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.

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Basic Data
NameRancho Seco nuclear power station, closed down by referendum in 1989, California, United States
CountryUnited States of America
Site 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 CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe 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 (in USD)750,000,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population400,000
Start Date1975
End Date06/1989
Company Names or State EnterprisesBabcock & Wilcox
Pacific Gas and Electricity from United States of America
Relevant government actorsSMUD Sacramento Municipal Utility District (owner of the plant)

Governor of California
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters- 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.
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCreation 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
OtherNuclear waste
Health ImpactsVisible: Deaths, Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents
OtherThere were deaths in accidents in the plant
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseProject cancelled
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.A referendum in 1989 stopped this nuclear power station, when still had a licence to run for many years.
Sources and Materials

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

(2) April 28, 2016. Sacramento Bee. Company seeks to store nuclear waste from Rancho Seco, other power plants. BY EDWARD ORTIZ
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Article in wikipedia
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Cooling Accident at Rancho Seco Chills Nuclear Power Industry. August 31, 1986|STEVE GEISSINGER | Associated Press
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Media Links

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.
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Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant with a drone.
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Other Documents

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Meta Information
Last update05/07/2017