Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The China Syndrome


Sometimes a movie opens at precisely the right time to become a blockbuster. This one would have done well, but the fact that the Three-Mile Island incident happened only twelve days later propelled it to a must see. It’s a scientifically accurate picture of what might happen if a nuclear reactor got out of control. Jack Lemmon is great, as always, and Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas do well, too.

I put a China Syndrome accident in one of my stories, “The Persistence of Vision.” It happened off stage, a few years before the story. I mentioned a “China Strip” in the Midwest that had been rendered uninhabitable for thousands of years when a reactor melted down. In return, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle named a character in Footfall the “Reverend Varley,” a guy who was an opponent of nuclear power. (I forgive you, Larry!)

My own feelings about nuclear power plants have changed quite a bit since then. In spite of Chernobyl (horrible reactor design and gross incompetence) and Fukushima, I am now in favor of it. It is much cleaner than the alternatives, such as coal, which kills many, many more people every year than nukes, which is almost zero, except for Chernobyl. There’s never going to be enough solar or wind power, though both of those are useful, and nuclear fusion is still a distant dream after well over fifty years of trying. What’s the alternative? And don’t tell me “using less energy.” Don’t make me laugh.