Nuclear fears: education vs. FUD

There have been several useful comments on the recent post The real catastrophe of Fukushima. E.g., James Greenidge addressed the imbalance between the constant media/activist fear-mongering and education by the nuclear professionals. Here’s James [lightly edited]: 

The real catastrophe of Fukushima is that the media dropped its energy-neutral pretensions and finally strummed nightmares and wild speculations to try to drive nine-inch nails into nuclear energy, to hell with fact and perspective, much less giving equally critical regard of antis and greens. Another side catastrophe is the chronic laid-back push back by the nuclear community — individual electric utilities, nuclear professional organizations — to correct media FUD and dark-colored lenses at all things nuclear by implementing long overdue public nuclear education via Ads and PSAs instead of local tupperware party teach-ins. I mean, imagine just how effective the antis have been if they can convince a mom with three kids to be fearful of clean nil-mortality nukes and welcoming of coal and oil plants and their regular pollution and far more frequent — and deadly accidents. It’s like nuclear’s community is snatching defeat from the jaws of PR victory! The tally of operational nuclear plants is dropping by decommissions and bankruptcies and cancellations despite much lauded few new projects. That ought be a PR wake-up call.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

And my response:

Thanks – an excellent summary of the information imbalance. I agree that nuclear-informed sources are far too laid back. But, suppose every industry source was fully engaged – how much would that shift the media focus?

Personally, it looks to me that the scary-nuclear story is just so sweet that media will always exploit every opportunity. “If it bleeds it leads” is even more succulent when it costs nearly nothing to publish. No reporting need be done. All they have to do is email UCS, Greenpeace etc. for their FUD-bomb.

Nuclear/radiation shares this bed-of-nails metaphor with other technical areas that require a bit of effort to understand – while being easily exploited for emotional impact. E.g., GMO food, or vaccine-autism. 

The media will almost always go for the maximum emotional impact (as do successful politicians).

A personal favorite parody of media FUD was featured in The OnionActual Expert Too Boring For TV. Excerpts:

Dr. Gary Canton

Skip Hammond, former Arizona State football player, MBA holder, and author of Imprison The Sun: America’s Coming Nuclear-Power Holocaust.

 

Dr. Gary Canton, a professor of applied nuclear physics and energy-development technologies at MIT and a leading expert in American nuclear-power applications, was rejected by MSNBC producers for being “too boring for TV” Monday.

(…) “At MIT’s Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, we see nuclear-power technology as the best option for the United States and the world to meet future energy needs without emitting carbon dioxide and other atmospheric pollutants,” Canton said in the taped pre-interview, which has already been erased. 

(…) MSNBC chose Self-proclaimed nuclear expert Skip Hammond – best known for his “atomic domino” theory of chained power-plant explosions and his signature lavender silk tie.

(…) “Absolute Armageddon,” Hammond said when asked about the dangers increased reliance on nuclear power might pose. “Atoms are not only too tiny to be seen, they’re too powerful to be predicted.

5 thoughts on “Nuclear fears: education vs. FUD

  1. T B

    You should ask why does the nuclear plant companies and NEI and ANS and labor and others with nuclear interests and careers just stand there without protest and let MSNBC and other media slander and trash their industry and professionalism. We’re losing energy, jobs and a clean environment because no one major is fighting back. I’d be interest to know the answers the above would give you.

    Reply
  2. Joris van Dorp

    There’s a pro-nuclear story that the media should pick-up easily, because it contains enough suspense and sensation. Namely, the fact that the botched and exaggerated Fukushima evacuation killed about 1000 people and did billions of dollars of preventable damage to the Japanese economy. The headline and article might be:

    “Persistent post-Fukushima anti-science epidemic in Japan claims 1000 direct casualties and billions of dollar in damage, more to come”

    “Anti-nuclear propaganda caused 1000 deaths due to traffic accidents and exposure during the panic evacuation in Japan, by spreading misinformation and undermining government policy response in the weeks and months after the tsunami disaster caused non-fatal emissions of radio-nuclides from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

    Research by international, independent WHO and UN scientists has since confirmed that initial expert opinion of a low expected risk of radiation health effects as a result of the accident were accurate. Evacuation has now been shown to have been poorly advised and counterproductive, as was predicted by experts in the first week of the accident. The dramatic failure of a correct policy response after Fukushima has many of the hallmarks of the failed policy response to Chernobyl in 1986, prompting experts to declare that none of the lessons learned from Chernobyl were incorporated after Fukushima.

    “It was just chaos, madness, it was like being a nuclear power and radiation health professional was reason by itself to be ignored and distrusted. Continuously, people on radio and TV were reporting completely false scare stories about the accident. There was no limit. In the government, the people making the decisions did whatever the anti-nuclear propagandists wanted, without any critical thought at all.” said one experts interviewed for this article. “We knew it was going to be a disaster, not the accident itself, but the policy response. It was horrific. It was as if all our knowledge and analysis for this type of accident was thrown out with the trash, to be replaced by speculation and exaggeration on a national scale”

    However, rather than millions of deaths predicted by popular anti-nuclear campaigners at the time (many flown in for the occasion from foreign countries), less than a dozen people – all workers at the power plant – have received minor radiation doses that can be linked statistically to a very small increase in cancer risk (on the order of 1%).

    Tens of thousands of Japanese are said to be suffering from acute radiophobia – a debilitating mental disease cause by irrational fear of radiation that causes depression and social disfunction. Millions of Japanese already suffer economically from the job losses and economic damage caused by the nuclear phase-out and resultant skyrocketing energy prices and negative trade balance.

    Additionally, thousands of Japanese are set to die in future decades due to projected increased air pollution as a result of planned replacement of nuclear power plants with imported fossil fuels. Many new coal burning plants are already in planning stages.

    Japanese greenhouse gas emissions reduction policy is in tatters for the foreseeable future, with the carbon intensity of the Japanese economy having seen a significant and persistent jump as result of the continuing general shut-down of almost all operational nuclear power plants in the country. Old coal and oil burning plants have been put back in to service on a large scale. Even with the addition of new solar and wind power, the long-term Japanese co2 emissions reduction targets have been sharply relaxed.”

    Reply
    1. Steve Darden Post author

      @Joris,

      Thanks for your comments. All of your assertions are valid AFAIK. If you could footnote with credible citation-links you will have a high-value post. And I would be pleased to publish as a guest post.

      Reply
      1. Joris van Dorp

        I invented the citations and the whole article, hopefully I made that clear enough, although it is all based on facts reported since march 2011. Therefore, an article similar in content and purport could certainly be put together by a journalist willing to put in some time.

        The following credible source (James Conca) goes into detail on most of these facts and is perhaps similar in purport to my example article, though far better written and researched.

        http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2012/03/16/nuclear-scientist-responds-to-critics-of-his-belief-that-fukushima-refugees-are-victims-of-fear-not-radiation/

        Unfortunately, try as I might, I have not been able to find the article I read soon after the disaster which cites the pleas by Japanese nuclear scientists and engineers to the international community to help them limit the fear and uncertainty among the Japanese population. Of course, after a few days chaos really engulfed Japan and the voices of Japanese scientists were drowned out. It’s very difficult now to find a particular article dating from that period. I’d really like to find that article again so if anybody remembers it, please provide a link? It appeared within a few days of the accident if I remember correctly.

        All the best,

        Joris

  3. Steve Darden Post author

    (…) I have not been able to find the article I read soon after the disaster which cites the pleas by Japanese nuclear scientists and engineers to the international community to help them limit the fear and uncertainty among the Japanese population. 

    I wish I had spotted those early Japanese pleas for calm — were the articles in Japanese only? I was following commentary out of Japan closely – but what I read from Japan sources was about an unprepared and uninformed government (shockingly incompetent really), plus the expected media FUD and hype. 

    It would be great if you could dig up the citation(s). If you would like to make some inquiries, some possible sources are: 

    1. Adelaide Prof. Barry Brook (of BraveNewClimate). Barry’s wife is Japanese, and he was all over Fukushima – a primary source for me.

    2. Daniel Garcia, a spanish-born Ph.D. nuclear engineer, working in Japan for JAEA (Japan Atomic Energy Agency). Daniel is married to a Japanese wife also. He speaks Spanish, French and probably Japanese. Daniel was an important source of hard-data on Fukushima. E.g., Japan NPP sources: radiation charts, reactor status. He is on Twitter @daniel_garcia_r and blogs infrequently here.

    Sharpen Google searches to the time-frame of interest. E.g., I just executed the search “fukushima nuclear scientist” constrained to 3/11/2011 to 7/1/2011 and found such as these articles:

    Modified version of original post written by Josef Oehmen (on the MIT NSE Nuclear Information site)

    Short Sharp Science: Fukushima latest: Radiation around plant falls

    Reply

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