Historically there has been a considerable amount of anti-nuclear sentiment in the United States, stemming from social opposition, political opposition and a fear of many aspects within the nuclear industry. The first U.S. reactor to face public opposition was Fermi 1 in 1957. This nuclear reactor was subject to protest due to its proximity to Detroit, and consequently its proximity to the center of auto-industry in the United States. The United Auto Workers Union was vehemently against the reactor due to health and safety hazards they feared might contaminate their working zone.
Opposition to nuclear is present in the general public as well. In San Francisco, for example, a proposal to build a nuclear plant at the Bodega Bay was decried by the local citizens. This was to be the first economically viable nuclear power plant in the United States and the conflict lasted until 1964, resulting in the forced abandonment of plans to build the plant. The success of the anti-nuclear protest in Bodega Bay is said to have spurned future protests against nuclear energy, according to Historian Thomas Wellock. Mr. Wellock even believes that he entire anti-nuclear movement in the US was born from the Bodega Bay controversy.
Further alienating nuclear energy was the high incidence of accidents within the field. During the 1960s alone a small test reactor exploded at the Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One in Idaho Falls. Five years later, in 1966, a partial meltdown at the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station occurred in Michigan. The public’s fear of nuclear was heightened by these accidents along with anti-nuclear literature, such as the book written by David Lilienthal entitled Change, Hope and the Bomb. Lilienthal rose the question of nuclear waste disposal, thus instilling more fear in the American people.
One faction of the public, however, was certainly split on the issue of nuclear power. In the 1970s, during the Environmental Movement, environmentalists praised nuclear energy for the lack of air pollution is espoused. Yet, they also criticized nuclear on the grounds of nuclear accidents, nuclear proliferation, high cost of nuclear power plants, nuclear terrorism and radioactive waste disposal.
Each of the aforementioned concerns is certainly viable, but we must ask ourselves if the real problem with nuclear energy in the United States is not the technology, but rather the lack of initial dissimulation of accurate information to the American public, and the initial purpose of nuclear energy in the US- namely, the atomic bomb.
In 1979, the 3 Mile Island Accident cemented the idea that nuclear energy would not be as prosperous in the United States as initially hoped. Even though there were no reported deaths or injuries in the plant or in the surrounding communities, fear once again reared its ugly head. 48% of the original 253 nuclear reactors planned were cancelled. Yet, those that have been active in the United States since the accident at 3 Mile Island have remained fully functioning and relatively reliable.
What many seem to overlook is the truly positive outlook for nuclear energy in the United States based on statistics. The following was taken from an article entitled “Nuclear Safety in the U.S.: “
“As of February 2009, the NRC requires that the design of new power plants ensures that the reactor containment would remain intact, cooling systems would continue to operate, and spent fuel pools would be protected, in the event of an aircraft crash. This is an issue that has gained attention since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The regulation does not apply to the 104 commercial reactors now operating. However, the containment structures of nuclear power plants are among the strongest structures ever built by mankind; independent studies have shown that existing plants would easily survive the impact of a large commercial jetliner without loss of structural integrity.
The nuclear industry in the United States has maintained one of the best industrial safety records in the world with respect to all kinds of accidents. For 2008, the industry hit a new low of 0.13 industrial accidents per 200,000 worker-hours. This is improved over 0.24 in 2005, which was still a factor of 14.6 less than the 3.5 number for all manufacturing industries.Private industry has an accident rate of 1.3 per 200,000 worker hours.”