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Familiarity Breeds Contentment Among Nuclear Neighbors

Sept. 27, 2013—Control room simulator tours, nature preserve tours, displays and giveaways greeted more than 450 local residents who attended a Sept. 10 open house at Exelon’s Three Mile Island nuclear energy facility in Pennsylvania.

TMI’s connection to its local community isn’t unusual. Plant neighbors—those who live within 10 miles of a commercial nuclear energy facility—tend to favor nuclear energy more than other Americans do.

A nationwide survey of 1,098 plant neighbors conducted in June for NEI by Bisconti Research Inc. with Quest Research Group found that 81 percent of them favor nuclear energy as one way to provide electricity to the United States. A survey this month of the general public meanwhile found that 69 percent of Americans favor nuclear energy. The stronger support from plant neighbors is a trend that has been evident since biennial surveys began in 2005.

What do plant neighbors know about nuclear energy that other Americans don’t? Ann Bisconti, president of Bisconti Research, said the most important factor is familiarity.

“They’ve lived with this nuclear power plant in their community for many years; they’ve seen it operating safely,” Bisconti said.

The neighbors survey excludes plant employees, but participants are well-aware of the economic contributions of their local plant. The June survey found 91 percent of plant neighbors agree that the plant helps the local economy.

Nuclear energy facilities are major job-creators, employing up to 700 permanent staff, though “it’s not only the jobs,” Bisconti said. “It’s the contributions to the community. Plants contribute in many, many ways, not only in hiring people, but in all the jobs that come to local businesses.”

The presence of a nuclear energy facility creates an equivalent number of additional jobs in the community providing services such as grocery stores or dry cleaners that support the plant workforce and their families.

“Many of the people who work at the plant and manage the plant actually live in the community around the plant,” Bisconti said.

Terry Young, vice president of nuclear communications at Entergy, noted that leaders at the nuclear plant make a point to be leaders in their community too.

“Senior leadership at the sites [is] involved in things like the local Chamber of Commerce or civic groups, and hold leadership positions in those organizations,” Young said. 

Another way that nuclear facilities make the community appealing for local residents is by creating parklands for public use, where plant neighbors can picnic and boat.

Green space was just one of the features on display at the Three Mile Island open house.

“People actually got to see eagles, turkey, deer—it was pretty neat that they got to see so much wildlife on a nuclear power plant site,” said Ralph DeSantis, communications manager at Exelon Nuclear’s Three Mile Island.


Sue Sallade, TMI operations training supervisor, explains the workings of a control room training simulator during Exelon’s annual Community Information Night at Three Mile Island.


Tours of the island’s natural sites and of the control room training simulator were complemented by face-to-face interaction among neighbors, which plant communicators agree is key.

Neighbors who attend open houses, tours or presentations “get to talk to our employees one on one, which also helps improve that familiarity and trust,” Entergy’s Young said.

Participating in TMI’s open house were Exelon employees from all disciplines—engineering, operations, maintenance and radiation protection—educating the community about their work.

Bisconti noted that the safe, reliable and conscientious operation of nuclear energy facilities speaks for itself.

“Here you have an industrial facility that isn’t noisy, doesn’t smell, doesn’t [produce emissions], hires a lot of people, creates parklands, has very competent people who work there and are part of the community because they also live there,” she said. “You can see why this level of support is established.”