Town Subsists Alongside Nuclear Power The town of Seabrook, N.H., has been defined by its nuclear power plant for decades. Residents and officials share their thoughts on the pros and cons of living with nuclear power.
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Town Subsists Alongside Nuclear Power

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Town Subsists Alongside Nuclear Power

Town Subsists Alongside Nuclear Power

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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So while Washington considers more nuclear power, people in Seabrook, New Hampshire have been debating it for decades. Work on the Seabrook station nuclear plant started more than 30 years ago. It went into full operation in 1990.

Reporter Dan Gorenstein went to Seabrook to see how it is living with a nuclear plant in town.

DAN GORENSTEIN: Seabrook, New Hampshire is at once a small New England town with less than 8,000 residents and a prime tourist destination that attracts thousands to its Atlantic Ocean beachfront.

Mr. AL WEIR(ph) (State Representative): Okay. I'm Al Weir, a resident of Seabrook, state representative, town kibitzer, and whatever else, troublemaker, or whatever else that you want to say.

GORENSTEIN: Weir is a retired Marine who still sports a crew cut. He's invited me up into his black pickup truck for a quick tour.

Mr. WEIR: We'll take a fast ride down at the beach. From the beach, you can see the power plant.

GORENSTEIN: As we drive along, Representative Weir says he believes the town is in the plant's debt.

Rep. WEIR: The town put in a town-wide sewer system. They built a town hall. They built a recreation center, a new library, a fire station, a police station.

GORENSTEIN: The only reason you could afford to do it yourself...

Rep. WEIR: Was because of the power plant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORENSTEIN: Weir explains the plant brought in so much tax revenue that the town could afford to slash taxes and at the same time make those infrastructure improvements.

Weir and I get out of his truck. To the east is the beach. To the north is a mile and a half of marshland, green and yellow grasses divided by snaky waterways. It smells saltwater tangy. Hundreds of birds fly around. Weir points to the plant, which sits at the western edge of the marsh.

Rep. WEIR: Yeah, you've got the big building with the dome-type building. If you look at it, you might think that it was a telescope observatory building. But that's the reactor building and then you have the office buildings in support.

GORENSTEIN: Weir drops me off near Seabrook's handsome brick town hall. Conservation commission chair Sue Foote has an office here. Foote has always resented that the plant was cut into the environmentally rich salt marsh, but Foote met Seabrook station employees, took tours, asked tough questions, and now she's not so worried.

Ms. SUE FOOTE (Seabrook Conservation Commission): They have enough safeguards and double backup so I'm not concerned that we're all going to wake up some night glowing lime green.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FOOTE: I would be far more concerned driving 95 for my life than that there's going to be a mistake at the nuclear power plant.

GORENSTEIN: Guy Charchester(ph) scoffs at the thought that someone is safer driving on Interstate 95 than living near a nuclear power plant. He's opposed it from the beginning. The recent earthquake in Japan that caused minor radiation leaks at a nuclear power plant makes the risks of this energy source painfully clear to him.

Mr. GUY CHARCHESTER: The Japanese are saying that we are now faced with something that got coined jen-pat-su-shin-sai(ph); that's a compound word for a compound accident, which means earthquake and meltdown combination.

Ms. TRISH HOLT (Employee, Seabrook Donut Shop): Hi honey...

GORENSTEIN: Trish Holt(ph) doesn't like living near the power plant either. The employee of the Seabrook Donut Shop believes the plant is a key terrorist target in New England. Holt says she's positive something bad is going to happen. And she says when it does, it's going to be ugly.

Ms. HOLT: On a normal day and a normal situation, it takes about an hour and a half to get off Hampton Beach. In a panic, oh my, you're not getting off the beach.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORENSTEIN: Safety concerns aside, a few people in Seabrook feel like the town has gotten a raw deal. Over the years, the plant's value has dropped. And now the state takes a piece of the declining tax revenue. So residents like Ralph Smith say while they continue to live with the threat of disaster, Seabrook doesn't get the same benefits it used to.

Mr. RALPH SMITH: You know, it's not Seabrook anymore, the small fishing village. It's the nuke town. It's where the nuke plant is. You know, it's - you know, it definitely changed the way people look at Seabrook.

GORENSTEIN: Judging from the locals I've approach, the general attitude towards the plant is more or less a shrug. State Representative Al Weir summed it up best earlier in the day.

Rep. WEIR: Do you even notice this when you drive by?

GORENSTEIN: Not really. It's like driving by Home Depot.

Rep. WEIR: Do you really notice that Home Depot is here?

GORENSTEIN: For NPR News, I'm Dan Gorenstein in Concord, New Hampshire.

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