Perception of nuclear power may be affected by 'The Simpsons'
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, December 21, 2009 7:49AM EST
SASKATOON - An American philosophy professor who has edited a series of books about how TV programs such as The Simpsons have affected popular culture says many people may be concerned about nuclear power from watching the animated cartoon show.
The debate over nuclear power has been raging in Saskatchewan and Alberta and both provinces have signalled that they would take a very cautious approach to any proposals for nuclear power plants.
Dr. Bill Irwin, a philosophy professor at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., says Homer - the bumbling main character in The Simpsons who works at a nuclear power plant - has perhaps helped to put a negative spin on nuclear power by doing such things on the show as trying to stop a meltdown by randomly pressing buttons on a console.
He also points out that the owner of the nuclear power plant in The Simpsons, Mr. Burns, is portrayed as a cold-hearted, greedy industrialist. But the show's most intelligent character, Homer's daughter, Lisa, is portrayed as a staunch environmental advocate.
"She's very eco-friendly and very much against nuclear power and the nuclear power plant run by Mr. Burns," Irwin said during a recent interview on a Saskatchewan radio talk show.
The editor of the book "The Simpsons and Philosophy" says television and movies about nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have also added to negative publicity surrounding nuclear power.
With such shows as The Simpsons poking fun at the nuclear industry and movies that focus on disasters, Irwin says it's somewhat disappointing that there are so many negative stereotypes in the media about nuclear power.
The explosion at Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 on April 26, 1986 was the world's worst nuclear accident, spewing radiation over a large swath of the former Soviet Union and much of northern Europe. It directly contaminated an area roughly half the size of Italy, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
In the two months after the disaster, 31 people died of radioactivity, but the final toll is still debated with the World Health Organization estimating that about 9,300 will eventually die from cancers caused by Chernobyl's radiation.
A partial meltdown occurred in Three Mile Island's Unit 2 reactor near Middletown, Pa., on March 28, 1979 didn't cause any deaths or injuries. But it did lead to sweeping changes in the U.S. industry.
Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bill Boyd said Thursday that a proposal from Ontario-based Bruce Power for a large-scale power plant in the province will not move forward. But he said that type of power should still be in the province's "basket of options".
Opening the door to nuclear power was one of the recommendations made in April by a government-appointed panel, but public consultations found that most Saskatchewan residents oppose building such a plant.
Alberta Energy Minister Mel Knight said last Monday that the province would look at proposals for nuclear power plants on a case-by-case basis, but wouldn't fund them or promise to buy the energy they may generate.
Irwin has also edited a series of similar books, which look at the effect of such TV shows as The Sopranos and Seinfeld on popular culture and philosophy.