May 1 1990

New Improved Nukes

The press pushes the nuclear option

“Revive the Atom,” proclaimed the New York Times (12/8/89), trumpeting a campaign to resurrect nuclear power we will hear much of in the coming years.

“Nuclear power is not inherently unworkable,” editorialized the Times. “Technology is the easiest part–a new generation of safer, cheaper nuclear power plants is already on the drawing boards. The tough part is changing public attitudes.”

And the Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and other mainstays of establishment media seem intent on doing whatever they can to change public attitudes.

The crusade for the dying technology (no nuclear plant has been ordered in the U.S. since 1978) is mostly based on two claims: “Foremost,” as the Times put it, “is the greenhouse effect, the threatened warming of the Earth’s climate by waste gases like Carbon dioxide….Nuclear power plants would be environmentally benign, and offer major insurance against climate warming.” At the same time, “new plants now being designed put safety first. In the worst possible accident, they will shut themselves down with little or no intervention.”

Neither claim is valid, as the environmental and alternative press have stressed. “Replacing all U.S. fossil-fueled plants with nuclear reactors would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by about 4 percent,” noted Michael Philips in Sierra (3-4/89). John Gofman in Groundswell (Autumn ’88) argued that nuclear energy makes a “net addition to the greenhouse gas effect from carbon dioxide,” when fossil fuels burned in uranium mining and refining, reactor construction and clean-up are taken into account.

Karl Grossman, a journalism professor at SUNY/College at Old Westbury, is author of Power Crazy and Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power.