Nuclear power's big allure has always been the idea of cheap, limitless power – "electricity too cheap to meter," as one 1960s era slogan termed it. By the mid-1980s, however, nuclear plant construction cost overruns, nuclear utility bankruptcies, and the frightening, costly accidents at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and Chernobyl in Ukraine had soured public opinion on nuclear power.
But in the past decade, the idea of a "nuclear renaissance" had bloomed as a clean, alternative to fossil fuels that might be an antidote to global warming.
And Americans supported the renaissance: After 25 years without a major accident, Gallup found 62 percent support for nuclear energy last March – the highest since the polling firm first asked the question in 1994.
Before Fukushima, more than 60 nuclear reactors were under construction in 15 countries – including, at the head of the pack, China, Russia, and South Korea. Other nations like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and the Philippines were lining up for their first nuclear plant.
Even respected environmentalists such as Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand and Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore had joined the "renaissance" as a last ditch effort to head off climate change.