WASHINGTON--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 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 February 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 spokesperson for San Onofre's owner, Southern California Edison, who accompanied the producers and writers.
Although they did little initial research, Simon said the "Simpsons" creators seemed to represent worker conditions accurately. The writers placed Homer in a "sector" to illustrate an impersonal bureaucracy, then discovered some plants actually used that term.
But he 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."
The show will continue to jab the industry in its third season next year, but in a more responsible way, Simon said.
Plans even call for Homer to avert a nuclear meltdown.
Asleep at the Wheel
"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."
Asked if she watched "The Simpsons," Three Mile Island spokesperson Mary Wells jokingly told a reporter, "Goodbye!" But she relented, and confessed she finds the show funny.
"It was really just for the joke that this boob had a position where he could possibly make a mistake and destroy the world," Simon said.