Renewing public support after Fukushima Daiichi.
John A. Bewick is Fortnightly’s contributing editor and formerly was secretary for environmental affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He holds advanced degrees in nuclear science and business management. His May 2011 article, “Spent Fuel Fedcorp,” examined proposals for a federal corporation to take responsibility for managing commercial nuclear waste.
Three Mile Island, 1979; Chernobyl, 1986; Fukushima Daiichi, 2011—most who follow world news know the stories of these ill-fated nuclear power plants. But what about Honkeiko Colliery, 1942; Courrieres, 1906; or Monongah, 1907? These mining disasters led to 3,010 fatalities among them, but they’re seldom mentioned in the public forum today.
Nuclear accidents, in spite of fewer immediate fatalities, stimulate far greater long-term negative public reaction than mining incidents do, and they create greater fear. After mining incidents, mining improvements are made, new regulations are set in place, and mining begins again. After nuclear incidents, however, nuclear proponents and investors reduce their public profile, cut back on development and promotion efforts, and even cancel or delay nuclear projects. The news media create a maelstrom of crisis, fear and uncertainty. Anti-nuclear groups gain new strength and marshal their efforts. An incident can set back investment for a generation or more.