Set in the post-World War II era, Nerves presents the events leading up to an accident in an atomic plant, the details of the accident, and the steps taken to contain it.
In this near-future setting, the atomic industry (Lester del Rey rarely uses the term “nuclear”) is thriving. In addition to energy, the plants supply a large number of super-heavy isotopes with medical, agricultural, and other applications. Privately held, and apparently largely unregulated, the atomic plants offer innumerable benefits to the general population.
Most of the action is set in the largest and most successful of the plants, National Atomics Products. Kimberly, Missouri, the home of the plant, was once a quiet farming community but is now a small city thanks to the company’s success. Despite the success of the atomic plants, they are under siege. Influenced by certain newspapers, the public—and in turn the government—has become concerned about the industry’s safety.
The action opens on the day that National Atomics is visited by a congressional committee, many of whose members want to pass laws strictly limiting the atomic plants. The presence of the committee raises tensions among the workers, leading to an accident in which one of them is burned by radiation.
The injury is presented as a normal and acceptable job risk, but the plant owner, Palmer, fears that the committee will use the accident as a pretext to pass...
(The entire section is 545 words.)