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.
"My views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views," wrote Mr. Moore in 2006. "Nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change."
But as an exploding, burning nuclear plant in Fukushima spewed radioactive smoke on surrounding cities earlier this month, Mr. Moore was horrified. "I was quite upset by what I saw."admits the former antinuclear activist now employed by the Nuclear Energy Institute trade group.
Illustrating the pragmatism that experts say is likely to prevail over the long term, Moore still supports nuclear power: "I have not in any way lost my support for nuclear energy. What's happening is such a unique event, a tragedy.... Until a thing like this is over, you don't know what the consequences will be. I'm just hopeful if they do rebuild on sites like this in Japan that they will make sure it can withstand this type of tsunami.... I'm sure we will all learn from this."
He suggests the accident was due to freak coincidence: Emergency shut-off systems had actually worked and cooling systems would have, too, if the massive quake had not been so quickly followed by a tsunami that knocked out backup generators.
Though the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) doesn't explicitly endorse it, the group has adopted a "moderate" stance on nuclear power and echoes Moore.