THE JANE FONDA EFFECT
September 18, 2007
Is there a bigger global warming villain than Jane Fonda, ask Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, the authors of "Freakonomics."
"The China Syndrome" opened on March 16, 1979. With the no-nukes protest movement in full swing, the movie was attacked by the nuclear industry as an irresponsible act of leftist fear-mongering. Twelve days later, an accident occurred at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear plant in south-central Pennsylvania.
Stoked by "The China Syndrome," the accident at TMI created widespread panic:
- The nuclear industry, already foundering as a result of economic, regulatory and public pressures, halted plans for further expansion.
- And so, instead of becoming a nation with clean and cheap nuclear energy, as once seemed inevitable, the United States kept building power plants that burned coal and other fossil fuels.
- Today such plants account for 40 percent of the country's energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions.
Despite the unintended consequences of Jane Fonda, nuclear power may be making a comeback in the United States. Could it be that nuclear energy, risks and all, is preferable to global warming?
- There are plans for more than two dozen new reactors on the drawing board and billions of dollars in potential federal loan guarantees.
- Even though the development of new nuclear plants stalled by the early 1980s, the country's 104 reactors today produce nearly 20 percent of the electricity the nation consumes.
- This share has actually grown over the years along with our consumption, since nuclear technology has become more efficient.
- While the fixed costs of a new nuclear plant are higher than those of a coal or natural-gas plant, the energy is cheaper to create: Exelon, the largest nuclear company in the United States, claims to produce electricity at 1.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with 2.2 cents for coal.
Source: Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, "The Jane Fonda Effect," New York Times, September 16, 2007.
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