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Seesaw Coverage of Nuclear Power

by gmoke Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 11:13:29 PM EST

Today was the last seminar in a series on clean energy and the media at Harvard's Kennedy School.  The subject, scheduled months ago, was "The Seesaw Coverage of Nuclear Power" with Matt Wald, NYTimes, Ned Potter, ABC News, and Matt Bunn, Harvard.

My rough notes follow.

Wald:  First visited a nuke in 1979 at CT Yankee.  An alternative press reporter was indignant she didn't get to enter the reactor vessel.  General interest reporters don't usually understand mechanical things or complex technologies.  NRC and nuclear power tend not to get much coverage.  News doesn't talk about relative risks well [he mentioned deaths from different energy sources but not cancer].  At the current low price of natural gas, we won't build nukes.  "Anxiety doesn't stop construction."  Economics does.  US spent fuel pools more densely packed than Fukushima and, if there is a change in waste policy, it will be to dry cask storage rather than Yucca Mountain or some other permanent waste storage.

Potter:  There are differences in the media that determine their relative coverage.  Newspapers are good for data and facts.  TV is good for images.  TV news is only 180 words per minute, about a third of average reading speed.  He showed a clip from the ABC Nightly News from 3/30/79, the TMI accident, and then a Martha Raddatz report which was critiqued by Wald for its characterization of risks and realities [Wald objected to the comparison of radiation to x-rays per hour and the categorical statement about spent fuel catching fire].

Bunn:  Initial information is almost always wrong, especially in a crisis.  Japanese coverage is much calmer than American.  US nuclear industry has been defensive, secretive, and, in some cases, counterfactual.  There needs to be a wider context.  We are also much less prepared for a security incident than an accident.  The prospect for huge growth in nuclear to combat climate change is remote.

Potter:  His Wall Street contacts are buying into nuclear because of China's nuclear push and current low uranium prices.

Bunn:  4 nukes per year have been built in the last decade around the world.  We need 25 nukes per year to make a dent in climate change.

Wald:  Japan's other fuel for electricity is liquid natural gas (LNG).  US won't build a lot of anything because US demand is flat.  But rest of the world will.  Will we address climate change?  Doubtful.

Potter:  The narrative of US nuke power is that it's an environmental safety issue.

Q:  For nukes to be safe we need transparency but nuclear is growing only in dictatorships.
Bunn:  Nuclear energy requires human excellence not just technical excellence.
Wald:  In US, air safety (and nuclear safety) are pushed more through competition with other companies than through regulation.

Q:  Signal to noise in news?
Wald:  Nobody understands what's happening now and it is very difficult to say, "I don't know."

Q:  Boundaries of uncertainty?
Wald:  We gravitate to worst case but perhaps should be more concerned with likeliest case.
Potter:  On TV, it is short pieces on tight deadlines.  Not conducive to nuance or depth.
Bunn:  24 hour channels can do better with longer segments with experts who actually want to take advantage of the opportunity.

I was next in line when the moderator closed things down.  Would have asked about the historical context like interviews with Harold Denton of the TMI and Natalia Manzurova, who worked on the Chernobyl clean-up and now is touring the US under the sponsorship of Beyond Nuclear (http://www.aolnews.com/2011/03/22/chernobyl-cleanup-survivors-message-for-japan-run-away-as-qui/).


What's Covered Up at Fukushima - interesting interview with longtime Japanese anti-nuker

he media covers nuclear energy well?
. yes 0%
. no 50%
. not yes 12%
. not no 0%
. neither yes nor no 12%
. both yes and no 0%
. don't understand the question? 0%
. none of the above 25%

Votes: 8
Results | Other Polls
European Tribune - Seesaw Coverage of Nuclear Power
Q:  Signal to noise in news?
Wald:  Nobody understands what's happening now and it is very difficult to say, "I don't know."
Guilty as charged, I guess.

So, in what may be my last act of "advising", I'll advise you to cut the jargon. -- My old PhD advisor, to me, 26/2/11
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 07:03:55 AM EST
Oh, I don't know.
by njh on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 05:28:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the problem with media coverage is that it is entirely dependent on which reporter, which paper, which owner, which experts, what spin and most importantly, who's paying.

Unfortunately, while the first two are well known, the more important factors are invariably hidden. In the wake of the fukushima problem, it was noticeable that articles came out backing nuclear power. Who had they spoken to ? Or rather, who had spoken to them ? In the Guardian I expected the article from Julian Glover who is a right wing lickspittle with little intellectual heft. You could see right through his praise. But George Monbiot ? That was surprising. But I'm similar things happened in other papers.

Maybe Monbiot was writing with a pen uncluttered by the enticements of Corporate power, but a writer such as he who is invariably discussing the long haul on climate change, farming practices and the security of the biosphere should have at least mentioned the long term problems with nuclear. It was that absence that troubled me.

And that's the real problem with nuclear. The companies, the governments are obsessed with secrecy, terrified of negative reviews and will denigrate mercilessly anyone who dares to smear dirt on their shiny dreams. But if they won't speak the truth about their problems, problems that would scare anyone, why should we ever trust them ? and if the media don't know, how can they report reality ?

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 07:13:22 AM EST
As reported on ET TEPCO's incident in 2007 when the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant was hit by an earthquake led to a radioactive spill, 1200 times larger then first reported. IAEA demanded greater transparency, but nuclear transparency was apparently banned world wide post-9/11.

Transparency being banned is a problem to creating an athmosphere of trust.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Mar 25th, 2011 at 10:56:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not if you want to travel by air in the USA.  For airline travelers, transparency is mandatory either through backscatter radiation or rubber gloved hands.

Solar IS Civil Defense
by gmoke on Fri Mar 25th, 2011 at 04:21:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Should have quoted the important part:

European Tribune - Terrorism, Nuclear power and Secrecy

According to Jan-Olov Liljenzin, professor in nuclear chemistry at Chalmers university of technology (second largest technical college in Sweden) this is probably an empty gesture, and IAEA knows it. After september 11th 2001 nuclear companies has been ordered (by the governments) to keep secret anything that could help terrorists.

Apparently after the accident in Forsmark last summer Liljenzin encouraged Vattenfall to publicly explain the specifics of the electric system. They explained that they were not allowed too by law.

So telling about what goes on at the nuclear plants, not ok.

Checking airline passengers in any way possible, always ok.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Mar 25th, 2011 at 04:26:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by gmoke on Sun Mar 27th, 2011 at 04:39:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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