In the quest for a renewable source of energy, nuclear power has been a perennial, if controversial contender.
In Indiana, construction of a massive nuclear plant near Madison was well underway by March 1979 at the time of the Three Mile Island accident. The potentially cataclysmic event sent a shiver through the nuclear industry that ultimately resulted in the abandonment of the state’s largest capital project to date.
Proposed by Public Service Indiana (PSI, later Cinergy) in 1973, the Marble Hill nuclear power generating plant had a $700 million price tag, which had doubled by the time construction began in August 1977.
The plant covered 987 acres at a site 30 miles south of Madison. Slated to be complete as early as 1982, the enormous mega-wattage the facility would produce was to be distributed to energy cooperatives throughout Indiana and Kentucky.
The plant’s construction involved 8,000 workers at its peak, substantially stimulating the local economy.
Workers admitted to covering up defects, such as “honeycombs”–air pockets in the concrete walls of the containment buildings that would allow for the passage of radioactive gas in the event of an accident. In such a case, it was speculated, those within 30 miles of the plant would be affected.
Amid PSI’s allegations of a Soviet plot to stymie nuclear development, Governor Robert Orr put a halt to development at Marble Hill in 1984, citing massive cost overruns. An estimated $2.8 billion had been spent, and the plant was only partially complete.
3,500 workers were laid off, and Jefferson County’s unemployment rate rose to 24%. Eventually, the US government sued Wabash Valley Power Association for the $650 million the feds had sunk into the project, causing Wabash Valley to seek bankruptcy protection.
Much of its equipment and components sold off, Marble Hill has been undergoing demolition.