In The Pipeline: The nuclear plant that never was

March 23, 2011|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Duane…)

I received an interesting e-mail last week: "With all of the nuclear plant concerns in Japan due to the earthquake/tsunami, it might be timely to do a column on Bolsa Island. Most residents of H.B. and very few politicians realize how close we came to having a very large nuclear power plant built at Bolsa Chica State Beach in the 1960s."

The note went on to explain that Bolsa Island would have produced more electricity than the Hoover Dam and provided 250 million gallons a day of desalinated seawater — and that even the city logo has a nuclear symbol on it, which is the only remaining hint at what was to be the Bolsa Island Project.

The note was from Duane Wentworth, son of the late city historian — and my dear friend — Alicia Wentworth, and so how wonderfully appropriate to have the Wentworth name attached once more to a city history piece. Here we go.


Duane was kind enough to share his historic materials with me, and it's fascinating stuff. I'd heard scant few details about this project over the years, and now, to see it all brought to life like this was startling.

According to Duane, a human-made island called Bolsa Island was to have existed, just south of Warner Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway.

From a 131-page Department of the Interior cost overview to a wildly enthusiastic piece from national columnist James J. Kilpatrick to a slickly produced sales brochure, this project did seem to generate a ton of enthusiastic heat, as it were.

As a New York Times headline from May 20, 1967, trumpeted, "Johnson Approves Start on $444-Million Project." The article began, "President Johnson signed today a bill authorizing a start of a $444-million project to use the power of the atom to turn sea water into fresh water. The desalting plant will be built off the coast of California, and the goal is to turn out 150 million gallons of fresh water a day."

Five days later, in Kilpatrick's widely read column, these words appeared: "…the approval of Bolsa Island will be seen as one of the most valuable acts of the 90th Congress… The whole bold venture speaks eloquently of what can be achieved by science, private capital and government, working together."

He went on to describe the 40-acre island just offshore, which was to include not one but two nuclear power plants "built to withstand the shock of earthquakes."

We were even on Ike's radar.

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