Do You Want To Live Near A Nuclear Power Plant? President Obama announced a multi-billion dollar loan to build a new nuclear reactor in Georgia. But in Vermont, the state senate denied a plant renewal of its license amid safety concerns. Guests look at nuclear power: The policy, the plants and the public perception.
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Do You Want To Live Near A Nuclear Power Plant?

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Do You Want To Live Near A Nuclear Power Plant?

Do You Want To Live Near A Nuclear Power Plant?

Do You Want To Live Near A Nuclear Power Plant?

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President Obama announced a multi-billion dollar loan to build a new nuclear reactor in Georgia. But in Vermont, the state senate denied a plant renewal of its license amid safety concerns.

Guests look at nuclear power: The policy, the plants and the public perception.


Rebecca Smith, covers nuclear energy for the Wall Street Journal

Lydia DePillis, reporter and researcher for the New Republic. She wrote "A Nuclear Power Plant With A View" for Slate

Eugene Rosa, professor of sociology and environmental policy at Washington State University


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

After accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, nuclear power appeared to be politically dead. Not one new nuclear power plant has been built in this country for 30 years. Now, though, the winds have shifted.

President Obama argues that climate change alters the calculation. He recently announced a multibillion-dollar loan guarantee to cover construction of new reactors in Georgia, and says more is available to help fund a renaissance of nuclear power.

But as a reminder that deep doubts remain, the Vermont state senate last week voted overwhelmingly to deny license renewal for the nuclear power plant that provides 30 percent of that state's electricity.

Later in the program, the dilution of Oscar's Best Picture list - on the Opinion Page this week - but first, what's changed in the calculation for nuclear power? Call and tell us what's happening where you live. We especially want to hear from those of you who live near a nuclear power plant.

Our phone number, 800-989-8255, email us, And you can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Rebecca Smith covers nuclear energy for the Wall Street Journal, and she joins us today from a studio in San Francisco. Nice to have you with us on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. REBECCA SMITH (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): My pleasure.

CONAN: And is the future for nuclear power in Vermont or in Georgia?

Ms. SMITH: I would say it's definitely in Georgia more than Vermont. I mean, as you pointed out at the top of the show, there was a very unusual vote that took place in Vermont - and it's unusual, actually, for a state to have much say at all in whether nuclear power goes forward.

CONAN: Indeed, it is unusual for a state. Nevertheless, 24 to 3, lots of doubts about the trustability of both the owners of the power plant and the future of nuclear power in that state.

Ms. SMITH: That's right. I think it kind of shows that even though there's a lot happening right now to try to develop new plants, there's still considerable worry about the old ones, and we have 104 operating reactors in this country. There are plans now to build approximately two dozen new ones. But probably the greatest threat to the new plants is what happens with the old ones, particularly if there are growing safety worries.

CONAN: And indeed, those old ones are aging, and the leak of tritium is the concern at that Vermont Yankee plant, there in Vermont. Nevertheless, you're talking about a renaissance of nuclear power: 30 percent of the electrical power provided by nuclear in Vermont, 20 percent nationwide. If these old plants are coming offline - and they're obviously all aging, if no new ones have been built for 30 years - something's got to replace that.

Ms. SMITH: That's right. And President Obama, I would say he was sort of ambivalent about nuclear power, at least during the election period. Now, the administration seems to be warming quite a bit, and I think it's because there's consensus that if the nation's going to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we're going to have to increase the amount of power coming from the nuclear side.

CONAN: The number of issues, though, remain unchanged over the past 30 years. For one thing, there's still no place, no federal repository, for nuclear waste.

Ms. SMITH: That's right. And as a consequence, there are just there's a tremendous amount of nuclear waste that is piling up on utility sites. Many of these plants have filled their pools. They're now moving their waste into what they call dry cask storage. And at some point, the federal government is going to have to live up to its legal duty to provide a waste repository.

CONAN: The one proposed for Nevada was a major factor in the election there last time around. One thing we know: It's not going to be at Yucca Mountain.

Ms. SMITH: That's right. Well, I mean, it appears that way. There certainly appears to be a solid bloc of opposition in that state to being the one that will bear the nation's burden for nuclear waste. And as you may know, originally there was supposed to have been a site in the East and a site in the West, but the site in the East disappeared long ago. And I think it's understandable that Nevada doesn't want to have to have every bit of nuclear waste from the civilian side wind up there.

CONAN: The other part of this calculation, though, wasn't so much on technical questions of which sites are safe and all of that. It was on the politics of this. People became really dubious of the benefits of nuclear power, that it was safe at all. Has that calculation changed?

Ms. SMITH: Now, are we talking about in Vermont now or in Nevada?

CONAN: No, I was talking about more nationwide...

Ms. SMITH: Just generally. Yeah.

CONAN: ...because if we're looking at a recrudescence of nuclear power, it's going to be an issue that comes up in a lot of places.

Ms. SMITH: I think we may see more of this. As we pointed out, there are 104 operating reactors in the U.S. Fifty-nine of those have received extensions of their original licenses. Now, they all were given 40-year licenses, and it was originally contemplated that at the end of that period, they would be shut down.

But now, the U.S. feels that it can't afford to give those plants up, and also, many of them are running better now than they ever have in the past. And so there are 19 applications pending for more renewals, and the rest of them will, you know, drift in over time.

So this has gone through almost without a single hiccup. There hasn't been a single renewal that's been voted down by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I think what Vermont may show is that states are beginning to look at their own powers and carving out more of a role for themselves.

New York has been drifting in this direction, as well. There are two plants up there that Indian Point and Buchanan, where there's been opposition to those plants. And ironically, those plants plus the one in Vermont were all going to be spun off into a new nuclear company by the owner, Entergy Corp. And this, of course, has clouded that possibility.

CONAN: Here's an email that we have from David, an ex-U.S. Navy engineering duty officer in Fresno: You could point out the U.S. Navy has been operating nuclear submarines for over 40 years without any nucleonic-related accidents. Sailors operating these subs not only live near a nuclear reactor, they are living with the reactor. And indeed, since Three Mile Island, the safety record has been, at least in this country, exemplary.

Ms. SMITH: You know, that actually points out a very, very interesting trend that we're starting to see right now, which is interest in small reactors. Part of this is, in fact, inspired by what would appear to be a very fine record by our nuclear Navy. I don't know that this is true of all of them. I think there's a little more trepidation about the Russian designs, for example. But our Navy has operated very, very well with nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. And now, there are some companies - General Atomics is one, Babcock & Wilcox is another - that are proposing...

CONAN: The company that makes those naval reactors.

Ms. SMITH: They built some of them, that's right. And they're proposing to build, now, small, civilian reactors that could be used anywhere in the world. Many of them do not require water for cooling, and roughly 80 percent of the world's grids, electric grids, are too small to hold some of these big reactors. But they might be able to hold a small one.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. What's changed in the calculation for nuclear power? If you live near a nuclear power plant, we'd especially like to hear from you, 800-989-8255. Email us, Matthew(ph) with us from Birmingham, Alabama.

MATTHEW (Caller): Hi, thank you for having me.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

MATTHEW: I grew up near Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant in north Alabama, and I currently live in Birmingham, but I would move back to an area with a nuclear power plant in a heartbeat - without any reservations. Energy costs were low growing up there, predominately because of the nuclear power plant as well as the hydroelectricity. And in addition to that, there was, as the email pointed out, there haven't been any safety issues to speak of.

One point that I'd like to bring up, I guess in regard to what your guest said as far as nuclear waste disposal, there was a paper published by I forget which university it was, but on a fission-fusion combination reactor that used spent nuclear waste to line their fusion reactor for containment of that fusion reaction. And so they were able to use spent fission material to contain the fusion reaction. And that had somewhere in the neighborhood of six-month to a one-year lifespan for that reactor, which was the best lifespan they've had for any I'm sorry fusion reaction to obtain power.

CONAN: Well that's just one of Matthew, thank you very much for the call. That's just one of the new designs that's being talked about, and in fact, we talk about no new reactors for 30 years. But Rebecca Smith, the science has not stayed still.

Ms. SMITH: No, it hasn't. There's been a great deal of work that's been done. Really, there has been on all fronts, there's been a lot of activity. There's a great deal of interest right now in so-called fast reactors, or breeder reactors, that might be able to take some part of this volume of waste and put it through another cycle.

Roughly 90 to 95 percent of the energy that's in the uranium that's being used now is still left 95 percent of the energy is still in that fuel at the end of its normal cycle now. So the idea is we would take it. There would be a new kind of reactor that would take that spent fuel and extract more energy out of it. In the end, you wind up with a waste stream that is somewhat less toxic.

CONAN: Rebecca Smith, another thing that has changed since the last nuclear power plant came online in this country is the weight that we give to the idea of terrorism - a lot of thought after 9/11 about what would happen if one of those planes had been flown into, say, Indian Point instead of the World Trade Center.

Ms. SMITH: That's right. And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission right now - they're looking at new reactor designs; this is for big reactors that are before them, for five different designs. And recently it said that they're going to take another look at all of these, even those that had been previously been approved, to see if there aren't improvements that should be made to make them less aircraft-strike vulnerable.

CONAN: I'm sure there's a better way to phrase that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I hope they've come up with it.

Ms. SMITH: More resistant, I guess, is what I meant to say.

CONAN: More resistant to plunging aircraft. There's also the question of should, you know, commando squads try to take over a plant and try to steal nuclear materials, and that's a question of safety of another sort.

Ms. SMITH: Mm-hmm. Right.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to excuse me James(ph), James with us from Ellensburg in Washington.

JAMES (Caller): Hi. My grandmother was a downwinder for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. That means she got exposed to radioactive iodine. She got thyroid cancer. She's come through it OK. Nobody else in our family has it, so we know it was something odd.

CONAN: And that was from the development of the materials for the atomic bomb back in the Second World War.

JAMES: Yeah. Yeah.

CONAN: And what does that do to your feelings about the safety of nuclear energy?

JAMES: Believe it or not, I'm still OK with it because that was an experimental stage. I'm a true believer in science, and what was happening there, people were doing things that they didn't understand yet. We understand it a lot better now.

As for the worry about an armed commando squad taking over a nuclear power plant, I dare anybody to kayak down the Columbia River past the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and not get a rifle pulled on them by a half-dozen soldiers.

CONAN: Indeed. James, thanks very much for that warning. I'll avoid it. Appreciate the phone call. We're talking with Rebecca Smith of the Wall Street Journal about what's changed in the calculation on nuclear power as the Obama administration proposes as much as $54 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors. Call and tell us what's happening where you live. We especially want to hear from those of you who live near a nuclear power plant, 800-989-8255. Email, Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Public perceptions will play a huge role in the debate over the future of nuclear power. Studies say that people who describe themselves as patriotic and family-oriented are more likely to support nuclear power. People who are more concerned with environmental issues, such as climate change, are less likely to support nuclear power. More on that in a moment.

Our guest is Rebecca Smith, who covers nuclear energy for the Wall Street Journal. We want to hear from you about what's changed in the calculation on nuclear power. Call and tell us what's happening where you live. We especially want to hear from those of you who live near a nuclear power plant, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Geography, state laws and the availability of big, open spaces: Those are just a few of the factors that energy companies take into consideration when they try to find the perfect spot for a new nuclear reactor.

Lydia DePillis is a reporter and researcher at the New Republic. She wrote "A Nuclear Power Plant With A View: How Do Energy Companies Decide Where to Build New Reactors?" on, and she joins us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Ms. LYDIA DePILLIS (Reporter, Researcher, New Republic) Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And as I understand it, the great majority of the proposals for new reactors are on the same sites as old reactors.

Ms. DePILLIS: That's right. There are a bunch of applications already in, and it takes such a long time for an entirely new site to be approved, to go through all the steps in the process, that it just makes much more sense for companies to say look, we have space for a new reactor on this site that was built for several originally, and we only got around to building one or two.

CONAN: Right, that site in Georgia that we're talking about was originally licensed for - I think as many as four. They only have two. So they can build two more.

Ms. DePILLIS: Correct.

CONAN: And these are sites that have already been cleared in terms of, well, the environmental issues that are going to be raised about any site where you're going to put a nuclear reactor.

Ms. DePILLIS: That's correct. And, you know, there are several geographical factors that a company has to take into account when they consider where to put an entirely new one, which they haven't done in decades.

CONAN: But they would include?

Ms. DePILLIS: So first of all, you have to have a big source of water because all of the reactors currently in the United States need water to cool them.

CONAN: Rebecca Smith was talking about a new design that may not need water, but that's not been licensed to operate yet.

Ms. DePILLIS: Right. Exactly, and so there are examples of companies that have built, you know, artificial lakes in order to create that source but predominately, you have to have either the Great Lakes - or down in the South, they have other bodies of water.

CONAN: Or the Atlantic Ocean, or something like that. Another factor is any kind of form of electricity, well, transmission of power is hugely inefficient. So you want to be near a source of well, a big city.

Ms. DePILLIS: Exactly. You lose power when you go through lines. So you want to make sure you're close enough to your demand source that you're as efficient as possible, but also far away enough that you don't get in the way of a city's operations.

And a city, of course, is also a source of labor for building a reactor. You need, you know, on average about 2,000 people to build one, and around 500 in order to maintain your average nuclear reactor on an ongoing basis.

CONAN: Another factor, obviously, is stability of the land. We've just been talking about a lot of earthquakes. You don't want to build it on a fault.

Ms. DePILLIS: No, certainly not. I think that would be one of the first things they took into account.

CONAN: And obviously, the other part about this is: How many jobs does a nuclear power plant create over time? I mean, is it a big employer?

Ms. DePILLIS: I would say it's a medium-size employer. I mean, it is, you know, I just mentioned the figure of 500, which is what the - sort of experts around this have told me. And it is a steady source of employment, and they're good jobs. They're, you know, engineers, technicians. You need education. It's not just not just anyone can walk in and maintain the nuclear plant.

CONAN: And given the applications that we've seen thus far, is this pattern likely to continue, that places previously licensed are going to be far and away the most popular?

Ms. DePILLIS: I would say so. There's still quite a bit of capacity in the applications that are in with the regulatory commission. But you know, earlier on, like, early versions of bills have put in a call for as many as 100 new plants, which is obviously unrealistic, but there is a big it's a high goal.

CONAN: It's a demand, it's an interest among many. Rebecca Smith, it was interesting. Some of those smaller nuclear designs that you were talking about - again they're not licensed as yet, that Babcock & Wilcox, for example, were talking about - might be designed for very industrial-centric activities, places like oil refineries, that sort of thing.

Ms. SMITH: Yeah, it's fascinating, or even some of the high-temperature reactors, which would not be the Babcock & Wilcox design. But they're looking at using them for more purposes. Actually, they're it's worth taking a moment just to point out the differences between now and in the past.

They're looking at building reactors factory-style, using modular design so that they could be built onsite more quickly. And also, there would be more or better quality control, and using modern manufacturing methods.

Another reason why they're pushing this right now is that when you're talking jobs, this is a very high-value industry, and the U.S. is seeing an area in which it might rejuvenate the manufacturing base here, and also create a very high-value product that could be exported to other countries.

There's lots of interest in Eastern Europe and other places to buying U.S.-built reactors. They don't want to buy Russian products. We've got 34 nations right now that have nuclear reactors, and probably twice that number that would like to have them.

CONAN: And Lydia DePillis, as you look at the future of this industry, there are a couple places that you're writing about that don't require that are going to be on new kinds of sites. Where are those going to be located, do you think?

Ms. DePILLIS: New kinds of sites. Well, they're you know, you have to take into consideration that a lot of states just forbid nuclear construction out of hand. There are moratoriums in places like California, Hawaii, Illinois. And those but there are several who actually invite construction through tax breaks or help with financing for the building of these, which is tremendously expensive, obviously.

So, you know, places like Florida and other Southern states that are growing in population very quickly, I would think to look there for more new construction.

CONAN: And I think your article pointed out, Kentucky recently reversed its moratorium.

Ms. DePILLIS: That's correct.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much. Lydia DePillis joined us here in Studio 3A. She is a reporter and researcher at the New Republic. Her piece, "A Nuclear Power Plant With A View: How Do Energy Companies Decide Where to Build New Reactors?" was published on

Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is David(ph), David with us from Cedar Rapids in Iowa.

DAVID (Caller): Yeah, hello, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure, go ahead.

DAVID: I live in the area of the Duane Arnold plant around here, and I'm a recent transplant from northern Illinois, where we also got our power from where we also got nuclear power, and I've been told by some of the people that live out here in Cedar Rapids that when a major storm is passing through, that sometimes it tends to weaken the storm.

I haven't witnessed that myself, but that's kind of like I don't know if it's just an old wives' tale that they're saying, but...

CONAN: Well, it can't be a very old wives' tale because, well, it's a relatively new phenomenon. But anyway...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVID: Yeah, but I have noticed that even though the rest of the state tends to get some very strong storms, at least this past summer, I didn't really notice a whole lot.

CONAN: I wouldn't bet on it, David. This may be just a local anomaly that may pass with time. But anyway, it's an interesting observation. Thanks very much for the phone call.

DAVID: No problem.

CONAN: Eugene Rosa has studied public attitudes towards nuclear power since the 1980s. He's a professor of sociology and environmental policy at Washington State University, with us today from his home in Moscow, Idaho. Nice to have you with us today.

Professor EUGENE ROSA (Professor of Sociology and Environmental Policy, Washington State University): Thank you very much. It's nice to be here.

CONAN: And how have public attitudes changed? There was a decisive shift against nuclear power after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Has that changed?

Prof. ROSA: There is a considerable softening in the level of opposition, and so if you ask a general question of the national public of building nuclear power plants now, you get almost a statistical dead heat, with favorability slightly outpacing opposition.

CONAN: And I've read that, in fact, if you break that down carefully on the basis of education, those more educated are more opposed.

Prof. ROSA: There's in fact, one of the big findings from nearly 30 years of research is that typically, social background characteristics tell you very little about what shapes people's concerns about nuclear power. So if there is a study that does that, it's either an unusual one - or the facts, I'm sure, are not very strong.

CONAN: Oh, so I'm incorrect in that belief.

Prof. ROSA: I think that's yes.

CONAN: So these, in other words, in terms of demographics, income levels, education...

Prof. ROSA: The only consistent demographic difference that we find is that women tend to be much more more opposed than men over time.

CONAN: And I've read - and again, correct me if I'm wrong - those who live near power plants are more in favor than those who do not.

Prof. ROSA: Well, I haven't seen the recent data on that. I've been reluctant I've looked, and my data's quite old. So I'm not sure about that. There was a period of time when that indeed was true, and then after Three Mile Island in 1979, that changed dramatically.

However, we've now had 30 years of safe - relatively safe operations, and we're in an economic slump, and the proposed 26 nuclear plants at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the moment, 23 of them are at existing sites.

So I think - at least the industry believes that local people are quite acceptable of nuclear power.

CONAN: And do public opinion surveys, this dead heat, suggest that people are open to persuasion one way or the other?

Prof. ROSA: Well, that's a difficult matter. The other thing they need to I think another key point here is let me bring this out - is one of the way of one of the challenges of assessing public opinion in nuclear power, especially at the moment, is that the framing of the survey ideas that framing of the survey questions very much shapes how people start thinking about this technology, which is complex and has a risk.

So for example, if you ask this question: How important do you think nuclear power plants will be in meeting the nation's electricity needs in the years ahead? Eighty percent of the national - American public will say that's - they're for that, and they have said that since 1989, when that question was first asked.

On the other hand, if you ask this question: Overall, would you favor or oppose construction of a nuclear power plant in your area as one of the ways to provide electricity to the U.S., you get a two-to-one response the other way. Sixty percent of the people say they would not be favorable toward that, while 40 percent or less would say they would.

CONAN: That's the so-called NIMBY response, not-in-my-backyard.

Prof. ROSA: At one level, yes. At another level, it's a bit more interesting than that, at least for us as social scientists. And that's because if you go back to the original data I gave you, if you ask the question about the expansion of nuclear power among several environmental proposals, the results, as I pointed out was - are nearly a statistical dead heat. Fifty percent will say yes and 46 percent, no. So it's between the local and the general, the future one.

And the reason for that is from cognitive psychology, we know such things that's called availability heuristics, that things that are concrete rather than abstract are much easier to recall and therefore, tend to dominate our perceptions as we make these judgments. Another factor is that if you think about it, as you ask a question about the future nuclear power versus the generating electricity versus building plants now versus a power plant in your community, you recognize that at the same time, you're introducing risk much more closer, much more real for people...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. ROSA: ...than in the abstract. And so part of what they're saying is - part of their response is a reflection of their assessment of the risk.

CONAN: OK. Eugene Rosa, thanks very much for your time.

Prof. ROSA: You're welcome.

CONAN: Appreciate it. Eugene Rosa, professor of sociology and environmental policy at Washington State University, with us today from his home in Moscow, Idaho. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Ryan(ph), Ryan, with us from Santa Cruz in California.

RYAN (Caller): Hi. You asked a question if we'd live near a nuclear power plant...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

RYAN: ...I'm really not crazy about the idea because they're all so different. And there's so many opportunities for bugs in the design. If we're going to bring on a generation of new power plants, and we're going to have 50 to 100 of these things - I'm just guessing - coming online, I'd love to see there be a couple standard designs that are very, thoroughly vetted and well-engineered. And I'd have to say, I'd feel a lot more comfortable if that was the plan.

CONAN: And would you live near one?

RYAN: I would probably bias my decision against it, but there's a lot of factors and that's I wouldn't veto it because of that.

CONAN: All right. That's interesting. Thank you very much for the call, Ryan.

RYAN: Thank you.

CONAN: And if we go back to Rebecca Smith, who covers energy for the Wall Street Journal, with us there in San Francisco, those are interesting responses. Obviously, politics as well as science is going to play a huge role in this debate as it goes forward.

Ms. SMITH: Yeah. I think we've seen - in many cases, environmental groups that have been opposed to nuclear power are now less opposed. And one of the reasons is because they see a far greater threat through climate change. So they've decided, well, maybe ultimately we'll move to some kind of an economy that's not based on any of these things we have now, but for the short run, we're going to have to have more power from the nuclear side.

CONAN: Also, I think that...

Ms. SMITH: So I think that's an interesting development.

CONAN: And as they look at the limitations of well, if you're going to replace 20 percent of the nation's electrical power that's coming on right now, well, obviously solar power and wind power have well, they have benefits but they also have their drawbacks, and we're a long way from generating that kind of capacity.

Ms. SMITH: Yeah. And you know, the last caller also said he would favor standardized designs and in fact, that is exactly what is happening, is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is looking at five designs. And the idea was they would approve these things. They would thoroughly vet them - some of these, in fact, have already been built in foreign countries like France, and some are under construction in China. But the idea was that there would be standardization.

In the past, almost every plant was a one of a kind, and that caused tremendous problems. So there's a great effort being made right now to not repeat the problems of the past.

CONAN: Let's go next to Karen(ph), Karen, with us from Michigan City, Indiana.

KAREN (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Hi, Karen. Go ahead.

KAREN: We have a power plant right on the shores of Lake Michigan that was originally supposed to be a nuclear plant, but there was such an uproar about it that it became a coal-power plant, coal-fire power plant. And I have to say that I agree that I would not want the nuclear plant in the town where I live.

There's I don't disagree with the science. I think the science is correct. But it's the contractors who take shortcuts, and the minimum-wage workers who come into work hung over - those are the people, you know - the disgruntled employees. I have to put my life into the hands of those people. And that's what I'd rather not have to deal with.

CONAN: So the risk: If there is an accident, it would be a very bad accident?

KAREN: Yes. Correct.

CONAN: All right, Karen. Thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it. And Rebecca Smith, one thing you pointed out in your writing for the Wall Street Journal, if this is going to happen, or when it happens, it's not going to happen very quickly.

Ms. SMITH: No, nothing moves quickly in nuclear power. We're still looking at probably two to four years before we're going to have plants even beginning construction. And it could be a decade or more before any of these new plants are actually in operation. So it's rather slow moving.

CONAN: In the meantime, that - unless things change, that plant in Vermont will shut down in 2012?

Ms. SMITH: That's right.

CONAN: Interesting, the company that owns it says this fight is far from over. We shall have to see. Rebecca Smith, thanks very much for being with us today.

Ms. SMITH: My pleasure.

CONAN: Rebecca Smith covers nuclear energy for The Wall Street Journal and joined us from a studio in San Francisco.

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