STAT

In the shadow of a nuclear plant, the U.S. government lays out an unusual mission: teach the locals to trust science

Fear haunts a community near a nuclear plant. So the U.S. is sending scientists there — to explain to dubious locals why they should trust in science.

SHELL BLUFF, Ga. — Life here in the farming communities along the Savannah River demands an uneasy trust with all things nuclear.

And in recent decades, that trust has been fraying.

One woman has stopped drinking her tap water because it smells like sewage. Another has lost too many relatives to cancer. A third wonders why hummingbirds no longer flock to her yard. All suspect the blame lies with the two giant institutions that dominate this rolling green landscape — a federal nuclear reservation and a massive nuclear power plant that sends steam billowing from two cooling towers as tall as skyscrapers.

“You always think of Erin Brockovich,” said community organizer Natalie Herrington. “Maybe there is a connection …”

Testing required by independent and federal regulators has repeatedly found no sustained heightened risks of contamination. But officials at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site recognized that all the suspicion itself was toxic. For some locals, it’s become a force that’s made life feel as unstable as a radioactive atom.

So the federal government has launched an unusual effort to put residents at ease

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from STAT

STAT4 min readSociety
Mental Health Studies Lump Transgender Teens Under One Umbrella — And Miss Clues To Help Them In The Process
Many mental health studies don't ask about gender identity. Researchers say adding those questions is critical to unraveling heath disparities among transgender and non-binary teens.
STAT2 min readSociety
In A Breakthrough, Health Officials Identify Possible Culprit Behind Vaping Illnesses: Vitamin E Acetate
Health officials have identified a possible culprit behind the spate of vaping-related illnesses that have sickened thousands: vitamin E acetate.
STAT6 min readPsychology
Ignored, Threatened, Berated: After Difficult Childbirth Experiences, New Parents Seek Healing By Speaking Up
Ignored, threatened, berated: New parents seek healing by providing feedback after difficult childbirth experiences.