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Nuclear Plant Workers Don’t Flee

One of the more disturbing memes we’ve seen in the last few days occurred when plant workers at Fukushima Daiichi fell back when it seemed that radiation levels jumped at one of the reactors. More than one TV commentator I saw said the plant workers were “fleeing.” Fleeing!

Nuclear plant workers don’t flee. So I was greatly heartened to see this op-ed in the New York Times by Michael Friedlander, a nuclear engineer called Homer Simpson Need Not Apply:

The field attracts a very particular kind of person. I became a nuclear worker in the 1980s, in the wake of the oil crises of the 1970s. Nuclear power, for all its risks, seemed like the best alternative, and people like me who signed up at the time saw ourselves as the guardians of America’s energy future. We were the ones who would prevent the risks of nuclear power from becoming a reality, who would keep the plants safe and, in turn, the country’s way of life secure.

The same spirit motivates today’s workers. Contrary to the depiction of nuclear operators as bumbling slackers in “The Simpsons,” the typical employee is more like a cross between a jet pilot and a firefighter: highly trained to keep a technically complex system running, but also prepared to be the first and usually only line of defense in an emergency.

Exactly so. His conclusion is just right:

These operators will be hailed as heroes, and deservedly so. But if they are like the rest of the tightly knit community of nuclear workers, they will simply say they were doing their job.

Read the whole thing. It’s a beauty.

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