The China Syndrome And Why We Wussed Out On Nuclear Power

The China Syndrome was a movie about how dangerous nuclear power plants are that, fortunately for the producers, came out 12 days before the Three Mile Island disaster. You can thank it for why we're still reliant on coal power.

The name of the movie refers to a downright-preposterous idea that if a nuclear power plant in America melted down, it would melt through the entire Earth and pop out in China. It doesn't take a scientist to figure out that there are some holes in that logic.

The timing of the movie coming out tying in with Three Mile Island may have been lucky for the producers, who suddenly had a huge blockbuster hit on their hands, but it was less lucky for boosters of safe nuclear energy. Since that meltdown, the production of nuclear power plants has gone down significantly despite the fact that there were no deaths or even recorded cases of cancer caused by Three Mile Island—the amount of radiation that the people near the plant were exposed to is said to be similar to that of getting an X-ray.

Instead, we had a movie that hysterically made up fake info about the danger of nuclear power and the evil intentions of those behind power plants that turned a relatively minor accident into a huge outcry against nuclear power. And now here we are 30 years later, still skiddish about what is probably the safest and most eco-friendly source of power we've got. Thanks for nothing, Jack Lemmon!

Gizmodo '79 is a week-long celebration of gadgets and geekdom 30 years ago, as the analogue age gave way to the digital, and most of our favourite toys were just being born.