On February 16, ABC World News and NBC Nightly News aired incomplete and unbalanced reports following Barack Obama's announcement of $8 billion in new loan guarantees for a nuclear power plant in Georgia.
ABC reporter Jake Tapper announced that "for years leading Democrats and liberals opposed nuclear energy. No new nukes was the cry. So some may have been surprised to hear President Obama say today, essentially, yes, new nukes."
But after that nod, nuclear opponents mostly disappeared from the piece, which showed Tapper stressing industry claims about job creation for this new plant ("3,500 on-site construction jobs and 800 permanent operations jobs") and the amount of energy the plant will generate--enough "for 550,000 homes, 2,200 megawatts worth of electricity that would offset about 30 million barrels of oil." He also quoted two anonymous Georgia residents saying their town needs the jobs.
One critic--Greenpeace's Jim Riccio--made a short comment about safety concerns, but was countered by Tapper: "Nuclear power advocates say since then plant design and equipment requirements have been upgraded." Tapper then quoted nuclear industry lobbyist Patrick Moore, introducing him with his past credentials: "Back then, he was an anti-nuclear power activist and a founder of Greenpeace. Today, he lobbies for nuclear energy." After Moore claimed that "nuclear industry is generally one of the safest industries we have," Tapper concluded that "he's not the only one who's changed his mind."
Moore's former Greenpeace ties make him a media favorite, but he wasn't actually a founder, just an early activist--Extra!, 1-2/08--and it's worth noting that, as PR Watch pointed out (3/14/07), "Moore has now spent more time working as a PR consultant to the logging, mining, biotech, nuclear and other industries...than he did as an environmental activist."
The report by NBC Nightly News suffered from some of the same problems: Three sources are quoted supporting the nuclear plan, with only one critic (Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth). In attempting to discuss safety concerns, NBC mentioned Chernobyl and the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island (Extra!, 7-8/93). Neither network mentioned the current problems with nuclear reactors; the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, for example, is leaking radioactive tritium into the groundwater, a safety hazard that is being documented at other nuclear sites around the country (Associated Press, 2/2/10; Greenpeace Blog, 1/28/10).
NBC also has bigger issues: its parent company General Electric is a major player in the industry, and has done business with the company planning to build the Georgia plant (southerncompany.com)--a major fact NBC neglected to mention in its report.
While both reports mentioned that the Georgia plant would be the first built in the U.S. in three decades, neither gave much of an explanation as to why this would be the case. But as nuclear power critics have documented for years, the plants have proven to be financial disasters, with severe cost overruns and a general reluctance among investors to foot the bill for projects that are unlikely to be profitable (Greenpeace, 10/15/08). Obama's pledge of multi-billion dollar loan guarantees should have caused reporters to wonder why the industry, after decades of experience, needs so much government assistance in the first place.
ACTION: Please ask ABC and NBC why their reporting on the White House's nuclear power plans omitted important facts about nuclear power in favor of the optimistic projections of the nuclear industry. And, in NBC's case, why the report failed to disclose its parent company's financial ties to the nuclear industry.
NBC Nightly News
ABC World News with Diane Sawyer