During the summer months, Colgate students fanned out across the globe to apply their liberal arts know-how in a variety of real-world settings. They wrote back to campus to keep our community posted on their progress. Angelica Greco ’18, from Bethesda, Md., and Julia Feikens ’18, from West Nyack, N.Y., described their travels through upstate New York as they investigated the closure of nuclear power plants.
Our research this summer tied into a larger question that our mentor, Professor Dai Yamamoto, has been studying: how does the decommissioning of a nuclear power plant impact the community that hosts it?
With Professor Yamamoto on sabbatical in Japan, we planned, organized, and carried out independent research focusing specifically on the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, located in Scriba, N.Y., half an hour away from Hamilton.
The FitzPatrick plant, having been unprofitable for the past few years, was scheduled for decommissioning in January of 2017.
For this summer’s research, we gathered qualitative, on-site data by interviewing stakeholders in Scriba and Oswego County. We interviewed people involved in local government and school systems to give us a picture of how the plant’s closure would affect the community from a variety of perspectives.
The picture that emerged during interviews was what we expected: the loss of the FitzPatrick plant would have a serious impact on many parts of the community. In addition to employing 615 people in a county that already struggles with high unemployment and poverty rates, the plant contributes vital revenue to the local school districts, the Scriba town government, and Oswego County.
But getting the information we needed and reaching the heart of the matter wasn’t always easy for us. Having to plan and conduct interviews by ourselves meant that both of us had to sharpen our interview skills. Banal “how do you feel about that?” questions just didn’t cut it this summer.
We asked interviewees about the future — were they optimistic about Scriba and Oswego County? Would the loss of the FitzPatrick plant, a large, well-paying employer, devastate the community? Were people worried about how the decommissioning of FitzPatrick will affect the programs in the local school system or access to municipal services?
The responses fell all across the spectrum: while interviewees were worried about their community’s future, many were also optimistic. People were hopeful that revenue from the Novelis aluminum plant and the two other nuclear power facilities in the area would be able to help make up for the loss of FitzPatrick. Participants were also optimistic about a government plan to subsidize FitzPatrick and other struggling nuclear plants. The subsidies may be enough to keep the plant open.
We learned that the overall situation was more complicated than we initially anticipated. However, this offered us more opportunities to learn about the different dynamics of communities that interact with nuclear decommissioning.
While growing our connections in the area, we also learned more about how nuclear plants affect far more than economies in an area. They aid in social events and support local organizations with time and effort. In order to create a whole picture of Oswego County, it was necessary to learn as much as possible about each facet. Consequently, our research and perspectives improved drastically by looking at every angle the plant’s relationship with the county.
Many of the issues that we asked participants about are delicate, and being caring, sympathetic listeners was very important. While we started this summer with varying levels of interview experience, we both undoubtedly grew as interviewers and researchers.