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

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