The motto of the New York Police Department is “fidelis ad mortem,” a Latin phrase meaning “faithful until death.” After retiring to Shelter Island in 1974, former NYPD Officer William Romanchuk never forgot his duty to serve.
As president of the Suffolk County Senior’s Council, Mr. Romanchuk was one of the leader’s protesting the Long Island Lighting Company’s plan to build a nuclear power plant in Shoreham in the 1980s. Veteran journalist and Reporter columnist Karl Grossman described Mr. Romanchuk as the “most impressive figure in the opposition.”
The $6 billion dollar plant would be capable of producing astounding amounts of energy, but also — as evidenced by the late 20th Century disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl — catastrophic disasters. Mr. Romanchuk’s activism directly influenced the decision to close the plant. Now, six years after his death, author Jennifer Wood has published “Fighting Faustian Fission: Bill Romanchuk and the Nuclear Nightmare.”
Ms. Wood interviewed the Islander before his passing in 2008, and was granted access to his extensive collection of documents and letters regarding the Shoreham protest.
According to his daughter, Julie Romanchuk, her father “was taken with the pristine nature of eastern Long Island” once he left Manhattan. He saw the power plant both as an encroachment on this serenity and as a legitimate danger to his fellow citizens, so he began protesting in the early 1980s, and accelerated his efforts after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. His parents hailed from Ukraine, and Ms. Romanchuk believed her father was particularly fearful the United States would suffer the same tragedy that befell his family’s homeland.
Ms. Wood employs the image of a cop blowing a whistle to alert others of trouble on the cover of her book, which is apt, since Mr. Romanchuk saw the threat of Shoreham and fought tenaciously to expose the danger to anyone who would listen. He published columns in regional newspapers, wrote to local and state officials, and even had the audacity to launch a short-lived impeachment campaign against President Ronald Reagan for not stopping construction on the plant.
The core of Mr. Romanchuk’s argument against LILCO centered on the power company’s inability to provide a credible plan for evacuation in the event of an emergency. Logistically, such their plan would be virtually impossible to execute. Bridges into New York City lie 60 miles away from Shoreham and attempting to shuttle two million people across only a handful of exit routes was simply unfeasible.
In 1983, a full year before construction on the plant ended, Governor Mario Cuomo ordered legislators to reject LILCO’s final evacuation proposals,which the did, but the plant received a testing license from the federal government the next year. Between 1985 and 1988 the plant operated at five percent of maximum capacity, until an official decommissioning in early 1989.
The Shoreham power plant came at a tremendous cost to Long Islanders. A twin, non-nuclear power plant was built across Long Island Sound in Connecticut in half the time of Shoreham and for less than a tenth of the price.
The government created LIPA to buy the plant from LILCO, and legislators reached an agreement allowing LIPA to add a three percent surcharge to all power bills for 30 years to finance its $6 billion dollar debt. According to Ms. Wood, it cost taxpayers nearly $200 million dollars to simply close the plant.
For activists like Bill Romanchuk, who worked tirelessly to shutter the plant, the possibility of another disaster outweighed any monetary cost.
Julie Romanchuk recently attended the screening of a documentary about the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Upon seeing footage of the quarantined, utterly desolate city, the younger Romanchuk realized, “this could have been us.”
For more information on “Fighting Faustian Fission: Bill Romanchuk and the Nuclear Nightmare,” contact Julie Romanchuk at [email protected]