“With a very few notable exceptions, such as the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. media have turned the same sort of blind, uncritical eye on the nuclear industry’s claims that led an earlier generation of Americans to believe atomic energy would be too cheap to meter,” comments Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “The nuclear industry’s public relations effort has improved over the past 50 years, while the natural skepticism of reporters toward corporate claims seems to have disappeared.”
The risk scenarios are also regularly downplayed, though the potential disasterous effects of a meltdown are mind-numbing.
As to the risks, the mainstream media’s handling—or non-handling—of the U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
And it's pretty clear that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission plays number games with accident probabilities, as discussed in this well-documented, heavily footnoted article from Greenpeace USA, The Probablility of a Nuclear Accident.
Why are the major media so enthusiastically supportive of nuclear power? Just follow the money trail:
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.
There are abundant alternatives to nuclear energy that are genuinely clean, safe, and sustainable. But, don't expect to hear this from the mainstream media.