The fear of nuclear power

The terrible situation with Japan’s nuclear installations affords old-timers the opportunity to remember when it was a U.S. nuclear plant that was melting down.

It was 1979, when the Three Mile Island plant, on the Susquehanna River south of Harrisburg Pennsylvania, melted down partially. The U.S. wasn’t really sure how to react; we’d never heard of a nuke plant melting down before.

But it was a movie — The China Syndrome — that helped push us in an anti-nuke direction. It was released 12 days before TMI melted down:

In the middle of the film, a reference is made to the size of the area that would be affected if the fictional plant in the film melted down. “It would be the size of Pennsylvania,” it said. Whoops.

The movie — and TMI — helped kill the notion of new nuclear power plants in the U.S., even though the actual damage was relatively small.

History, it appears, is repeating itself. Germany today shut down all of its pre-1980 nuke plants while it reconsiders its nuclear strategy.

The design of Japan’s Fukushima Dachaii plant is the same one used by 16 power plants in the U.S., including the plant in Monticello, Minnesota.

Is the fear overblown? It doesn’t matter, a UK professor tells the BBC. “In a crisis the emotional takes hold and no matter how logical and compelling the rational arguments are, the emotional wins out,” he said.

  • jon

    You needed to find a professor in the UK to tell you that emotion wins over logic in a large group mentality?

    I could have told you that just by reading ~50% of the comments on this very blog! 🙂

  • Bob Collins

    I’m going to leave this comment up — for now — but I’ll defend the people who take the time to comment here. By and large, they’re educated and smart, non-combative, and provide good perspective.

  • Tyler

    (Sorry about the previous post – I hit Enter by mistake.)

    It’s too bad we’re about to be hit by an onslaught of paranoid folks chanting “NIMBY!” Kevin Drum makes a great point:

    “It’s perfectly reasonable to argue that the problem here isn’t that nukes are genuinely more dangerous or more expensive than other forms of power generation, it’s that other forms of power generation aren’t forced to pay for their own externalities. Charge them properly for the carbon they emit and the mercury they spew and the particulates they make us breathe and they’d be just as expensive and just as dangerous as nuclear power. I think there’s a pretty good case to be made for that. Nonetheless, until we do start charging properly for all those externalities, nukes just aren’t going to be cost effective and nothing is going to change that.”