The Hoax of Eco-Friendly
Nuclear Energy: Part 2

by Karl Grossman
March 13, 2008

Staggering Numbers
As to the risks, the mainstream media's handling-or non-handling-of the US government's most comprehensive study on the consequences of a nuclear plant accident is instructive. Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences 2 (known as CRAC-2) was done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the 1980s. Bill Smirnow, an anti-nuclear activist, has tried for years to interest media in reporting on it-sending out information about it continually.

The study estimates the impacts from a meltdown at each nuclear plant in the US in categories of "peak early fatalities," "peak early injuries," "peak cancer deaths" and "costs [in] billions." ("Peak" refers to the highest calculated value-not a "worst case scenario," as worse assumptions could have been chosen.) For the Indian Point 3 plant north of New York City, for example, the projection is that a meltdown would cause 50,000 "peak early fatalities," 141,000 "peak early injuries," 13,000 "peak cancer deaths," and $314 billion in property damage-and that's based on the dollar's value in 1980, so the cost today would be nearly $1 trillion.

For the Salem 2 nuclear plant in New Jersey, the study projects 100,000 "peak early fatalities," 70,000 "peak early injuries," 40,000 "peak cancer deaths," and $155 billion in property damage. The study provides similarly staggering numbers across the country.

"I've sent the CRAC-2 material out for years to media and have never heard a thing," Smirnow told Extra!:

Not anyone in the media ever even asked me a question. There's no excuse for this media inattention to such an important subject, and it shows how they're falling flat on their faces in not performing their purported mission of educating and informing the public. Whatever their reason or reasons for not informing their readers and listeners, the effect is one of helping the nuclear power industry and hurting the public. If the public was informed, this new big pro-nuke push would never happen.

Also in the way of sins of omission is the media silence on "routine emissions"-the amount of radioactivity the US government allows to be routinely released by nuclear plants. "It doesn't take an accident for a nuclear power plant to release radioactivity into our air, water and soil," says Kay Drey of Beyond Nuclear at the Nuclear Policy Research Institute. "All it takes is the plant's everyday routine operation, and federal regulations permit these radioactive releases. Rarely, if ever, is this reported by media." The radioactive substances regularly emitted include tritium, krypton and xenon. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission sets a "permissible" level for these "routine emissions," but, as Drey states, "permissible does not mean safe."

Hidden Subsidies
Another lonely voice amid the media nuclear cheerleaders is the Las Vegas Sun, which recently has been especially outraged by $50 billion in loan guarantees for the nuclear industry to build new nuclear plants included in the 2007 Energy Bill. The Sun demanded (8/1/07): "Pull the Plug Already."

In reporting on the economics of nuclear power, mainstream media virtually never mention the many government subsidies for it, while continuing to claim that it's "cost-effective" (Augusta Chronicle, 8/21/06). One such giveaway is the Price-Anderson Act, which shields the nuclear industry from liability for catastrophic accidents. Price-Anderson, supposed to be temporary when first enacted in 1957, has been extended repeatedly and now limits liability in the event of an accident to $10 billion, despite CRAC-2's projections of consequences far worse than that.

Writing on (9/11/07), Ralph Nader explored the economic issue. "Taxpayers alert!" he declared:

The atomic power corporations are beating on the doors in Washington to make you guarantee their financing for more giant nuclear plants. They are pouring money and applying political muscle to Congress for up to $50 billion in loan guarantees to persuade an uninterested Wall Street that Uncle Sam will pay for any defaults on industry construction loans.... The atomic power industry does not give up. Not as long as Uncle Sam can be dragooned to be its subsidizing, immunizing partner. Ever since the first of 100 plants opened in 1957, corporate socialism has fed this insatiable atomic goliath with many types of subsidies.

Ignored Alternatives
"Vive les Nukes," a pro-nuclear segment broadcast on 60 Minutes in 2007, was rife with errors and omissions. Image credit: 60 Minutes
Yet another claim by mainstream media in pushing for a nuclear revival is the "success" of the French nuclear program. 60 Minutes (4/8/07) did it in a segment called "Vive Les Nukes." (See FAIR Action Alert, 4/18/07.) Correspondent Steve Kroft started with the nuclear-power-doesn't-contribute-to-global-warming myth:

With power demands rising and concerns over global warming increasing, what the world needs now is an efficient means of producing carbon-free energy. And one of the few available options is nuclear, a technology whose time seemed to come and go, and may now be coming again.... With zero greenhouse gas emissions, the US government, public utilities and even some environmental groups are taking a second look at nuclear power, and one of the first places they're looking to is France, where it's been a resounding success.

Though she was totally ignored, Linda Gunter of Beyond Nuclear told 60 Minutes of radioactive contamination in the marine life off Normandy where the French reprocessing center sits, leukemia clusters in people living along that coast, and massive demonstrations in French cities earlier in the year protesting construction of new nuclear power plants.

The Union of Concerned Scientists was upset by 60 Minutes' downplaying of alternative energy technologies such as wind and solar. UCS's Alden Meyer wrote to 60 Minutes:

In fact, wind power could supply more energy to the US grid than nuclear does today, and when combined with a mix of energy efficiency and other renewable energy sources, could provide a continuous energy supply that would help us make dramatic reductions in global warming.

Dismissal of renewable energy forms is another major facet of mainstream media's drive for a nuclear power revival. As the St. Petersburg Times put it (12/08/06), "While renewable sources of energy such as solar power are still in the developmental stage, nuclear is the new green."

Renewables Are Ready was the title of a 1999 book written by two UCS staffers. Today, they are more than ready. "Wind is the cheapest form of new generation now being built," wrote Greenpeace advisor Wasserman (Free Press, 4/10/07). He pointed to an "array of wind, solar, bio-fuels, geothermal, ocean thermal and increased conservation and efficiency."

Wasserman has also written about another element ignored by most mainstream media (Free Press, 7/9/07): "The switch to renewables defunds global terrorism. Atomic reactors are pre-deployed weapons of radioactive mass destruction. Shutting them down ends the fear of apocalyptic disaster by both terror and error." He stressed, again, that safe, clean energy is here and "we could replace everything with available technology that could easily supply all our needs while allowing a sustainable planet to survive and thrive."

The One Green Thing
What are the causes of the media nuclear dysfunction? The obvious problem is media ownership. General Electric, for one, is both a leading nuclear plant manufacturer and a media mogul, owning NBC and other outlets. (For years, CBS was owned by Westinghouse; Westinghouse and GE are the Coke and Pepsi of nuclear power.) There have been board and financial interlocks between the media and nuclear industries. There is the long-held pro-nuclear faith at media such as the New York Times. (See sidebar.)

There is also the giant public relations operation-both corporate, led by the NEI, and government, involving the Department of Energy and its national nuclear laboratories. "You have the NEI and the nuclear industry propagandizing on nuclear power, and journalists taking down what the industry is saying and not looking at the veracity of their claims," Greenpeace USA nuclear policy analyst Jim Riccio told Extra!.

And then there's lots of money. FAIR recently exposed (Action Alert, 8/22/07) how National Public Radio, which broadcasts many pro-nuclear pieces, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from "nuclear operator Sempra Energy" and Constellation Energy, "which belongs to Nustart Energy, a 10-company consortium pushing for new nuclear power plant construction."

The only thing green about nuclear power is the nuclear establishment's dollars.

Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. Books he has written about nuclear technology include Cover Up: What You ARE NOT Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power. He has hosted many television programs on nuclear technology on

"Money is the Real Green Power"
By Karl Grossman / Extra!

The New York Times is not alone in promoting a revival of nuclear power. But as the US paper of record, it sets the media tone. Its pro-nuclear editorial culture began decades ago when the Manhattan Project and its corporate contractors (notably General Electric and Westinghouse, which became the major manufacturers of nuclear power plants) sought to perpetuate what was established during World War II, by making other things atomic.

Because of the Times' importance, Manhattan Project director Gen. Leslie Groves personally arranged for its reporter, William Laurence, to join the project. Laurence was responsible for the first piece of nuclear media disinformation; he wrote a press statement to cover up the first test of an atomic device, claiming there had been an ammunition dump explosion. Laurence later, as the only "journalist" that had been at the 1945 Trinity test, wrote that it was like being "present at the moment of creation when the Lord said 'let there be light.'"

After atomic bombs dropped on Japan, the Times both ran and "distributed free to the nation's other newspapers" a 10-part series written by Laurence glorifying the Manhattan Project, notes News Zero: The New York Times and The Bomb by Beverly Keever (Common Courage Press). Radioactivity was all but unmentioned in the series.

And the Times science reporter continued for years to wax poetic about atomic technology. "From the dawn of the atomic-bomb age, Laurence and the Times almost single-handedly shaped the news of this epoch and helped birth the acceptance of the most destructive force ever created," writes Keever, professor of journalism at the University of Hawaii. Laurence would describe nuclear power as "making the dream of the Earth as a Promised Land come true."

This essay, which originally appeared in the February 3, 2008 edition of Extra!, is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

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