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Environmental coalition challenges revisionist history about Fermi 1 at Fermi 3 new reactor site

Book cover from John G. Fuller's 1975 "We Almost Lost Detroit," about the 1966 partial meltdown at the Fermi 1 experimental plutonium breeder reactor near Monroe, MichiganThe environmental coalition challenging the construction and operating license for Detroit Edison's (DTE) proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor has defended its National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) contention against the revisionist history proposed by DTE, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (MI SHPO) regarding Fermi 1. Fermi 1 was the experimental plutonium breeder reactor that suffered a partial meltdown on October 5, 1966, as chronicled in John G. Fuller's We Almost Lost Detroit (book cover, left).

In order to make way for Fermi 3, DTE has propsed to demolish the Fermi 1 containment structure, despite its eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. To "mitigate" the loss of the historic site, DTE, NRC, and MI SHPO met -- without public participation, a violation of NHPA -- and agreed to merely create a small book shelf for "historic documents" at Monroe County Community College.

The coalition, consisting of Beyond Nuclear, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don't Waste Michigan, and the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, have objected that this "mitigation" glosses over Fermi 1's true, dark history -- its initial intention to generate weapons-grade plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, its partial meltdown which came precariously close to radiological catastrophe for the entire region, etc. -- as a form of propaganda favoring Fermi 3.

Its attorney, Terry Lodge of Toledo, wrote:

"A prudent reading of the answers of DTE and the NRC Staff to Intervenors’ motion reveals that the very meaning of the word 'history' is not agreed. There is no agreement on the breadth nor extent of the detailed history of Fermi 1, nor what public officials charged with portraying the history of the plant should present. Part of the reason for this disagreement lies in the complete ignorance of the true facts of Fermi 1 as espoused by none other than the Michigan Historic Preservation Officer:

Based on the information provided for our review, the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) concurs with the determination of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the proposed undertaking will have an adverse effect on the Enrico Fermi (Fermi 1) Nuclear Power Plant, which appears to meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as one of the first power reactors of its type that operated safely and proved the feasibility of the fast breeder design on a commercial scale.

But the 'feasible' Fermi 1 generated fewer than three weeks of commercially-marketable electricity before the decision was made to junk it. The 'safe' Fermi 1 came to within moments of completely melting down and exploding; the design has never since been replicated anywhere on the planet, and will never be constructed again. General Pyrrhus might have been referring to Fermi 1 when he commented, 'One more such victory and we are defeated.' Michigan’s professional historian possesses such a grossly inaccurate grasp of Fermi 1's unique place in nuclear power history that the story told may bear more resemblance to conscious propagandizing than historical truth."



The coalition's NHPA contention was filed on Independence Day.