Scaremonger Week in the mainstream media

By Paul Bowersox

An unusual number of unusually ill-founded nuclear headlines appeared in the mainstream media last week. Among the more prominent:

  • The Opinion Pages at the New York Times lit up with A Nuclear Submariner Challenges a Pro-Nuclear Film, wherein John Dudley Miller espoused his disbelief of the pronuclear climate change film “Pandora’s Promise” and of climatologist James Hansen. More than 440 comments later (as of this writing) the debate goes on—click the ‘NYT Picks’ link above the comments section to save some time and see which way things are going.
  • But let’s get back to the serious scaremongering. “Apocalypse!” “Millions of Deaths!” So screams a headline at RT:  Fukushima Apocalypse: Years of ‘Duct Tape Fixes’ Could Result in ‘Millions of Deaths’ (Note: the headline got it wrong—not apocalyptic enough. The interview subject, fallout researcher Christina Consolo, says that “millions of people will probably die even if things stay exactly as they are, and billions could die if things get any worse…”)

Take a click and come back—if you are not so unnerved as to immediately take to the hills in a vain attempt to escape.

Well, perhaps you are not an online subscriber to RT. Mainstream media? Sure.  RT is the 2nd-most-watched foreign news channel in the United States, with 1 billion views on YouTube (more than Fox News). The article above has 23,000 Facebook ‘likes’. Articles such as this are linked all over the internet, diaries are written about them at political blogs, journalists become aware of them, social media spreads them to all corners…

ANS Nuclear Cafe readers will be familiar with Howard Shaffer’s contributions in promoting the benefits of nuclear technology and energy in Vermont. On the Social Media listserv hosted by ANS, he responded to the RT article by writing:

“This article is a wonderful piece of writing. It is a good example of the class of ‘Overblown SCARE STORY’ to promote a political agenda. It is not even good science fiction. Science fiction gets the basic science right. This article deals with the here and now, known science.

The writer does not understand the basic physics and engineering of nuclear chain reactions. Since the first controlled chain reaction in 1942, scientists, designers, builders, fuel processors, and operators have all known of the possibility of an unintended critical reaction. Every effort is always made at every step to prevent this. Still, human beings have made mistakes and there have been a few unintended criticalities.

The statement that the tiniest mistake in moving fuel BUNDLES (not rods) can cause a reaction is wrong. The entire process, beginning with manufacture, has been designed to prevent just this.

Pools were designed for storage for at least 5 years in the United States. Long enough so the fuel BUNDLES need only air cooling, as is being done now in dry casks. They can and are holding fuel much longer.

The discussion of the work conditions in protective suits degrading technician performance is silly. Cooled suits have been used for years.

At the end the writer refers to “reactor 4.” In unit 4, the reactor vessel—the “tea pot”—is empty. All the fuel had been removed to the unit 4 pool. It was of the most concern since the fuel just out of the reactor generates the most heat. Now that 3 years have passed, the heat generation is way down. It will probably be almost 5 years after the fuel was removed from the reactor before it is taken out of the fuel pool. At that point it needs only air cooling. Water is still needed for shielding.

The concern about fires at abandoned plants is silly too. After the 5 years or less of cooling, the plants can be walked away from, and the fuel will not be creating enough heat to cause melting and fires.

The writer says Russian help and an international effort should be used in the Fukushima-Daiichi site cleanup. Is the writer aware of the international effort going on at the Chernobyl site?

The writer has a good career— in fiction—ahead.”


china syndrome




Paul Bowersox manages social media at the American Nuclear Society

5 thoughts on “Scaremonger Week in the mainstream media

  1. Jerry Cuttler

    We should remember that the radiation scare was started by the US NAS back in 1956 when it recommended evaluating genomic risks associated with radiation exposure with a linear dose-response (LNT) model instead of the threshold model, as reported in . The LNT concept (for germ cells) was generalized in 1958 to somatic cells and cancer risk assessment by the NCRPM. Reverting to the 1934 ICRP standard, which was based on a tolerance dose of 0.2 roentgen per day (~70 rad/year), would be an important step back to reality.

  2. Brian Mays

    “The Pentagon-commissioned study”?!! Wow! That makes it sound so important, doesn’t it. The so-called “commission” from the Pentagon is just funding for a graduate student. That is the lowest and least-significant level of funding that is available for academic research. Do you really think that the Pentagon had anything to do with what ended up in this “report”?

    “The study was featured …”

    The study was feature in the if-it-bleeds-it-leads media during the “silly season” of August — a notoriously slow part of the annual news cycle, when news outlets are desperate to report on anything. That it was carried by so many news channels means next to nothing, since many people in the US either are on vacation or are doing things outside rather than watching TV. Keep in mind that these news channels are competing with “Shark Week” for viewers. I doubt if this second-rate “report” by a graduate student captured any of the public’s attention at all.

  3. James Greenidge

    Re: dcnewsman: “…the study was featured in major stories on the NBC Nightly News, the “Today” show, Fox News Channel, CNN (and Headline News). It was the carried by Reuters, Bloomberg, and UPI. It appeared in scores of newspaper articles in top 100 markets around the U.S. A…”

    This opens a troubling and crucial public perception/information issue that has been put aside too long: Just why is the majority of the mass media SO uncritical and softball on anti-nuclear claims and assertions that are often just specious Doomsday speculations and vaporware evidence? Why are positive nuclear energy stories rare as hen’s teeth? The science unenlightened American public today, like dcnewsman, assume that the majority of media reporting is always in the fair and right and accurate, especially in technical and environ issues. As a black person, my family remembers back when most this country regarded black people as barely two-fifths of a person, fostered along by most the media then. It’s time to take the FUD ball out of the hands of the media and antis and challenge their spiel, and that means even outright accusing the media of anti-nuclear bias despite reality and proof to the contrary of their assertions from nil-causality/damage rare nuclear meltdowns to background radiation levels in populated world areas that make the Fukushima look like a stroll in the woods.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  4. dcnewsman

    The poorly constructed and unpersuasive Forbes hatchet job “counter” to the Pentagon-commissioned study had almost zero impact. The study was featured in major stories on the NBC Nightly News, the “Today” show, Fox News Channel, CNN (and Headline News). It was the carried by Reuters, Bloomberg, and UPI. It appeared in scores of newspaper articles in top 100 markets around the U.S. Additionally, it was featured in more than 200 local radio and television news stories. To suggest that the Forbes smear piece had any offsetting impact to this deluge of coverage is wishful thinking. It did not.

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