Tuesday, March 15, 2011


During the recent aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, I’ve had one recurring thought: This sounds familiar.


In the mid-1980s, when I was about 10 years old, I would load a favorite “game” from cassette on my Atari 400: SCRAM.



As the manual indicates, this nuclear power plant simulation eerily predicted current events. As a child, I found it captivating, and a little later I would tour Three Mile Island with my father, and stand awestruck within the immense, disused cooling tower of the TMI-2 reactor.

SCRAM’s creator no longer seems to respect his program:

Chris Crawford said that, if he could do SCRAM all over again he'd start by asking himself "What is fun and interesting about nuclear power plants?" and, to which he'd answer "not much", and then he'd scrap SCRAM outright.

This discouragement is unfortunate. If nothing else, SCRAM taught me the basics of how a nuclear plant works, and the technical risks involved. A quarter century later, the lessons of his educational software have stuck with me, and put me in a better position to follow the news reports from Japan. And who knows, perhaps 25 years ago, some Japanese kid impatiently watched his Atari’s “Mt. Fuji” logo as SCRAM loaded from the cassette drive… and became inspired to enter a field where he or she is heroically making a difference today.

Even with the alarming events transpiring at Japan’s nuclear plants, I believe that nuclear power is beneficial when compared to the underappreciated human and environmental cost of fossil fuel generation. I hope that Japan prevails in its efforts to contain the current damage with minimal human cost, and that we do not derail the further development of nuclear power, with decades of additional engineering and safety research, in a fit of overreaction.

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