but the fight over the Midland plant is no popular struggle. Midland itself, a small industrial city and a one company town, is best described as the home of the Dow Chemical Company. 10,000 people work for the Dow company in a city of 30,000, and a four month strike against the company tliis summer gave the town an early taste of depression. The only time Midland citizens have demonstrated for or against the plant was at a massive pro-nuclear rally in the summer of 1971 , during the license hearings. The rally was promoted by the Chamber of Commerce, hosted, by Art Linkletter and addressed by Rep. Cederberg and Senator Robert Griffin. Dow employees were let off from work early to attend the rally, then were set to signing a giant mock-up of the construction license. The nuclear station in Midland's future is currently two stumps of concrete, steel plate and scaffolding emerging out of a clutter of cranes and blue construction sheds. It stands on high ground, in the middle of an epic range of mud and water along the bulldozer-channelled banks of the Tittiwabasee River. In recent years the river has been converted to a series of holding ponds. Until it was torn down last spring, this also happened to be the site of "Napalm Hall", a Dow munitions factory. Dow's present central manufacturing complex is just across the mud bottoms of the holding ponds, a rusty iron bank of towers, storage tanks and heavy industry in hideous strength. The Consumer's plant will pump as much as half its steám and electricity. LAY-OFFS BY NEW YEAR Why does Consumer's continue to jeopardize its billion dollar project with sloppy quality control? The crux of the quality assurance scandal is probably that nuclear power is too delicate a matter for a profïtoriented utility bureaucracy to handle. "They're not used to dealing with nuclear power," says a former Consumer's employee. "When orders come through to ehange the way something is done, there's a tendency to sleaze it through because that's the way it was always done in the past. But now they're dealing with nuclear power, where there's no margin for error, and they don't have the organization to cope with it." The workers who talked to the SUN speak of pressure (o reduce costs and speed contruction by cutting corners. "Consumer's Power does not have the institutional ability to obey the law," says Cherry flatly fcom long experience. But while more quality control scandals and gation over the plant 's Iicense threaten completion of the project, another aspect of the situation is worsening ever faster for Consumer's. November 14 the utility announced a one year delay in Midland's construction, according to Consumer's President A.H. Aymond because of an "inability to raise the necessary funds." Besides costing what Aymond estimates to be an extra S200 million, the slowdown also means seven hundred layoffs from the 840 person crew by January 1 . Recently it's been reponed Bechtel was trying to sell its new, ten story office building by the Bnarwood Shopping Mali in Ann Arbor. Bechtel officials refused to confirm or deny the reports, but explained that "financial difficulties" in the utility industry were the reason for 175 departures from the Ann Arbor office as of November 1 . "What with Dow saying it would move out of Midland if the Nuclear plant didn't go in, there's so much fear and distrust you don't know how to protect yourself ." - A worker at the Midland Power Plant