Calvert Residents Content In Nuclear Plant's Shadow

Aboard the Runaway Ruthy, Pete Dahlberg and son Nick, 8, fish near the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant on the Chesapeake Bay, which Dahlberg describes as
Aboard the Runaway Ruthy, Pete Dahlberg and son Nick, 8, fish near the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant on the Chesapeake Bay, which Dahlberg describes as "the perfect place to bring the wife and kids." (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 13, 2005

The orange-and-white buoys, bobbing slowly in the waters in front of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant, are covered in block letters that read "DANGER" and "KEEP OUT" and "RESTRICTED."

Pete Dahlberg barely glanced at the signs as he floated a few hundred feet from the plant in his 21-foot motorboat, Runaway Ruthy, with his 8-year-old son, Nick, in tow. They hooked six-inch, neon-green lures onto their poles and cast them into the Chesapeake Bay in search of rockfish.

"You can't beat the nuclear power plant as a fishing spot," said Dahlberg, 41, a fishing guide who goes by the name Walleye Pete and has lived for five years in Calvert County, home of the plant, 50 miles southeast of Washington. "It's the perfect place to bring the wife and kids."

Such warm feelings for the plant have transformed Calvert into something of a national anomaly: a community that has developed a love affair with what hundreds of other cities and towns have long regarded as, at best, an eyesore and at worst, a life-threatening menace.

Residents of this Southern Maryland county like the plant's two reactors so much, in fact, that they want another. The Lusby facility is on a short list of six sites that could become the location of the first nuclear energy reactor to be built in the United States in 30 years.

Locals here quickly rattle off the plant's benefits: It's the county's largest taxpayer, biggest private employer and, of course, a top-notch fishing hole.

Almost no one worries about the possibility of accidents or radiation leaks. "It doesn't even, like, cross my mind," said Roxanne Arellano, 18, of Lusby. "You kind of don't think about it. It's just there, I guess."

That sort of blase attitude might seem strange to those who began to fear nuclear plants after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania and the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl facility in Ukraine. The most famous plant for many young adults is the comically dysfunctional plant on "The Simpsons" that spawned a mutant three-eyed fish named Blinky.

But those negative images couldn't seem more off base to Arellano and the other 60 or so locals who spent a recent scorching afternoon at a swimming pool for Calvert Cliffs employees and their families on the nuclear plant's 2,300-acre grounds. Babies in diapers tottered by the edge of the 82.5-foot-long pool, which is ringed by a barbed-wire fence. Girls in bikinis baked in the sun. Arellano slid into the pool to teach the children of plant employees how to tread water and do the backstroke.

The kids splashed in the water, seemingly unconcerned about the two nearby reactors spitting out 1,700 megawatts of power. Eight-year-old McKenzie Turpin, though, had a gripe: She is not allowed to go to the plant on Take Our Daughters to Work Day with her mom because of extra security since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "She doesn't like it that President Bush won't let mommy take her to work," said Raeann Turpin, 33, a computer analyst at the plant who lives in Huntingtown.

Few people in Calvert County are even that critical of the nuclear plant. Instead, most praise the facility for reversing the economic fortunes of this once-impoverished county.

When Calvert Cliffs went online in 1975, the county's total budget was $6.6 million. The plant's $6.8 million tax payment the following year more than doubled Calvert's revenue.

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