All manner of wonderful graphics are being created from the newly-available 2010 US Census data. A new sort of nuclear family, for example, is portrayed with this mouse-over map showing the population density inside 10 and 50 mile evacuation radii around the US’ 65 nuclear power plants (containing a total of 104 reactors).

The upshot: One in every three Americans currently resides less than 50 miles from an operating nuclear reactor. MSNBC mapped the details in Nuclear neighbors: Population rises near US reactors …

When the US nuclear fleet was being assembled back in the 1970’s I worked as a subcontractor assisting with environmental impact studies. Many of today’s operating plants were at the time sited in rural to semi-rural settings. (Before the terms “MegaMansion ” or “Cluster Development” had been coined.)

Context: I recall a colleague telling me about a morning he knocked on a farm house door to get permission to cross their land and, speaking with the family as they cooked breakfast on a woodstove, saw a nice window view of the nearby nuclear reactor.

Environmentalists of the time made it up as they went along.
Environmental activism was nascent in the 70’s. States pretty much took the lead on overseeing everything outside of NRC jurisdiction and thus oversaw management of such environmental risks as could be scientifically demonstrated. For this, they needed field studies. Environmental studies of nuclear power plants were led mostly by university professors, as existing engineering and civil works firms had no clue how to proceed. All such environmental work was paid for by utilities.

Large scale investigations were done post-construction, for the earlier plants, with lessons learned applied to newer projects. Hence, few nuclear power plants were significantly held up by environmental requirements; and permit issuance involved fine tuning of operating practices to minimize, not eliminate, adverse environmental impacts.

Public health was the focus.
Dominant concerns of the “no nucs” movement were really about human health. Very little was publicly voiced about environmental impacts, per se.

As the nuclear power plant fleet was constructed, Baby boomers – the demographic intent on exiting riot-scarred US cities and which remembered growing up in the Cold War era and taking Iodine pills to mitigate against thyroid cancer – tended to keep the hell away from these new power plants.

And why not? There was still plenty of developable land in close to their city jobs; and no special reason to move close to a nuc unless you worked at one. (For more background on this era, see Nuclear Blast From The Past: Tectonics of Science, Politics, War, & Climate Change)

Fusion point?
Exurban and rural development in America, massively fueled by Clinton->”W” real estate bubble-creating policies, have surrounded those aged reactors. (Objectively demonstrated by the graphic from MSNBC.)

With the Japanese tragedy ongoing, there has to be some new tension among the nuclear neighbors about property values worsening; some health anxiety too, especially with Congress crashing toward reduced health care benefits.

All it will take is one more reactor incident and the national fear ship will hit the fan.That will create the politics of real crazy.

If you are one in three?
Get familiar with the seasonal wind rose plot for your area. It indicates probability of nuclear reactor emissions drifting toward your home. You can get one for each season.

Read More Citizen Involvement For US Nuclear Power Plant Siting, Design, & Upgrades

Wind rose plot. Image credit:Wikipedia