Nuclear Fatality at Wood River Junction | Yankee Classic Article
Over the next few years a number of other United Nuclear Corporation plants would close, the one in Pawling, New York, following an explosion involving deadly plutonium. Eventually, the company divested itself of all its nuclear businesses and changed its name to UNC. There are currently no nuclear fuels reprocessing plants in New England. Wood River Junction closed in 1980 — one year after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania galvanized public opposition to nuclear power.
The site has been considered for a number of development projects, but UNC cannot sell the land until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (the federal agency that succeeded the Atomic Energy Commission) grants its request for a “termination of license,” which certifies that the site is free from contamination and safe to use. The plant is now a guarded shell, eerie as a tomb, its robin’s-egg-blue paint peeling off in sheets the size of dinner plates.
Ironically, the incident at Wood River Junction may say more about the safety record of the nuclear industry than about its failings. The physicians who attended the agonizing death of Robert Peabody published a paper about his case in The New England Journal of Medicine in April 1965. It began with this confident assertion: “The acute radiation syndrome will almost surely be encountered from time to time as accidents occur in the rapidly expanding nuclear industry.”
As it turned out, they were wrong on both counts. Since the late seventies, the growth of the nuclear industry has come to a virtual halt, due to declining oil prices, exploding construction costs, and concerns about safety. And according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Robert Peabody was the U.S. nuclear industry’s first and last fatality due to acute radiation syndrome.
Excerpt from “Incident at Wood River Junction,” Yankee Magazine, October 1994