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It was inevitable. Producers of "The Simpsons," criticized last year for "cheap shots" at nuclear power, have received a letter from Ralph Nader praising the prime-time cartoon show's topical humor.

The consumer watchdog told program executives on March 4 that "poorly-managed plants may be operating with Simpson-like occurrences." To make his point, he provided the executives with a laundry list of nuclear mishaps.Nader even said that lazy, bungling Homer Simpson, an employee of the fictitious Springfield nuclear plant, might be a hero for bringing safety issues to light.

"Homer's activities are, in effect, very `animated' whistleblowing," Nader said.

Nader "is just saying he sent us a list of real-life, Homer Simpson-esque incidents," Sam Simon, the show's executive producer, said Friday. "I'm writing him back saying I know they happen and we're going to continue to portray them on the show as long as we think they're funny," he said.

Simon said he wanted to be fair to both sides of the nuclear energy debate, "but I don't think the show should have this relentless political agenda."

Last year, the U.S. Council for Energy Awareness, an industry information group, told "Simpsons" producers it was horrified to see nuclear plant workers portrayed as "bungling idiots."

Simon apologized last year for industry "cheap shots," saying he agreed with the council that "in real life Homer Simpson would not be employed at a nuclear power plant."

But Nader said there was no need for the show to have apologized.

Nader's letter included details of incidents at Pennsylvania's Peach Bottom plant, ordered shut down for two years beginning in March 1987 after control room workers were found napping on the job. After a management

shakeup, the plant resumed operation in April 1989.