What’s it like to live near a nuclear power plant?  To many, such a prospect might seem dangerous or scary.  But like with most things nuclear, perception is often very different from reality.

The fact is, research shows that living near a nuclear power plant poses no particular safety or health risks.  Indeed, nuclear facilities provide significant economic benefit at almost no public health or environmental cost.  That is why communities that have nuclear power plants tend to support nuclear power and are in many cases clamoring to get additional units built.

But polls aren’t always enough.  Sometimes it helps to hear directly from the folks living near these facilities.  And that is what this vignette from The Heritage Foundation’s Powering America documentary project does.  Hearing directly from the men and women that live near and work in nuclear power plants will help the rest of us to better understand the unvarnished realities of nuclear power’s impact on local communities.

Studies support what locals think about safety

The public’s perception is too often defined by attention grabbing headlines.  For example, last year a French study indicated that children living near nuclear facilities are twice as likely to develop leukemia. When subjected to review, however, we quickly learn that the sample of children was too small to indicate any sort of causality between living near a nuclear facility and increased health risk.

A more accurate study conducted by the National Cancer Institute measured the “relative risk” (RR) of children living in counties with nuclear facilities and those without. The study discovered that for people of all ages, the relative risk of cancer increased very little after the start up of a nuclear facility. The Institute stated, “These results provide no evidence that the presence of nuclear facilities influenced cancer death rates in the study counties”.

What about the environment?

Federal, state and local regulators, as well as the industry itself, go to great lengths to protect the environment. They conduct all sorts of monitoring at and around the plant.  This includes testing the air, water and soil, as well as a variety of organic materials (e.g., goat’s milk, soil, well water, shellfish, etc.) for any exposure to radioactive pollution.  One example is at the Millstone Power Plant in Connecticut, where shellfish are sampled on a quarterly basis and milk samples are taken monthly.  These inspectors compile the measurements several times a year and submit an annual report to the NRC.  But the NRC doesn’t just wait to hear from the plants. They maintain resident inspectors at all American nuclear plants to ensure that the highest safety standards are always being followed.

It is not just up to government regulators, however, to ensure safe operations. Power plant operators also take environmental stewardship very seriously. For example, the Turkey Pointe Power Plant, of the Florida Light and Power (FLP) company, is home to more than 100 species of birds and animals. FLP conducts many local wildlife studies and is responsible for the reclassification of the American crocodile from an endangered to a threatened species through its public awareness programs. The Turkey Pointe plant was recognized for its efforts with the industry’s highest award for environmental stewardship and land management.

The people have spoken

Population growth data provides the best example of what people really think of living near nuclear plants.  Take, for example, the community around the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania where the population has gone up 10.9 percent, as opposed to a total population growth of only 3.4 percent for the entire state. The population near the Millstone Power Plant in Connecticut provides another good example.  It increased 29 percent, whereas the increase for the state was less than five percent.

One of the primary reasons for this population shift is the sheer number of benefits there are to living near a nuclear facility. For example, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) estimates that nuclear power plants create between 400-700 permanent jobs per reactor, which pay 36 percent more than the average employer in the area. These permanent jobs also create a significant number of jobs to support the infrastructure of the plant such as car dealerships, grocery stores, etc. NEI also concludes that each year, the average nuclear power plant generates $470 million in the sale of goods and services and almost $40 million in employee income in the area. A survey conducted by NEI reflects these numerous benefits. Out of a little over 1,000 residents living within ten miles of a nuclear plant, 90% of them believe that the plant is good for the local economy and provides great jobs in the area.

Learn more about what living near a nuclear power plant is really like in the new video “Living Near Nuclear Facilities.” Heritage also explores the science behind nuclear energy and its role in the American energy landscape in the 40-minute film Powering America.