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Nuclear Industry is Red Hot Over Cartoon

December 5, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nuclear power industry is having a meltdown over ″The Simpsons.″

The prime-time cartoon show’s evil power-plant owner with overbite, the dozing employees and a three-eyed fish named Blinky all have contributed to driving industry officials into a critical mass. But more than anything, Homer Simpson has them glowing under the collar.

The U.S. Council for Energy Awareness, an industry information group, told the ″Simpsons″ producers in a February letter it was horrified to see nuclear plant workers portrayed as ″bungling idiots.″

Top ″idiot″ on the council’s list was Homer, father of the Simpson family and an employee of the fictitious Springfield nuclear plant. Homer, perpetually in need of a shave, seems to care less about safety than about naps, doughnuts and having enough tartar sauce for his fish sticks.

In various episodes, Homer gives away the plant’s blueprints to a foreign exchange student, his boss tries to bribe a plant inspector with a bushel of cash, and three-eyed ″Blinky″ is found swimming near the plant.

″I am sorry that the Simpsons has offended a lot of people in the energy industry,″ Executive Producer Sam Simon said in a Feb. 5 letter to Carl Goldstein, a vice president of energy group. ″I agree with you that in real life Homer Simpson would not be employed at a nuclear power plant.

″On the other hand, he probably wouldn’t be employed anywhere.″

After they exchanged a few more letters, Simon finally suggested he and other Fox Broadcasting Co. executives tour a real nuclear power plant.

″We had no illusion that this was suddenly going to turn ‘The Simpsons’ into anything resembling real life, and it hasn’t,″ Goldstein said. ″But they were interested.″

In April, the group converged on the San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Clemente, Calif., 40 miles south of the Fox Los Angeles offices.

″We don’t have any Homers at our nuclear plant,″ said David Barron, a spokesman for San Onofre’s owner, Southern California Edison, who accompanied the producers and writers.

Simon said the tour showed that ″The Simpsons″ had been right - and wrong - about nuclear power.

Although they did little initial research, he said the ″Simpsons″ creators seemed to accurately represent worker conditions - the cafeterias, lunch pails and radiation warning signs. The writers placed Homer in a ″sector″ to illustrate an impersonal bureaucracy, then discovered some plants actually used that term.

But Simon also said the tour also ″changed a lot of peoples’ minds. I think the facts are pretty powerful that it’s a clean and safe and important source of energy. While some of the shows were in the works before, we really backed off that as a source of comedy. No more three-eyed fish.″

But don’t have a cow, Simpsons fans.

The show will continue to jab the industry in its third season next year, but in a more responsible way, Simon said.

For example, Homer is to begin a dinner grace with this: ″Thank you for nuclear power, which has yet to cause a single fatality ... at least in this country.″

Plans even call for Homer to avert a nuclear meltdown.

″He’s kind of asleep at the wheel and wakes up when there’s an alarm, and doesn’t know which button to press, so he goes eeney-meeney-miney-mo and hits a button and does avert a meltdown,″ Simon said. ″He becomes a hero and feels guilty about it. It’s not a politically charged episode.″

The domestic industry has been sensitive about its image since one of the two Three Mile Island reactors was crippled in a 1979 accident that led to a $1 billion cleanup. And in 1987, Pennsylvania’s Peach Bottom plant was shut down for a time and 33 workers fined on charges of ″sleeping and-or inattention to duty.″

Asked if she watched ″The Simpsons,″ Three Mile Island spokeswoman Mary Wells jokingly told a reporter, ″Goodbye 3/8″ But she relented, and confessed she finds the show funny.

Simon said the producers had a practical reason for placing Homer at a power plant.

″It was really just for the joke that this boob had a position where he could possibly make a mistake and destroy the world,″ he said.

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