The borough of Shippingport, in Beaver County down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, was the site of the world’s first commercial nuclear power plant. It was decommissioned in 1982. But the Bruce Mansfield coal-fired power plant is still standing in Shippingport, producing 2,640 MW of electricity by burning seven million tons of coal annually.
After all that coal has been burned, the ash has to go somewhere. That somewhere is the impoundment created by damming the Little Blue Run in nearby Greene Township. According to a spokesman for the power company, EnergyFirst, “The dam contains 9 million cubic yards of fill material. It is 400 feet high, 1,300 feet thick at the base and 2,200 feet across at the crest of the dam”.
The federal EPA has now placed the Little Blue Run impoundment on a list of 44 “high hazard potential” impoundments containing “coal combustion residuals”– it is the only Pennsylvania entry.
“The presence of liquid coal ash impoundments near our homes, schools and business could pose a serious risk to life and property in the event of an impoundment rupture,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By compiling a list of these facilities, EPA will be better able to identify and reduce potential risks by working with states and local emergency responders.”
The Bruce Mansfield plant has a history of accidents and legal battles. This recent move by the EPA may encourage a new wave of local action.