A new PBS documentary opens during a scary time: the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan more than five years ago. The disaster triggered a wave of nuclear plant closures around the world.
Despite its chilling start, the hour-long feature released Wednesday — titled “The Nuclear Option” and part of the PBS NOVA science series — ends up taking an optimistic view about the future of nuclear power and its role combating climate change.
Science journalist Miles O’Brien spent considerable time at Idaho National Laboratory while reporting the story, examining the early days of nuclear power, and the move away from federal nuclear research in the 1990s. He calls the lab a “storied place, emerging from a long, nuclear winter.”
Featured experts include Charles Till, a former Argonne National Laboratory-West director, as well as Mark Peters, INL’s current director.
“The beginnings of nuclear power are here,” says Till. “At Argonne, you were right in the center of it.”
O’Brien discusses how at INL, “they are taking some of the old reactors out of mothballs,” including the Transient Reactor Test Facility. A big reason is climate change “reality,” O’Brien says, which is causing federal money to flow once again in nuclear power’s direction.
The documentary also takes a look at the beginnings of NuScale Power, the Oregon company that hopes to build a new type of modular nuclear power plant on INL’s desert site in the next decade.
“If you really do wish to do something about climate change, then nuclear is the path,” says Till.
“The Nuclear Option” will replay on PBS World at 12 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Tuesday, and on PBS Plus at 7 a.m., 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, 6 a.m. Monday and 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tuesday. It is available to view online at pbs.org/nova.