Ray Suarez of PBS indicates belief that nuclear energy is irrelevant to America’s future

On Sunday, August 12, 2012, I wrote a brief commentary about how the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) had managed to produce a week long series about the changing landscape of energy production in America without a single mention of the ‘N’ word – nuclear.

Daniel, an Atomic Insights regular, was interested enough in finding out more about PBS’s journalistic choices that he contacted the PBS ombudsman through the feedback form on the company’s website – http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/feedback.html. Daniel commented about his action when he took it. He made another comment when the PBS ombudsman responded, asking for more details, and then stated that he would keep us informed if he received any additional information from PBS.

Just before noon on Monday, Daniel provided the following enlightening bit of information about how PBS chose the discussion topics for its series on homegrown energy in the United States.

So I got an answer from Ray Suarez of PBS:

We did not “avoid” nuclear energy at all. There just isn’t much action in that arena. Since the disaster at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, the previously active nuclear debate, new plans for plants, policy statements about the future of nuclear in the US energy mix…all cooled down considerably.

So, we covered what is new about the energy conversation in this country, the place of natural gas. New discoveries, new wells, new requests to drill…there’s a lot that’s new in that sector, matching somewhat better the NewsHour’s definition of news. That’s what we call “half-decent journalism practices” around here. I am sure when the nuclear industry is once again part of the national debate, we will cover it.

If I did not already have a good understanding about how advertising and corporate support work to frame the way that commercial media covers “the national debate” about energy, that response would have surprised me. Instead, it just disappointed me.

PBS’s attitude about America’s discussion about energy choices is similar to the way that political campaign stories get selected. Only candidates that have the backing of an established party or those who are able to attract huge sums of money get any significant air time. Ideas, proposed policies and facts do not matter; coverage decisions are based on the amount of money the candidate is willing and able to spend on advertising.

Unlike the natural gas industry, which is just a branch of the multinational oil industry, the nuclear industry does not do much advertising. It is not an industry that is swimming in cash because world tensions have increased the market price of one its two major products to a level far above the cost of production. Instead, it is an industry that is investing huge sums of money into the difficult challenge of restoring its productive capabilities after many years without new projects.

Southern Company, SCANA and the Tennessee Valley Authority have not purchased much air time to remind people that they are building new nuclear plants in the United States. Shaw Group and Westinghouse have not spent much of their corporate capital discussing how much learning they are doing while performing an activity that has not been done in nearly 40 years in the United States – starting the process of building new nuclear power plants.

Because there is not much money available for advertising in start-up efforts, the growing excitement about the potential for smaller, factory producible nuclear reactors within the power industry is invisible to people who get their story ideas from watching commercial television. My day job employer does not do very much advertising, but our president and public relations people have been working hard to keep the energy industry press informed about significant milestones we have been achieving on the path of inventing a whole new way to package and deliver a nuclear power plant. (Note: Atomic Insights is strictly my own effort. I speak for myself, not for my employer.)

It would seem logical for PBS, an organization that prides itself on developing deeper than average stories, would have taken the time to look past the ads and the industry placed sound bites about the newness of the natural gas revolution to see that there is a broader conversation taking place. In the midst of yet another heat wave and drought, events made more likely by increases in atmospheric CO2, you would think that PBS would have found the time to mention that there is an American developed energy technology that is as free from emissions as wind and solar, but with the proven ability to produce power that is more reliable than the power from burning coal or natural gas.

Instead, PBS producers inserted their antinuclear bias into their coverage by doing something that is worse than criticism – they stated through silence that nuclear energy is irrelevant. Even when challenged, a PBS journalist affirmed that choice and declared that nuclear energy was not even part of the conversation that he wanted to have with his viewers.

His excuse was that the events at Fukushima, where no one was even hurt by radiation or by exposure to the small quantity of radioactive materials that were released, silenced all discussion about new nuclear power and took the topic off of the table for the time being. I suspect he hopes that no one noticed that one of the major ad buyers during the Fukushima frenzy was the natural gas industry, which did not purchase that air time because it was motivated to help the media accurately inform the public about our real energy choices.

I encourage everyone to follow Daniel’s lead. Take the time to contact PBS and remind them that nuclear energy is too important to our future to ignore, no matter what the natural gas marketers say. Once again, here is the link to the network’s ombudsman page – http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/feedback.html.

Here is a PBS story that aired on NewsHour during the same week as its pean to natural gas that might help some of you remember just how important this issue is.

Watch NASA Study Links Extreme Summer Heat to Climate Change on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

About Rod Adams

24 Responses to “Ray Suarez of PBS indicates belief that nuclear energy is irrelevant to America’s future”

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  1. aaa says:

    OFF TOPIC

    “The biological impacts of the Fukushima nuclear accident on the pale grass blue butterfly

    Atsuki Hiyama,
    Chiyo Nohara,
    Seira Kinjo,
    Wataru Taira,
    Shinichi Gima,
    Akira Tanahara
    & Joji M. Otaki

    Affiliations
    Contributions
    Corresponding author

    Scientific Reports
    2,
    Article number:
    570
    doi:10.1038/srep00570

    Received
    06 June 2012
    Accepted
    24 July 2012
    Published
    09 August 2012

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    The collapse of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant caused a massive release of radioactive materials to the environment. A prompt and reliable system for evaluating the biological impacts of this accident on animals has not been available. Here we show that the accident caused physiological and genetic damage to the pale grass blue Zizeeria maha, a common lycaenid butterfly in Japan. We collected the first-voltine adults in the Fukushima area in May 2011, some of which showed relatively mild abnormalities. The F1 offspring from the first-voltine females showed more severe abnormalities, which were inherited by the F2 generation. Adult butterflies collected in September 2011 showed more severe abnormalities than those collected in May. Similar abnormalities were experimentally reproduced in individuals from a non-contaminated area by external and internal low-dose exposures. ****We conclude that artificial radionuclides from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant caused physiological and genetic damage to this species.****” http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/120809/srep00570/full/srep00570.html#/results

    • David says:

      Yep, Off topic.

      It is interesting that in an environment where toxic wastes were spread widely by a 45 foot wall of water that destroyed everything in it’s path. The blame for “more severe abnormalities than those collected in May” is blamed on radiation that has mostly faded into background levels.

      The link to the article does not work. There are many things that can cause damage to DNA apart from radiation. Many birth defects in children have been traced to drugs their mothers used during gestation. In this case, limiting the cause to one of the weakest biological influences (as indicated by the post above) is not looking for a true cause but looking for a way to blame radiation.

  2. Robert Hargraves says:

    So PBS does not think that four AP1000 reactors under construction in the US is relevant to US energy.

    • George Carlin says:

      They don’t need natural gas backup generation to meet their rated output. They are just boring, dependable nuclear power reactors. We need the excitement of the roller coaster ride that is natural gas prices!

  3. Jeff S says:

    Well, I can’t say that their stated reasoning is *wrong* – in the last 2 years, nuclear power has been in decline in the US. While it has *potential* to be a major domestic energy source, the amount of activity around new Nuclear power is relatively small.

    However, I do think that things like the DOE working on proving and licensing new small modular reactors at Savannah River Site, and the recent announcement of First Energy working with B&W on trying to identify sites to build mPower SMRs shows the industry is not dead. . . but it *is* in a quiet period where the groundwork is being laid for *future* news.

    So, don’t give up or get too disappointed, Rod. . . in 5 or 10 years, when the “SMR revolution” starts, I think Nuclear will be “news” again. It’s just that work needs to be done, and a significant number of SMRs need to be built, before SMR’s are really *news*.

    • David says:

      I understand Jeff,

      A significant number of base station solar needs to be installed before it becomes news…

      Hyperion http://www.gen4energy.com / NuScale / Flibe / MPower / Toshiba 4S / and other are stalled by the rules posted by the NRC – find a buyer first and then we will review. But that is not news. A regulatory agency blocking the invention of a new style of power that is distributable and emission free (for all practical purposes) is just not news…

      Being able to replace all Natural gas and coal plants with plants that could last for over 90 years is just not news… Having a stable price point for energy tied to a very very low cost per BTU is just not news. Being able to convert coal to diesel using Nuclear heat is just not news…

      Oh well, I guess PBS is right. We just don’t have any news.

  4. donb says:

    There may be money flowing from natural gas producers to PBS that then influences the reporting so that nuclear is ignored. But this money flow, if it exists, simply reinforces pre-existing trends.

    Most journalists have little education in the sciences, but do not feel their education is deficient. So most journlist do not understand nuclear power, and feel that this lack of understanding is not a problem. Most journalist live in a thought ghetto where attitudes and political affiliations are surprising narrow. “Politically correct” flourishes in journalism community. An easy check is to observe how the voting pattern of journalist differs greatly from the population at large. Nuclear energy is not politically correct.

    A good case can be made that many journlists are either overworked or lazy. Digging deep to tell the story that needs telling is seldom seen (outside of politics). We are left with “he said, she said” reporting. See Kate Sinding and Robert Bryce in the video in the previous posting here. Statements were made but there was no analysis at the end. There was no statement by the reporter that the elephant in the room was being ignored.

  5. David Walters says:

    One on of the problems Rod refers to is that these companies are not swimming in cash. The problem is that there is no definitive ‘nuclear industry’ as they are all cross-industrial concerns, be they manufacturers or utilities. However, like raise a qustion here that goes to a problem with all pro-nuclear activists: we tend to preach to the chior:

    “My day job employer does not do very much advertising, but our president and public relations people have been working hard to keep the energy industry press informed about significant milestones we have been achieving on the path of inventing a whole new way to package and deliver a nuclear power plant.”

    That’s the problem, Rod. PR TO the industry is irrelevant if it’s not directed to the public at large. Most companies involved in nuclear tend to be more conformable “among friends”. Like George Bush’s famous quote when speaking to a gathering of billionaire buddies “It’s great to speak to friends…”. A huh. The nuclear “industry” needs to compete in the market place of “ideas”, that means taking a lesson from what works, like the ‘Natual Gas Industry Association”.

    Ray Suarez is correct: there doesn’t APPEAR to be anything happening with nuclear because few really go to the press to actually inform them.
    D.

  6. James Greenidge says:

    Time long due for ANS and NEI and other nuclear pro orgs or unions to break out the checkbooks and talents and start producing some adult and candid pro nuke PSAs and YouTube edu-notes. What they waiting for? A rainy day?

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  7. David Andersen says:

    Yesterday on the local Public Radio Station(WNPR) n a program called Where We Live there was a very good program about Nuclear Power in Connecticut. It was mildy pro nuke, which was quite surprising. A great deal of the conversation was about how “renewables” cannot be relied upon and needed backup power. Also mentioned in response to a statement about availability of wind and solar in the west but how it would be very difficult it would be to transmit it to load centers. I’d provide a link to the podcast except I can’t figure out how, but the web site is cpbn.org
    On Public Radio today was a short piece on the difficulties Germany will experience by shutting down its nukes and how there is dislike foe the transmission lines running through rural areas in the the north to the industrial loads in the south.

    • James Greenidge says:

      “Yesterday on the local Public Radio Station(WNPR) n a program called Where We Live there was a very good program about Nuclear Power in Connecticut. It was mildy pro nuke, which was quite surprising.”

      Paul Newman was a heavy contributor to public radio and television up there so it’s very likely they were carrying on his nuclear-convert attitudes. They’d been mowing down every plant called Yankee in the northeast like a Confederate convention and Millstone likely had a “pass” because it had Paul’s visit/blessing.

      James Greenidge
      Queens NY

    • Daniel Doiron says:

      @ David,

      Merkel has done two 360s on nuclear energy. She is about go for 3. The industrial lobby in Germany just can’t cope with the flaky energy grid.

  8. John Tucker says:

    As is nuclear power is now and will be a significant portion of the future energy mix. All serious reviewed scientific approaches to mitigating GGs involve significant nuclear power.

    Thats not my personal opinion or a argument for nuclear power. Its just how it is.

  9. saigawa says:

    In July, I saw a News Hour interview with the Stand Up Economist on China’s energy. The young economist, who uses econ in stand up routines, mentioned China’s CO2 emissions and said something to the effect that options were limited and stressed renewables. He also said he expected to see China’s pollution to keep getting worse.

    I wrote a polite comment asking why nuclear power was not mentioned since does not emit CO2 and added that China’s air and water had been getting cleaner since 2000.

    The comments were deleted by The News Hour,

    • Daniel says:

      @ Saigawa

      Looks like they pulled a Ray Suarez on you as well.

      I just can’t believe PBS’ attitude. Are they for real ?

    • Daniel says:

      @ Saigawa

      I will write to the Ombudsman to check if he can validate that your perfectly to the point comment was in fact deleted from the database.

      If I get traction on this, I will let you know.

      Ciao

    • Daniel says:

      @ saigawa

      Here is the answer I received from the ombudsman:

      We have no idea at all why that would happen. We not only encourage comments, but yearn for them. Sounds like a computer glitch. Try posting it again.

      @ Rod,

      Next time there is a piece on energy, please let us know and encourages us to comments directly on their site. I will watch on my side for future programs.

      I also encouraged the ombudsman to send this nuclear primer to Mr Suarez and the energy experts at PBS :

      Nuclear energy:

      Powers 20% of the homes in the US
      Has the lowest land requirements per gigawatt generated (a 1000 nuclear Mega watts plant requires a square mile of land, a 1000 unreliable solar Mega watts setup requires 50 square miles of natural habitat)
      If a 1000 Mega watts coal plant were to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a licence, it would be turned down because it generates more radioactive wastes than a nuclear plant

      Other bits and pieces for the news hour team:

      Natural gas, like clean arsenic or clean mercury, does not really exist. It is plain methane and a green house emitter 50% as deadly as coal.
      A pint of Uranium fills the lifetime energy needs of a family of four and generates waste the size of an aspirin (Very compact waste cycle)
      The sun will shine for 4 billion years. It is considered a renewable source of energy. We have 2 Super Nova fuels on the planet. Uranium and Thorium can provide energy for 6 billion years. Who’s renewable now ?
      Nuclear power does not contribute to global warming
      Is the ultimate equalizer for resource stricken countries (poor countries) as Uranium can be found every where on the planet and in the sea. It is the sixth most common element found on earth. (If there is so much of it around, it can’t be bad for us)
      Winds at 60 miles an hour can cross a football field in 3 seconds. At 40 miles per hour, a wind mill experiences immense stress and has to be shut down. (Thank God that most of the time there is no wind and that they are motionless — Talk about return on investment)
      Atomic energy travels 186,000 miles per second or eight-and-a-half-times around the world in the blink of an eye. And that number has to be squared! As you can see, there’s an almost unfathomable difference between the two, something on the order of 10 quadrillion
      Nuclear fission is well understood and has more than 600 reactors in operations for more than 40 years with no major accidents
      No one died from radiation exposure in Fukushima and no one is likely to die from that. Fukushima was a tsunami followed by an industrial accident were nuclear plants were damaged. It was not a nuclear disaster.
      No one died from radiation exposure at TMI and no one is likely to die from that.

      You may want to share this information with Mr Suarez and the entire PBS news hour team, who seems to be listening to the news of the natural gas lobby and report it rather than make the news.

  10. Daniel says:

    Rod,

    Looks like the thread on this topic is off sync. My posts have disappeared regarding my communication with PBS.

    Ciao

  11. Daniel says:

    Rod,

    Ignore and delete my last post. My comments are there and were on the previous thread : Natural gas marketing blitz working on PBS.

    Sorry.

  12. saigawa says:

    I guess…

    But I saw that my comment was up for 24 hours.

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