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Melissa Haller ’16: Investigating How Closing a Nuclear Plant Impacts Small, Rural Communities

By Evie Lawson on April 20, 2016

The following post is by Melissa Haller ’16.  Haller used part of her AMS grant to study the effect of nuclear plant closures on the small, rural communities of Haddam, Connecticut and Wiscasset, Maine.  


Most people are very aware of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that occurred in 2011. The worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, Fukushima contaminated thousands of square miles of Japan’s land mass, and forced the eviction of more than 100,000 people from their homes. In the wake of this disastrous event, the fate of nuclear power as a source of energy production has come into question. Do the benefits of nuclear power production outweigh the potential costs? Japan shut down its nuclear reactors for a number of years after Fukushima, and Germany even elected to close all nuclear reactors after the eruption of a vehement anti-nuclear movement in 2011. While closing and decommissioning nuclear reactors may seem like a practical choice given the clear risks that nuclear plants pose, there are two sides to every story. In the United States, not only does nuclear power account for more than 20% of total electricity production, but nuclear power plants themselves tend to make up a large portion of tax revenue, income, and employment for nuclear host communities. My research aims to investigate the impacts of decommissioning on the communities that depend on nuclear power, and I travelled to two former nuclear host communities over spring break to do so.

Railroad tracks in Wiscasset, Maine

Railroad tracks in Wiscasset, Maine

Interviewing is a lot more difficult than it sounds. For this project, I wasn’t just trying to answer a few questions about the logistics of nuclear power; I wanted to speak with people about their stories, experiences, ideas, and opinions about living in a former nuclear host community, and the nuances and complexities of everyday life before and after decommissioning. Finding people willing to engage in these conversations is challenging, particularly if you are a newcomer or outsider to their community. Luckily for me, I had already spent a month this summer in the communities where I was conducting interviews, and I was able to reach out to former contacts to arrange discussions. We met in familiar spaces, often local coffee shops and restaurants, in offices and places of work, and in living rooms and kitchen tables. Wary of my own positionality as a researcher, the purpose of this trip was to make sure that my work accurately reflected their own voices and experiences. I hope that my work can be meaningful both to them and to other nuclear host communities, and this follow-up trip had an important part to play in furthering that goal.

My research centers around the communities of Haddam, Connecticut and Wiscasset, Maine. Neither community is what you might expect from a former nuclear host community: both are sleepy New England towns, complete with grand, historic properties and waterfront views. Haddam is small bedroom community along the Connecticut River, with easy access to New Haven, Harford, and nearby Middletown. Local people commute to nearby cities for work, and choose to live in Haddam for its quiet lifestyle and excellent school system. Wiscasset is a smaller village along the Sheepscot River, in the Boothbay Harbor region of Maine. Although it is much further from larger cities like Portland, many residents work in nearby Brunswick and Bath. Both communities are small, relatively rural, and reliant on tourism, small businesses, and industry in nearby cities for their economic survival. There is little evidence that a nuclear plant ever existed in either community, unless you drive out to the sites where the nuclear plants themselves once stood, which are now almost vacant, with the exception of concrete cylinders that house what remains of each plant’s nuclear waste. However, speaking with residents reveals that a nuclear legacy remains in each community, despite the twenty years that have passed since each plant has been closed. The presence of a nuclear facility facilitated growth and decline in each community, and local people have an important story to tell about their experiences with decommissioning.

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Regardless of these similarities, both communities experienced nuclear decommissioning very differently. Wiscasset spent more money on services and infrastructure while the Maine Yankee Nuclear Plant was in operation, and the plant played a much more important role in community life. After closure, former nuclear workers moved away to find employment, the local school population plummeted, and the town lost 96% of its existing tax base. The transition process in Wiscasset was much rockier than in Haddam, and local people are still feeling the effects of Maine Yankee’s departure today. Haddam, on the other hand, used the taxes it collected from the nuclear plant much more frugally: the town kept taxes low, but spent its budget modestly. After closure, local people found employment in nearby cities and continued to live in Haddam. Haddam historically has had a higher standard of living than Wiscasset, and local people were more than willing to pay higher tax rates in order to remain in their quiet bedroom community. In this sense, the first lesson I learned from my research trip was that communities can seem very similar, but respond to and experience nuclear decommissioning in very different and diverse ways.

On the road to Haddam, Connecticut!

On the road to Haddam, Connecticut!

Secondly, I learned the importance of follow-up work. I hadn’t gotten my story quite right the first time, and returning to each community helped me to straighten out what I had missed. For example, in Haddam, I had believed that community organizations, local politics, and social capital were an important part of Haddam’s resilience. I quickly learned that I had over-emphasized that aspect of community life, particularly because I had met with so many civically-minded residents (politicians, members of local government, leaders of local organizations, etc.) during my first visit. I discovered that the real Haddam could not be neatly explained as a town with strong community ties: there is as much disengagement as engagement in the community, and local people are divided across either side of the Connecticut River. People are united not by some ideal vision of “Haddam,” but by their love for the community, its quiet, idyllic setting, and its complex and divisive character. I could not have recognized this aspect of Haddam’s community without following up on my initial work, and I am sure that I am still missing important parts of the story. I am not trying to perfectly understand and describe every aspect of these towns, but rather, to represent them as best I can, given my limited time and resources. I hope that I have done that successfully.

The former site of the Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Plant in Haddam, Connecticut

The former site of the Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Plant in Haddam, Connecticut

Overall, this research trip was incredibly successful. Not only will this follow-up work help me to write a more accurate and meaningful paper for my geography honors thesis, but it contributed valuable insight to my understanding of nuclear decommissioning in each community, and I hope that it will help me to better tell the stories of community members as I move forward with my project. As more communities in the United States and abroad experience nuclear decommissioning, the stories of Haddam and Wiscasset are becoming more and more important to tell, and I hope that other communities will find these insights and ideas valuable for their own future planning. Furthermore, this work has helped me to explore my own interests in community and regional economic development, and has helped me to gain important tools and perspectives that I will take with me as I prepare to pursue my PhD in geography at UCLA next fall. This trip was an incredible and valuable experience, one that will continually shape my research and my academic career for years to come.


Katie Mason ’16: Visit to the American Physical Society in Baltimore

By Evie Lawson on April 20, 2016

The following post is by Katie Mason ’16.  Mason used part of her AMS grant to visit the American Physical Society March Meeting in Baltimore, MD in an effort to explore the different concentrations within the world of physics.  


As a senior in my final semester, I often get asked the question, “What are you doing next year?” It’s a question that is never far from my mind. I am a Physics major with two research experiences under my belt, so graduate school seemed like the obvious path. I love my field. I love being able to explore everything from the smallest particles to the largest galaxies. The problem is, since Physics is so large, I am having a lot of trouble narrowing my focus to a specific concentration. In all honesty, it is not the worst problem to have. I enjoy many of the fields and find them fascinating. However, I noticed while starting my applications that most schools want their students to have some sort of idea about what they will want to study.

I decided I had to do more research into the different concentrations within Physics. There is no better place to do this than the American Physical Society March Meeting. This yearly conference is one of the biggest Physics conferences in the country, and it was held in Baltimore this year. My goal at this conference wasn’t to present, but rather to absorb as much as I could and hopefully sort more through my options for the future.

Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble Space Telescope

I took advantage of the conference’s location and spent the weekend before in Washington D.C to go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. It was amazing to see all of the rockets and planes up close. I spent an entire day wandering through the exhibits. Some of the highlights for me were the model of the Hubble Space Telescope (complete with solar panels), one of the Wright Brothers’ planes, and a planetarium show about dark matter narrated by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Upon arriving at the actual conference, I was at first struck by just how many people attended. I was also overwhelmed by how many presentations there were. Each day was split into three hour session and each session had around 25 short talks. There were also a few longer presentations. My first day, I decided to play it safe by only attending events marked as undergraduate friendly. The first talk I went to was in the session entitled “Physics of Epidemics” given by Charles Macal from the Argonne National Laboratory. In it, the speaker discussed computer modeling techniques and how they can be used to model and predict future epidemics. I found it fascinating as I have enjoyed computer modeling I have done in my research at Colgate. I also loved the interdisciplinary nature of the work. Though the primary researcher was a physicist, he emphasized his collaboration with biologists and public health workers.

Main Exhibit Hall

Main Exhibit Hall

Physicists are often viewed as being isolationists and are not known for their work with other fields, so it was very refreshing to see all of the interdisciplinary talks throughout the week. Some of the other sessions included physics and cancer research, the statistical mechanics of social systems, and robotics for use in archaeology. For me, these talks were the highlights of the week, as they showed many broader applications of physics that I haven’t been exposed to before.

I believe I ended my trip feeling even more passionate about physics as a whole. I also have more of a direction now, I will hopefully use the skills I am learning in physics, especially computer modeling and data analysis, and apply them to problems not often associated with physics. It was a very worthwhile experience and gave me a clearer picture of what I would like to research as I enter graduate school. I am continuing on to Tufts University in the PhD track where I will hopefully join a research group in the field of Condensed Matter Physics that also makes use of computer modeling for theoretical predictions.


Eli Goberdon ’16: Trip to Tokyo

By Evie Lawson on April 6, 2016

The following post is by Eli Goberdon ’16.  Goberdon used part of his AMS grant to fund a trip to Tokyo, Japan.  


This past winter, I used my AMS funds to attend Genki Japanese and Culture School (GekniJACS) in Tokyo, Japan. I am a Japanese minor and I had previously been to Japan for my study abroad in fall 2014. It was a wonderful opportunity to return to Japan to continue my study of the Japanese language and to learn more about Japanese culture.

GenkiJACS is located in Shinjuku, a lively part of Tokyo that’s home to excellent food, shopping, and parks. My favorite Shinjuku location was Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful park nestled in the heart of the city. Shinjuku Gyoen is a blend of three different garden styles: French Formal, English Landscape, and Japanese traditional, all bordered by tall city buildings.

GenkiJACS was a very fun place to learn Japanese. The school has students from all over the world, so I was able to learn Japanese alongside students from places like Russia, Kuwait, and Switzerland. The classes helped me make huge improvements in both my spoken and written Japanese.

Outside of the classroom the school offered field trips to various cultural locations. One of the trips I attended was to Meguro Gajoen. Meguro Gajoen is a building that partially survived the fire bombing of Tokyo in WWII. The parts that survived the bombing show rare, pre-war styles of architecture and the parts that were destroyed have been repaired with modern architectural design. The final product is a building composed of both new and old styles. Meguro Gajoen serves as a cultural space and it often hosts weddings. When we visited we were able to see old Japanese style rooms, eat in a Japanese banquet hall, watch a modern calligraphy performance, and attend a kimono show.

GenkiJACS also had weekly dinner trips to various restaurants. I attended a trip to a Sukiyaki restaurant. Sukiyaki consists of thinly sliced beef and vegetables cooked at the table in a shallow iron pot. After it’s cooked you dip the meat and vegetables in a bowl of beaten raw eggs. It was a unique experience and one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Outside of the classroom, I spent a lot of time exploring Tokyo. I visited as many museums as possible and my favorite was the Mori Art Museum. I had visited it in my previous trip to Tokyo and I was looking forward to revisiting it. I was not disappointed as their current artist exhibit belonged to Takashi Murakami: a prolific modern Japanese artist. The exhibit consisted of some of Murakami’s older works alongside his massive, new piece The 500 Arhats.

I was in Tokyo during the New Year so I got to see the city during that special season. I visited Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine that is the most popular place to visit during the New Year. At midnight a massive drum is hit to ring in the New Year and people form huge lines to toss coins to Shinto gods for good fortune in the upcoming year.

It was incredible to revisit Japan through AMS and I was able to make everyday a unique adventure around the sprawling, magnificent city of Tokyo.


AMS Washington D.C. Trip, Spring 2016

By Evie Lawson on March 23, 2016

This February, a group of AMS students were taken on a weekend trip to Washington D.C.  The group was accompanied by Rob Nemes, Professor of History, and Peter Tschirhart, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Scholars Programs.  Some of the major highlights of the trip include visits to the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the White House.  The group also attended a lecture on Afghanistan given by an AMS alumnus, Mike Smith.  Below is a slideshow containing pictures from the trip, all of which were taken by Colgate student Hoang Nam Nguyen Vu ’18 (Nam Nam).


Luna Zagorac ’16: Excavating in Egypt

By Evie Lawson on March 2, 2016

The following post is by Luna Zagorac ’16.  Zagorac used part of her AMS grant to fund her first excavation in Luxor, Egypt.  


Egypt has been my passion since the age of eight. Eight seems to be a magical number for Egyptologists around the world. Some people acquired books that led them down the path of Egyptology; some watched shows, or movies; some, like myself, had their first taste of the place in person.

Coming to Colgate, the first class I rushed to sign up for was an Extended Study by the name of living Egypt. By my second semester, I knew only two things: that I had to go abroad to Egypt, and that my AMS money was going to fund my first excavation in Egypt. I didn’t know where or how, but I knew before the beginning of senior year my Indiana Jones fedora would be dusty and my hiking boots would be scuffed.

After I was admitted to the American University in Cairo as a non-degree seeking student for the Spring of 2015, I emailed everyone in the Egyptology department looking for summer excavation opportunities. After exploring several opportunities, I decided that the South Asasif Conservation Project was the place where I wanted to be that summer. It is an ongoing excavation and conservation project on the west bank of Luxor (in mid-Egypt), close to the Valley of the Kings. To me, it sounded like a dream come true.

Or so I reminded myself on my first day, fresh off the plane in the breezy 115 degrees at 7 in the morning, as I made my way to the site with only a bottle of water and a heartbeat that threatened to choke me. The local workers paid me no heed as I made my way to the supervisor’s makeshift tent, where my first meeting with Dr. Elena Pischikova took place. Now the director of the project, Dr. Pischikova had worked with Dieter Arnold at the Metropolitan Museum in the past and was full of fascinating stories. As she led me on tour of the site, my insecurities melted away from the sheer wonder.

The site encapsulates three tombs from Egypt’s Late Period: that of Karakahamun (TT 223), completely excavated and currently being rebuilt by the project, that of Karabasken (TT 391), under excavation, and that of Irtieru (TT 390). By serendipity of Dr. Pischikova’s sound judgment, upon the completion of the tour I was deposited in the court of Karabasken, where I would remain for the next six working weeks of my life.

In the court, I met my two supervisors, which I soon discovered were as hilarious as they were professional. By breakfast-time (occurring at precisely 10 am each morning and lasting until 10:30 – I could have set my watch by the Egyptian workers stopping and resuming of work), it became clear that I was the youngest person at the dig. Every other volunteer was either writing their MA thesis in Egyptology, or had participated in excavations for many years. After seeing how personable and welcoming everyone was, however, my age seemed to matter less and less. By noon (the regular stopping time, when all shade was gone and the heat grew unbearable), I was dirty, sweaty, hungry – and at ease.

Thus ended my first day on a real archaeological excavation. By the end of the week, I was assigned the sacred duty of performing all technical drawing – which no one else wanted to do. Still, I enjoyed it; even as the sun inched higher in the sky and started to burn my clipboard and my hands, there was something soothing in the precisely scaled measurements forming shapes on the graph paper. The dispassionate, technical aspect of it soothed my inner, temporarily forgotten physics major.

By the end of my six week tenure, I was the only woman left standing in the courtyard. It was the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and most volunteers had gone home. The workers were tired, and I was left to supervise them and run the excavations in my quadrant. It was hard work, and I often wished for the ability to be at two places at once those last two weeks. But by my last Tuesday night dinner across the river – a tradition among the volunteers, as Friday was the only day we got off – I was sad to be leaving. I was exhausted, and I was impatient to see home after a long time; but I was the happiest I ever remember being.

Back at Colgate for my last Upstate New York fall, and looking at my AMS balance, I realized that, physically and emotionally taxing as excavation in Egypt is, it is monetarily cheap. Pondering what to do with the rest of my grant, I thought of the fate of the objects I’d seen come out of the ground that summer. They were in storage now, yes; but one day they would be housed in a museum, never permitted to leave Egypt by national law. And yet, my home continent of Europe is brimming with Egyptian artifacts carried out of the land of the Pharaohs long before such a law was put into place. After seeing the objects in situ, and seeing them in Egyptian museums, I thought about how differently they might be treated in European museums – not as national patrimony, but as glimmering exotica.

Thus, I set out on my AMS trip II: Return of the Archaeologist. I planned out an itinerary wherefore, with a rental car and a lot of good attitude, I could visit some of the major European museums containing Egyptian materials. My itinerary included museums in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. It was a packed schedule, but one I was eager to undertake.

Of course, there were some factors I hadn’t foreseen. The Louvre being closed for renovations. Fog you could cut with a knife in Germany. A remote gas station in the Czech Republic and an argument over where to put window fluid (apparently, not the into the antifreeze container). A missing passport.

A trip of a lifetime.

Yet, the defining moment happened in Berlin, as I was confronted by the glassy stare of the bust of Queen Nefertiti. In Egypt, I had visited the site from which it came; in Berlin, I gazed upon the best preserved remnant of an empire. A dynasty. A family. We still don’t know how this time period ended; and it is doubtful Nefertiti will ever be able to see her homeland ever again.

This was the pervasive attitude immediately noticeable in the displays fate allowed me access to. The museums were clean, and organized, and secure. But they told a story from a distinctly European perspective. Ancient Egypt was defined through the eyes of the white explorers that brought it to the European masses, rather than as a culture and a legacy in its own right. The Greek galleries, on the other hand, had a completely different atmosphere: the atmosphere of a glorified, rational shared past.

These issues – the issues of perspective, the question of who owns the past – are exactly what my Museum Studies class is grappling with this semester. Even in retrospect, I see museums differently; I see Egypt differently. In every context, issues of power have to be raised – and confronted – before truth can be known. And though science and museums believe themselves free of things as subjective as power and privilege, to believe so is to discount a whole new way of knowing – and a whole new body of knowledge.

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