Students surveying nuclear plant communities

As part of a course in Engineering and Public Policy Carnegie Mellon, graduate student Katie Bastine and fellow students are gathering input from communities that are home to nuclear power plants. 

Three Mile Island Alert will post the results of the survey as they are made available.

To link to the survey web site, go to: www.epp.cmu.edu/httpdocs/undergraduate/summaries/Nuclear/index.html

 

Here is a response from the former editor of Middletown's hometown newspaper:

 

 1. As an outside observer, what is your impression of the nuclear power plant?

It scares me and I wonder when something will go wrong, and if  people will know about it, if and when it does. 

 

 

 2. Could you tell me a little about the history of interactions between the plant and the community (anything that stands out)?

When I came to Middletown, Pa., in March 2006, the company had a community "picnic" day out by the plant shortly after my arrival. 

They sent the local newspaper a picture of kids climbing on the a rock wall that looked like a cooling tower. It creeped me out because it seemed to be saying "it's so safe kids can play on it." 

Yet, when I went on a tour of the plant, we had to go through razor wire and all kinds of security by heavily armed guards. 

 

3. Do you know of any initiatives created by the nuclear power plant which promote community growth and involvement?  If so, could you please describe these types of programs.

After a local group got on their case about reassessing the property, and they caught up their millions in back taxes, they started giving out money to a lot of community groups. They gave $500 to the historical society in Highspire, they funded the local Autumn Fest in Middletown, Communities That Care bookmobile, and other things. Each time there was a press release on it and the newspaper was asked to send a photographer. We usually did, because the family-owned paper also ran its own small printing press and TMI was one of its commercial printing customers. TMI would run huge, full page color ads in the local paper, on Earth Day, for example, touting how environmentally friendly they are. "Every day is Earth Day at TMI." This made a lot of money for the little newspaper. I guess TMI forgot about the radioactive waste that is waiting for burial in the Earth.

 

4. What do you perceive as the objectives of these interactions with the community? The objective is clearly to have the community's support for their presence. The slogan "Clean, Safe, Reliable," shows up in some form in almost every press release, every interview, every article. 

 

5. On a scale of 1-7, how effective are these interactions in achieving the perceived objectives where 4 is neutral?

I'd say they are a 5 or better. People are somewhat content about the plant being there because almost everyone in the community knows someone's whose livelihood is connected to the plant. When they see TMI in the paper doing those things, they think, "They are good community players."

 

6. How important are these efforts to you? They are moot, as long as the waste piles up out on the island with no solution for it, and as long as there are "minor" accidents and situations happening on a fairly regular basis inside TMI and other plants. And they are; check the NRC federal record. 

 

a.) How often do they occur? The community events/photo ops are orchestrated on a regular basis. Seemed like once a month for a while. 

b.) Would you have the same views of the power plant if they did not reach out to the community in these ways? Yes. They have not changed my mind. I'm glad they help the community, but Autumn Fest will seem rather insignificant if there is ever another leak out of the plant. 

 

 7. How frequently do you get information that is disseminated from the nuclear power plant? TMI was in regular contact with the local newspaper and as I said, got regular coverage, as a paying advertiser in that paper. (From which I resigned as editor after three years.) They were in the weekly newspaper every couple of weeks. 

 

 8. What type of communication is it that you receive? Articles on who they gave money to and how much. As editor, I tried also to publish OpEds and letters that were critical of the plant, to bring balance. 

 

9. Are there ways that community members can participate in any part of the decision making processes of the power plant? The NRC, by law, must hold public hearings that allow public comment to go in the permanent record. I have been in these meetings. People are heard, the comments are both critical and supportive. Township commissioners and other officials voice support, especially in areas that receive taxes from the plant. Other residents say they are scared and there needs to be better surveillance, better evacuation plans, etc. 

 

10. If so, what part? If not, would you be interested in being involved in this process? How so? I have become involved. After being the editor in TMI's home town, seeing that waste stored out on that island on the river so close to people's homes, touring the plant, hearing the "Clean, Safe, Reliable" chant over and over, even while they are scrambling to keep an old plant operating safely, I said I just can't be their advocate – as a journalist – any more. I quit and went to work for the watch dog group that has been around since before the accident. After reading NRC inspection reports for the last several months, I am convinced that the NRC does only a marginal job of holding the industry accountable, and that it is only a matter of time before one of the small incidents I read about in the NRC reports (not necessarily at TMI; these things happen at all the plants) is not handled sufficiently and there is another accident - maybe a disaster - that affects the public. 

 

11. Does your local government have any initiatives to provide oversight of the power plant? Most of it is at the federal level. There are onsite inspectors from the NRC. Locally, there are evacuation plans for schools and daycares. I know local police and authorities have special training for an accident scenario and there are community drills, siren tests. I'm not aware of other initiatives. 

 

 12. What other forms of community involvement would you like to see or initiate? I'd like to see people reading those NRC reports. I'm writing summaries of them for our web site, and some of them are very frightening in how they describe things going wrong inside the plant. The "human error component" is always there. 

 

13. What form of community involvement would you like to see

implemented? I'd like to see the plants have to give regular reports to the community of their safety incidents, of how much waste is accumulating, of transportation or security problems, of their output of radiation into the river or soil. 

As it stands now, the public has to dig for this stuff. Plants should have to tell the people around them everything. 

 

Katie Bastine may be contacted at: 

 

  kbastine@andrew.cmu.edu