Despite the best efforts of fear-mongers seeking to kill it, nuclear power isn't quite dead yet in America.

New life was breathed into the long-dormant nuclear power industry last week when the Tennessee Valley Authority announced that it is moving toward making the nation's first new venture into commercial nuclear power in 12 years.By announcing that it will make a final decision in two to three years, the TVA is lofting a trial balloon that's bound to attract plenty of snipers. Even so, it's a case of the right move at the right time, a move that should be considered by others in the business of generating electricity.

Unlike investor-owned utilities, which are regulated by public service commissions, the federally-owned TVA would need only the approval of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

That permission should be easier to obtain because the nation can't meet its soaring demands for electricity through conservation or without resorting to fossil fuels that pollute the air and add to the greenhouse effect believed to be dangerously warming the Earth.

Moreover, following the example of Canada and France, the United States seems to be on the verge of developing new plans for nuclear power plants that would be smaller and follow a common design, instead of the customized plants of the past. This change could make it possible to reduce the time it takes to build a U.S. nuclear plant from nearly a decade to only five years.

All this is why the new energy policy about to be announced by the White House is said to include an effort to revive the nuclear power industry.

But none of these improvements may matter much unless some Americans get over their excessive fear of nuclear power. This fear has spawned endless lawsuits that needlessly delayed the construction of N-plants, added exorbitantly to their costs and discouraged the building of new ones.

Yet, in more than four decades, the only Americans to die in the commercial generation of nuclear energy have been workers inside the plants. Moreover, the few deaths have been mostly attributable to accidents that have nothing to do with radiation.

By contrast, tens of thousands of Americans die each year in highway accidents. Yet the nation would either laugh off or shout down any effort to shut down Detroit the way the nuclear power industry has been closed.

Let's hope, then, that the Tennessee Valley Authority succeeds in its new effort to get nuclear power moving again. More power to the TVA - in more ways than one.