Since 1989, the opening credits to "The Simpsons," the longest running animated series on TV, has featured a short bit of animations showing the buffoon patriarch Homer sacked out at his post in the control room at a nuclear power plant.
It's probably no coincidence that when the show was first going into production, the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station was in the national spotlight for being shut down in the aftermath of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors finding a real-life nuclear operator asleep at his post in the control room.
It probably is a coincidence, however, that this week is the 25th anniversary of that fateful inspection and this week a public safety drill was run to make sure the communities around the plant are prepared should disaster strike at Peach Bottom.
An array of local, state and federal agencies were involved in the drill this week, which is designed to make sure people in the community can be warned, or, if necessary, evacuated. In a way, it's good to know people are making plans to protect the community from the dangers of a nuclear disaster, but, then again, being in the figurative shadow of the atomic power station is cause for at least a little bit of discomfort.
Fortunately, we in the U.S. have been able to get a chuckle out of Homer Simpson's boobery over the years, even on the occasions when it involves atomic misdeeds. The Peach Bottom sleeping incident came some years after the Three Mile Island disaster a few dozen miles up the Susquehanna from Peach Bottom, and since those days, the operation of commercial U.S. nuclear power plants has been fairly uneventful, even as there have been shockingly more serious disasters in the former Soviet Union and, as recently as a year ago, in Japan.
Curiously, in the few years just prior to the disaster in Japan, nuclear power appeared to be coming back into the good graces of the American public. A nuclear power plant, after all, offers energy that's relatively cheap, as well as clean and safe, but clean and safe only as long as it is run by people who are vigilant about safety.
The only problem is, a single mistake, or natural disaster, can result in a catastrophe affecting thousands, if not millions, of people.
All in all, more than half a century after the dawn of the nuclear age, it remains to be seen if nuclear power will ever be fully trusted, or if it is even worthy of our trust. Its promise is one of energy independence, but the cost of making a mistake, well that's a real problem.
Just something to ponder as public safety strategies are checked on this ever so odd 25th anniversary.