Last update:

Rancho Seco nuclear power station, closed down by referendum in 1989, California, United States

Residents of Sacramento, California, voted in June 1989 to shut down a 913 MW nuclear power plant, the first time voters decided to close a working reactor. The reasons were economic and environmental.


In June 1989, residents of Sacramento, California, voted to shut down their utility's only nuclear power plant (1). The plant was closed by a public vote in 1989, a decade before its operating license was to expire.  The vote was 53.4 percent to shut the plant and 46.6 percent to keep it open.

See more
Basic Data
Name of conflict:Rancho Seco nuclear power station, closed down by referendum in 1989, California, United States
Country:United States of America
State or province:California
Location of conflict: Clay Station, Herald, 25 miles SE of Sacramento
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Nuclear power plants
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The 913 MWe Babcock & Wilcox pressurized water reactor achieved criticality on 16 September 1974 and entered commercial operation on 17 April 1975. In 2005 the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that an accident in Rancho Seco in 1986 (3) was the third most serious safety-related occurrence in the United States (Behind the Three Mile Island accident and the cable tray fire at Browns Ferry). The plant operated from April 1975 to June 1989 but had a lifetime capacity utilization average of only 39%; it was closed by public vote on 7 June 1989. Operation of the recreational area was assumed by SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) in 1992. There is a recreation park in the area (after the reactor was closed) but 493 nuclear fuel assemblies remained stored in casks in concrete bunkers. The assemblies held 22 metric tons of uranium, said Einar Ronningen manager of Rancho Seco assets for SMUD. There are plans to remove the stored nuclear waste (2).

Level of Investment for the conflictive project750,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:400,000
Start of the conflict:1975
End of the conflict:06/1989
Company names or state enterprises:Babcock & Wilcox
Pacific Gas and Electricity from United States of America
Relevant government actors:SMUD Sacramento Municipal Utility District (owner of the plant)
Governor of California
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- Sacramentans for SAFE Energy (SAFE) called for the SMUD board of directors to commission a study of the safety and economic risks associated with Rancho Seco. 1986.
- Abalone Alliance. In late 1981, Alliance activists along with local opposition held an eight-day sit-in at the State Capitol, encouraging Governor Jerry Brown to use emergency powers to shut down the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station.
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Referendum other local consultations
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Air pollution, Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Other Environmental impactsNuclear waste
Health ImpactsVisible: Deaths, Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents
Other Health impactsThere were deaths in accidents in the plant
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Project cancelled
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:A referendum in 1989 stopped this nuclear power station, when still had a licence to run for many years.
Sources & Materials

(2) April 28, 2016. Sacramento Bee. Company seeks to store nuclear waste from Rancho Seco, other power plants. BY EDWARD ORTIZ
[click to view]

Cooling Accident at Rancho Seco Chills Nuclear Power Industry. August 31, 1986|STEVE GEISSINGER | Associated Press
[click to view]

Article in wikipedia
[click to view]

(1) New York Times, "Voters, in a First, Shut Down Nuclear Reactor". By MATTHEW L. WALD. June 8, 1989

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant is now a ghost. 18 Mar 2011. SMUD's closed Rancho Seco Nuclear plant is now a ghost -- empty buildings, vacant lots and thick concrete bunkers that safely and securely store used fuel rods.
[click to view]

Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant with a drone.
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2894
Legal notice / Aviso legal
We use cookies for statistical purposes and to improve our services. By clicking "Accept cookies" you consent to place cookies when visiting the website. For more information, and to find out how to change the configuration of cookies, please read our cookie policy. Utilizamos cookies para realizar el análisis de la navegación de los usuarios y mejorar nuestros servicios. Al pulsar "Accept cookies" consiente dichas cookies. Puede obtener más información, o bien conocer cómo cambiar la configuración, pulsando en más información.