Can nuclear power make a comeback?

Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker:

100322_talkcmmntillus_p233 Once the unpleasantness at Hiroshima and Nagasaki had had a little time to recede, America discovered that “the atom” wasn’t all bad. The bomb, yes—it was terrifying, as terrifying as a hundred 9/11s. American children got the wits scared out of them at school by being made to prepare for Armageddon by ducking, covering, and shutting their eyes tight lest the fireball melt them. Grownups were nervous, too, especially after 1949, when Stalin got his bomb. But in December of 1953 President Eisenhower went before the United Nations General Assembly to tell all mankind that the mushroom cloud had a silver lining. His plan, dubbed Atoms for Peace, promised “abundant electrical energy” for everyone.

Who could doubt that shining vision? Certainly not Lewis Strauss, Ike’s chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who predicted that nuclear technology would guarantee that “our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.” Not Walt Disney, whose “Our Friend the Atom,” featuring a cartoon genie, entertained millions of schoolchildren fresh from ducking and covering. More surprising, in light of subsequent developments, Students for a Democratic Society, the paradigmatic organization of the new student left, had no doubts, either. S.D.S.’s founding document, the Port Huron Statement, issued in 1962, fretted at length about the Bomb. But among its Rousseauian “blueprints of civic paradise” was this:/p>

Our monster cities, based historically on the need for mass labor, might now be humanized, broken into smaller communities, powered by nuclear energy, arranged according to community decision.

The happy consensus did not last long. It was already breaking down by the nineteen-seventies, and by the late eighties it was gone, obliterated by the accidents at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, in 1979 (where no one was killed), and at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986 (which caused thousands of deaths).

More here.