Maine Nuclear Fission for Electricity Prohibition, Referendum Question (1980)

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The Maine Nuclear Fission for Electricity Prohibition Initiative, also known as Referendum Question, was on the September 23, 1980 ballot in Maine as an indirect initiated state statute, where it was defeated.[1] The measure would have prohibited the generation of electrical power by means of nuclear fission.[2]


On March 28, 1979, a partial melt down occurred at one of the Three Mile Island reactors near Middletown, Pennsylvania.[3] This event, and other incidents at nuclear facilities, fueled movements across the country to limit and even prohibit the use of nuclear fission power plants. In Maine, the particular target of the initiative's supporters was the Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, which opened in 1972 and ultimately closed in 1996.[4] This initiative was the first of several initiatives directed at that plant, which was Maine's only nuclear power generating station.

A state-published booklet was mandated by the 109th legislature on the theory, safety and impact of nuclear power. It was complied by the Department of Human Services. The introduction to this booklet stated that it sought to explain safe levels of radioactive emissions from the Maine Yankee Atomic Power Plant. It also stated, "All that appears certain at this point is that the risk of a catastrophic accident is clearly remote but not nonexistent."[5]

Election results

Maine Referendum Question (1980)
Defeatedd No233,19859.13%
Yes 161,181 40.89%

Election results via: Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library, Votes on Initiated Bills 1980-

Text of measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[2]

Shall "AN ACT to Prohibit the Generation of Electric Power by Means of Nuclear Fission," become law? [6]


This initiative is said to have changed the way that ballot measure campaigns were conducted in Maine for the next several decades. According to Christian Potholm, a professor of government at Bowden College and author of a history of Maine's campaigns and elections:

The campaign issued in twenty years of highly contentious, very expensive, 'national' issue races with groups and organizations and individuals from all over the United States coming to Maine to participate in national contests virtually every electoral cycle after that.


—Christian Potholm[7]

In 1982, a second attempt was made to end the use of nuclear fission for electricity production in Maine, but that measure was also defeated.[1] In 1985, an indirect initiated state statute was approved which required voter approval for any plan for the storage or disposal of low-level radioactive waste.[1][8][9] In 1987, voters approved the continued operation of the Maine Yankee power plant with high-level nuclear waste production.[1][10]

In 1989, voters approved a low-level radioactive waste agreement with the Rocky Mountain Low-Level Radioactive Waste Board. That agreement ended on December 31, 1992.[11] A new agreement was made in 1993 after voters voted in favor of a legislatively-referred state statute, which approved an interstate compact with Texas and Vermont for the disposal of the state's low-level radioactive waste at a proposed facility in the state of Texas.


  • Ray Shaddi
  • Dr. Rosalie Bertell, cancer and radiation researcher[12]
  • Thorton W. Merriam Jr., M.D., a Bangor area physician[13]
The Maine Yankee in Wiscasset, Maine. Closed in 1996

Ray Shaddis was one of the main organizers of the initiative. The effort to put the initiative on the ballot started at an organizational meeting in Edgecomb Town Hall which drew hundreds of supporters. When an earthquake struck Maine on April 17, 1979, the organizers of the initiative got a boost from fears about what could have happened at the Maine Yankee, which was shut down for repairs at the time of the earthquake, which measured 4.0 on the modified Mercalli scale.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell, a cancer and radiation researcher and member of the Gray Nuns of the Sacred Heart, spoke in favor of the initiative at University of Maine on September 13, 1980. She claimed that energy alternatives would never be developed while Maine remained partially depended on Maine Yankee power plant. She also claimed that the federal government and nuclear industry were suppressing scientific evidence that clearly links exposure to low-level radiation to increased cancers and other diseases normally associated with older persons.[12]

Local Bangor, Maine physician, Thorton W. Merriam Jr., M.D., also supported the initiative. He stated that, in the case of nuclear power, the risks outweighed the benefits.[13]


  • Dr. Petr Beckmann, professor of electrical engineering at University of Colorado in Boulder[14]

Dr. Petr Beckman supported the measure, claiming that nuclear power could not be proven to be more dangerous than fossil fuels and, therefore, there was no better alternative to it. He claimed anti-nuclear perspectives were "shallow superstitions" and only passingly "very fashionable." He also likened the perspective to ,"those who opposed vaccination, the railroads and thousands of other beneficial innovations."[14]

Path to the ballot

See also: Maine signature requirements

The petition for the initiative gathered 55,834 signatures to qualify the measure in December 1979.[7]

Similar measures

See also

Suggest a link

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library, "Votes on Initiated Bills 1980-," accessed April 23, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bangor Daily News, "State of Maine Special Election September 23, 1980: Important Notice to All Voters of the State of Maine," September 16, 1980
  3. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, "Backgrounder on the Three Mile Island Accident," February 11, 2013
  4. Maine Yankee, "Public Information," accessed April 23, 2014
  5. Bangor Daily News, "State booklet explains N-power," September 16, 1980
  6. 6.0 6.1 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Potholm, C. (2003). This Splendid Game: Maine campaigns and elections, 1940-2002. Oxford: Lexington Books.
  8. Bangor Daily News, "State of Maine Special Election November 5, 1985: Important Notice to All Voters of the State of Maine," October 29, 1985
  9. Laws of the State of Maine as Passed by the One Hundred and Twelfth Legislature, "Initiated Bills, Chapter 1," accessed April 24, 2014
  10. Bangor Daily News, "State of Maine Special Election November 3, 1987: Important Notice to All Voters of the State of Maine," October 27, 1987
  11. Agreement to Accept Rocky Mountain Waste, "Recitals," September 30, 1992
  12. 12.0 12.1 Bangor Daily News, "Radiation expert urges 'yes' vote on N-referendum," September 15, 1980
  13. 13.0 13.1 Bangor Daily News, "Benefits outweighed," September 16, 1980
  14. 14.0 14.1 Bangor Daily News, "No-nukes fad will pass," September 16, 1980