My Very Own Twin Towers

The view these days from the shadow of the Limerick power plant

Eighteen years ago, when my husband and I moved out of the city to a suburb in western Montgomery County that’s just a stone’s toss from the Limerick Generating Station, a lot of people asked us: Aren’t you worried about that? Three Mile Island was only 15 years distant back then; Chernobyl was a scant six years past. The fallout, so to speak, was still fresh. I won’t deny we felt some qualms, but frankly, real estate was cheap out here; there was open space, fresh air, grass for the kids, all of which outweighed, in our minds, any China Syndrome doomsday scenarios. The truth is, we felt a little cool, sort of hip, to be nuclear-power pioneers.

Sure, it was a little disconcerting the day our daughter came home from kindergarten with an inch-thick dossier on evacuation plans in case of a nuclear “event.” (Kids would get hauled from their schools in a northwesterly direction—upwind—to towns that were some 20 miles distant.) And yearly reminders to pick up potassium pills, regular updates on those evac plans, and the monthly tests of Limerick’s blaring sirens gave us pause. But we tagged along with our kids’ classes on field trips to the power plant, got the guided tours, saw the cool dinosaur footprints PECO found on-site and preserved, and came to appreciate our neighbor. We walked our dog in the fields surrounding the towers; we admired the full moon against the huge plumes of steam (“Just steam!” we’d tell dubious visitors and guests) the plant released. When I drove home at night from the city, I’d round a bend on 422, see the towers on the horizon, and know that I was home. What had once been a source of trepidation now brought soothing calm.

Last night the moon was enormous against those swaths of steam-clouds—the “Supermoon” a day past its perigee, the biggest it has been since, well, 1993, just before we moved here. From our backyard, surrounded by suburban dark, we’ve watched long-tailed comets, breathtaking meteor showers, lunar and solar eclipses, all backed by the sturdy presence of those towers. Now, in light of the news from Japan, we eye this celestial display a little differently. We think of the valiant workers trying desperately to stave off disaster, and of the millions worrying and waiting, with a sense of affinity across the miles. This still feels like home, as their homes must for them. But the earth has shifted a little bit here, too.

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