MINERAL, VA. -- When a tube ruptured last week at Virginia Power's North Anna nuclear power plant, releasing radioactive gas for 1 1/2 hours into the atmosphere here, utility officials were quick to reassure area residents that the latest accident at the station was no more dangerous to nearby homeowners than one chest X-ray.

But the harm done to the local real estate market in this rural vacation home spot on popular Lake Anna, 90 miles southwest of Washington, is still unclear. Some agents were immediately faced with lost sales, while others promptly attempted to control the damage with potential home buyers by allaying any doubts about the safety of nuclear power.

News of another incident at the North Anna station, which supplies about 20 percent of the electricity to Virginia Power's customers, spread quickly in this area of rolling farmland and expensive lakefront homes, where winding country roads are filled with as many aging pickup trucks as BMW's hauling sleek power boats.

The accident, however, raised few eyebrows -- a not-so-surprising fact for a location where the economy revolves around the power plant and the leisure activities it spawned in 1973 when Virginia Power constructed the 13,000-acre lake to supply water to its massive generating station.

Since then, Lake Anna, the fourth-largest body of fresh water in the state, has attracted thousands of vacation homeowners, more than half from the Washington metropolitan area and a high number from the ranks of retired military people. Between 10 and 20 percent of Lake Anna's residents live there year-round.

"The bad publicity has never hurt us. Everybody just keeps on doing what they were doing," said Dotty Baily, an agent with Blount Realty who characterized the accident as "just another scare."

But for fellow Blount Realty agent Mary Nelson, North Anna's radioactive discharge meant three canceled contracts totaling nearly $100,000 in sales. Nelson, who herself is building a home on one of the cooling lagoons south of the power plant, said her client, an Indiana investor, called on the day of the accident to stop the sale.

Nelson said she wasn't bothered by the cancellation, which she blamed on "media hype."

"I'm not all that upset because I know I'll make them up. It has not hurt us, but it is a nuisance," said Nelson, whose husband, a Navy officer, has worked on several nuclear vessels during his career.

Virginia Power officials said this week that they expect North Anna Unit 1, the shut-down reactor, to be operating again in about a month. North Anna Unit 2, the plant's other reactor, continues in operation.

"There were no {health} effects on the public" from the accident, said James McDonald, a utility spokesman.

Kenneth Clark, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's regional headquarters in Atlanta, said the plant's restart will depend on NRC approval "and on what investigators find." He said the incident was unusual in the history of nuclear power plants because the tube that ruptured was "in an area where this type of rupture has not generally occurred."

Other real estate agents and developers also complained of lost sales or hesitant home shoppers, but maintained that the North Anna accident will not upset home purchases at the weekend retreat, where one-acre lakeside lots cost an average of $80,000 apiece. Typical modest summer homes fronting Lake Anna easily top the $200,000 mark, a figure that in most cases is nearly double the price of five years ago.

"It would be ludicrous to say that the power plant has no effect on a borderline sale," said Ronald P. Lefebvre, president of Lake Anna Properties Inc., who characterized himself as "a very reformed nuke," one who once was opposed to nuclear power.

Lefebvre's sales manager, Thomas Neal, said that only one of seven pending contracts was canceled by would-be buyers as a direct result of the nuclear incident. As for dealing with similar situations like the one last week at North Anna, Neal said his sales agents attempt to illustrate the positive aspects of nuclear power.

"We try to explain to {our clients} the safeguards at the plant ... by {showing customers} the positive newspaper articles on how little harm there is {by the presence of a nuclear power plant}," Neal said.

He added, however, that "if they don't ask about the leak, we don't tell them."

Neal's customer who canceled his contract following the radioactive emission said he backed out of the deal not so much because of the most recent incident, but because, as some industry critics have suggested, the North Anna power plant's future is uncertain.

"In a matter of 10 years they could have a critical situation there," said the Annandale resident, who requested anonymity. "We had a change of mind because we were concerned about our investment."

Still other buyers and sellers remained unconcerned. On Monday, only five days after the North Anna accident, Linda Beaver had a $118,000 offer on her four-bedroom log house located in the Aspen Hill subdivision less than one mile from the generating station. "But they were local people who had lived here all their lives," Beaver said.

Asked if it would have made any difference on the upcoming sale had the buyers not been from the area, Beaver said: "If it were me, it would have had an effect."

Benny Simpson, whose backyard has a clear view of the two 12-story containment towers of the plant located a half mile away, said the only noticeable change he has seen since the accident was that fewer boaters were on the lake last weekend. "Everybody jokes about it, but it doesn't really keep us out of the water," said Simpson, whose house was in the direct path of the wind carrying small radioactive particles following the July 15 accident.

Nuclear power is not new to Simpson, who works on experimental bombs as a radiographer at the Naval Surface Weapons Center in Dahlgren, a commute of 70 miles each way for the 42-year-old Simpson. "So the accident or incident or whatever really didn't faze me," said Simpson as he stood on his dock located along one of the plant's cooling lagoons.

Simpson is not alone in having some employment connection with nuclear power. Numerous Lake Anna residents either helped build the power plant or work, or have worked, on nuclear-related projects at military installations.

"My personal impression is that it's no big deal. A lot of these things are blown out of perspective by the news media," said Whitney C. Scully, a Lake Anna developer and builder, and a former Army helicopter pilot in Greenland. "Maybe military guys are not as excited about it."

While some vacationers reportedly canceled their plans to rent homes and camp sites along the lake this past week, others ignored the incident. Debbie Mozingo, a Richmond factory worker, said she had been planning her water-skiing vacation at the lake for more than a month. "We were told it wasn't dangerous, so we just went ahead and came here," said Mozingo, who this week was renting a three-bedroom lakefront house north of the station for $425. "Maybe we'll find out in 30 years when we are all glowing," she said, adding to the plethora of nuclear jokes heard around the lake this week.