Network News Barely Considers Nuclear Option
It was 1979. Sony introduced its Walkman, the
The rock stars got their wish â€“ not a single new nuclear power plant has been built in the
But while public attitudes toward nuclear options have changed since 1979, the media are still siding with Browne, Simon and John Hall, who sang a protest lullaby to nuclear power that helped put it to sleep for three decades. Now, the mediaâ€™s persistent silence on the energy source is speaking volumes.
The media didnâ€™t comment even when anti-nuclear activists hit the campaign trail. CBS ignored Browne and Bonnie Raittâ€™s anti-nuclear stance as they performed on the campaign trail with John Edwards in late 2007. In contrast, the left-wing blog Huffington Post provided that context right away in a Nov. 20, 2007 piece: â€śThe two musicians are no strangers to political activism, organizing the No Nukes concerts way back in 1979 with John Hall of Orleans (now Congressman John Hall, D-N.Y.).
â€śJust give me the warm power of the sun. Give me the steady flow of a waterfall. Give me the spirit of living things as they return to clay. Just give me the restless power of the wind. Give me the comforting glow of a wood fire. But please take all your atomic poison power away,â€ť went the sing-along at one of the 1979 No Nukes concerts.
Now, roughly 30 years later, nuclear energy is up for debate thanks to an election heated by energy concerns.
Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain said on August 5 that he wants to build 45 more nuclear power plants. According to CNN Money.com, â€śThat would add significantly to the nationâ€™s current fleet of 104 active plants, which produce about 20% of the nationâ€™s power.â€ť Thatâ€™s far behind the roughly 80 percent used in
Even Democratic Sen. Barack Obama isnâ€™t completely opposed to nuclear power. He said he is open to the possibility if a number of problems can be solved â€śincluding safety, waste storage, vulnerability to terrorist attack and concerns about weapons proliferation,â€ť according to National Public Radio.
Despite that high-powered support, there was mostly silence on the part of ABC, NBC and CBS news programs on the issue of nuclear energy. Between Aug. 8, 2007, and Aug. 11, 2008, many of the network mentions of nuclear power were from politicians including McCain, Obama and their surrogates. In those cases, the prospect of a return to nuclear was typically ignored by the interviewer.
The twenty-second anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl accident that killed 31 people also prompted a few stories about nuclear energy. On CBS reporter Bill Plante didnâ€™t tell viewers that nuclear technology and safety have improved tremendously since the
â€śNuclear power will always have a shadow over it as long as
The network coverage wasnâ€™t all bad. On a few rare occasions, network journalists focused on increased public support for nuclear power because of rising gas prices. Those stories included proponents and opponents of nuclear energy.
The Sound of (Near) Silence
Itâ€™s been an energy summer for the presidential candidates, but if McCain and Obama hadnâ€™t mentioned the issue there wouldnâ€™t have been many nuclear energy stories on the networks.
Harry Smith, co-host of the CBS â€śEarly Show,â€ť had Govs. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., and Charlie Crist, R-Fla., on August 5 to discuss the energy plans proposed by McCain and Obama.
Smith was one of the few network interviewers who brought up the nuclear issue as he asked Crist, â€śSo itâ€™s going to be nukes and offshore drilling and thatâ€™s going to solve our energy problems?â€ť Crist responded that McCainâ€™s strategy is â€śall hands on deck,â€ť including nuclear. But the discussion soon turned to other matters. Sadly, that short exchange was extensive compared to a number of other programs.
ABCâ€™s political roundtable show â€śThis Week with George Stephanopoulosâ€ť included former GOP
That was a pattern on the networks, happening at least five times since July 13 on CBSâ€™s â€śFace the Nationâ€ť August 3 and â€śThe Early Showâ€ť July 21, NBCâ€™s â€śTodayâ€ť July 18 and 21, and ABCâ€™s â€śThis Weekâ€ť July 13.
On rare occasions networks reporters discussed the issue. â€śWorld Newsâ€ť reported on August 9 that â€śthere appears to be more open minds when it comes to nuclear energy, but there is a great divide both in political party and gender.â€ť
NBC â€śNightly Newsâ€ť took a deeper look on July 19 that mentioned
That â€śNightly Newsâ€ť story was one of the few exceptions to the past yearâ€™s coverage of nuclear energy. However, there was no shortage of stories promoting â€śalternativeâ€ť energy sources like wind and solar power, or touting hybrid cars and compact fluorescent light bulbs without detailing their flaws.
Erin Burnett was unique on June 22 when she went so far as to promote nuclear energy, along with other â€śalternative fuels,â€ť saying that U.S. â€ścould dramatically increaseâ€ť its use of nuclear power. But Burnettâ€™s push for nuclear energy was an anomaly among network reports.
Runninâ€™ on Empty
The Energy Information Administration estimates that world energy consumption will increase 50 percent from 2005 to 2030. Electricity usage in particular â€śis projected to grow more than twice as fast as committed resources over the next 10 years,â€ť according to the North American Electric Reliability Corp.
That means the
The energy Fortune magazine called â€śmost maligned of power sourcesâ€ť is now supported by about 44 percent of Americans â€“ the most in 28 years according to an ABC News/Planet Green/Stanford University poll conducted July 28.
Another poll reported by NBC â€śTodayâ€ť July 4 found even more support for nuclear power. Sixty-seven percent favor building nuclear power plants, according to NBC.
â€śThe nuclear industry says itâ€™s one of the cleanest, cheapest ways to produce power,â€ť Tom Costello said on the July 19 â€śNightly News.â€ť Costelloâ€™s positive report was one of the few in the last year.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, â€śnuclear energy is the only electricity source that can generate electricity 24/7 reliably, efficiently and with no greenhouse-gas emissions.â€ť
Patrick Moore, an environmentalist who helped found Greenpeace, was once an opponent of nuclear power. Now he is pro-nuke. â€śWe were wrong and I think it was a mistake,â€ť
â€śItâ€™s not a question of lesser of evils, itâ€™s which energy generating technology is most in tune with climate change and energy security policies,â€ť said
Power to the People
Nuclear technology has also come a long way since Three Mile Island happened and Jane Fonda spread fear of nuclear power in â€śThe China Syndrome.â€ť â€śThe latest designs for proposed plants are smaller, cheaper and more efficient than reactors of the past,â€ť according the February 27 Popular Mechanics. The plants are also safer â€“ although they have a high upfront cost of roughly $4 billion each.
Nuclear energy also has advantages over coal, wind and solar, according to Exelon CEO John Rowe.
â€śCoal with carbon sequestration looks more like 20 years away than 15,â€ť Rowe said in Popular Mechanics. â€śWind and solar are still more expensive than nuclear.â€ť
Wind and solar problem also face the problem of inconsistency, according to Duke Energy spokesman Tom Shiel, who told the Business & Media Institute the technology to store power from those sources isnâ€™t available yet.
Despite that, nuclear energy still faces rock â€™nâ€™ roll opposition. Singers Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Graham Nash are still performing No Nuke anthems from the â€™70s. In a recent video on Nukefree.org, Browne claimed that nuclear isnâ€™t safe or clean. Greenpeace also opposes nuclear energy expansion, claiming in a 2007 briefing that â€ś[e]very dollar spent on nuclear power is a dollar stolen from the real solutions to climate change.â€ť
â€śThey confuse nuclear weapons with nuclear energy, claim non-existent dangers, and misrepresent nuclear power's economics,â€ť explained Jack Spencer, the Research Fellow in Nuclear Energy at The Heritage Foundation.
The musicians and Greenpeace still want â€śthe warm power of the sunâ€ť and â€śrestless power of the wind.â€ť So do the news media.
In one example, NBC Chief Environmental Correspondent Anne Thompson touted a
â€śThe Electric Research Power Institute says this kind of solar power is two to four times more expensive than electricity from natural gas or coal,â€ť said Thompson. But that didnâ€™t dissuade Thompson who promoted a carbon cap that would make coal more costly in order to make solar more competitive. She ignored the nuclear option entirely.
CBS â€śEvening Newsâ€ť took a trip to an â€śecological fantasy islandâ€ť on March 8, 2007. On the Danish
Mark Phillipsâ€™ report ignored geographic differences between the island and other places when he said, â€śIf this can work here, maybe it can work anywhere.â€ť
At least as far back at 2005, CBS promoted â€śa solution to high energy pricesâ€ť that â€śmay be as plain as daylight.â€ť But that Nov. 10, 2005 report about Barry and Anita Mathisâ€™ low power bills ignored the cost of installing the solar panels. Half of the Mathisâ€™ costs were covered by other taxpayers in the state of