On April 8, the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes aired a segment about the “resounding success” of the French nuclear power program, suggesting that “emission-free” nuclear power might offer an easy solution to the problem of climate change. The report protected this dubious assertion from skeptical scrutiny by failing to quote a single bona fide critic of the nuclear industry.
The segment was titled “Vive Les Nukes,” which gave a good indication of the slant it took. Describing it as “an efficient means of producing large amounts of carbon-free energy,” correspondent Steve Kroft announced at the top of the segment that nuclear power is “a technology whose time seemed to come and go, and may now be coming again.” The notion of a nuclear power renaissance was bolstered by CBS‘s choice of interview guests—the program spoke only to nuclear power supporters (in France and elsewhere), thereby allowing their rhetoric to go unchallenged.
Guests on the segment were French energy official Pierre Gadonniex, French nuclear industry executive Bertrande Durrande, White House deputy secretary of energy Clay Sell (Bush’s “point man on nuclear power”), French nuclear executive Anne Lauvergeon, MIT nuclear researcher Andrew Kadak and David Jhirhad of the World Resources Institute, described as “an environmental think tank in Washington.”
Jhirhad was the only potentially balancing source, but he is quoted only to make Kroft’s point that “even some environmental groups are taking a second look at nuclear power.” This is an emerging line in much of the corporate media (e.g., Washington Post, 4/16/06; New York Times, 2/27/07), though the actual number of green groups embracing nuclear power is quite small. The World Resources Institute receives contributions from several energy companies and other major polluters, information that would have been useful for CBS viewers in evaluating Jhirad’s claim that the nuclear industry’s “safety record has been pretty good.”
The segment’s one-sided sourcing was made all the more problematic when the White House’s Sell claimed that “no serious person can look at the challenge of greenhouse gases and climate change and not come to the conclusion that nuclear power has to play a significant and growing role in meeting that challenge worldwide.” Of course, “serious people” do question precisely that–and CBS should have interviewed them.
Excluding such sources meant excluding important information. While France’s nuclear power is portrayed as widely popular, CBS failed to mention large protests held across the country on March 17 (Agence France Presse, 3/17/07) against construction of a new nuclear plant. Nor, in touting the massive nuclear reprocessing plant France has built in Normandy, did the show refer to the radiation it releases into the English Channel (NIRS Nuclear Monitor, 3-4/00) or the cluster of leukemia cases occurring around the plant (British Medical Journal, 1/11/97).
Kroft even adopts industry-friendly language in describing the push to revive U.S. nuclear power, discussing the “financial incentives” and “streamlined regulatory system” intended to encourage nuclear energy development. Such “incentives” might better be described as government subsides, which have long been criticized by nuclear industry critics as a waste of taxpayers’ money. Unmentioned in the CBS report were similar subsidies in France; according to the U.S.-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (5/4/06), $1 billion a year in government subsidies go to plutonium production alone.
Excluding critical voices allowed grossly misleading information to go unchallenged, as when nuclear executive Lauvergeon claimed, in the segment’s conclusion, that “wind and solar are, you know, temporary sources of energy. It works when you have wind, it works when you have sun. No sun, no wind, no energy. You don’t want to watch TV only when you have wind.” Of course, wind and solar energy are not “temporary” sources of energy; power generated by both can be stored. Airing this sort of misinformation eliminates any real consideration of viable alternatives to nuclear energy.
At one point, Kroft says that “the Bush administration is pushing a nuclear revival.” The same could be said for CBS.
Contact 60 Minutes to ask why its report on nuclear energy excluded the views of the industry’s numerous critics.
CBS 60 Minutes