An August 15 NPR Morning Edition segment touted the benefits of nuclear power, suggesting it was gaining popularity with many environmentalists who once opposed it.
The segment was an interview with Fortune magazine editor David Whitford, who has written a series of articles about the debate over nuclear power. The piece was introduced by NPR anchor John Ydstie, who asserted that "with fossil fuel carbon emissions in the environmental bull's-eye, nuclear power is starting to shake off its bad reputation." Whitford elaborated on the claim that nuclear power's image is improving: "There are many environmentalists now who began their careers opposed to nuclear power who are now reconsidering nuclear power in the face of global warming."
But Whitford cited just one such environmentalist, Stewart Brand, describing him simply as the creator of the 60s and 70's publication, the Whole Earth Catalogue, and calling him "sort of the original off-the-grid environmentalist." In fact, Brand is currently a businessman, a co-founder and leader of the corporate consulting group Global Business Network (GBN). GBN numbers, among the 192 clients named on its website, more than a dozen corporations and governmental agencies involved in the production or promotion of nuclear energy: General Electric, Bechtel, Duke Power, Siemens-Westinghouse, Fluor, Electric Power Research Institute, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Électricité de France, Iberdrola, Vattenfall, Sydkraft (now E.ON Sweden) and Sandia National Labratories. Some of these, including GE, Bechtel, Duke Power and Westinghouse, are receiving government subsidies to develop the next generation of nuclear power plants, according to a Department of Energy report. Brand's financial links with the industry went unmentioned in the NPR segment.
Brand is one of a small number of former nuclear critics who have become prominent nuclear advocates (Alternet, 03/16/07). But it is a stretch to suggest, as Whitford does, that a handful of former nuclear foes with no current ties to leading environmental groups--and often with financial links to the nuclear industry--constitute "some division within the movement."
In fact, leading environmental groups including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council all agree that nuclear power, with its huge safety, security and cost issues, is not the solution to climate change. A 2005 letter released by Public Citizen and signed by nearly 300 groups opposed congressional subsidies for the nuclear industry:
Instead of a story about a growing fervor for nuclear power among some environmentalists, the story is really one about a growing fervor to resurrect nuclear power among corporate and political elites, aided by a handful of mainly environmentalists-for-hire.
This kind of one-sided coverage is characteristic of NPR's recent reporting on the nuclear industry. In the six stories NPR has broadcast over the past 90 days about the future of nuclear power production in the U.S., NPR's sources included only three opponents of nuclear power plants, versus eights sources touting the safety, environmental friendliness and financial benefits of nuclear energy. Moreover, only one of the three opponents was an expert on the topic, while NPR cast seven of the eight sources speaking in favor of nuclear power as authorities. This period saw an accident at the largest power plant in the world—in Japan (NPR's All Things Considered, 7/19/07)—which was the subject of three additional NPR stories--yet, even in this coverage, no experts critical of nuclear power were cited.
One factor that is relevant to NPR's cheerleading for nuclear power is its own financial links to the industry. According to NPR's website, between 1993 and 2005, the public radio service received between $250,000 and $500,000 from Constellation Energy, which belongs to Nustart Energy, a 10-company consortium pushing for new nuclear power plant construction. During the same period, another nuclear operator, Sempra Energy, donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to NPR. This potential conflict of interest was not disclosed in the August 15 segment, or in any other of NPR's recent largely industry-friendly reports. (NPR has in the past insisted that the corporate "underwriting" money it receives has no bearing on its coverage--a defense that would seem to undercut the rationale for NPR's existence as a noncommercial broadcaster.)
In his interview with Whitford, NPR's Ydstie asked the Fortune editor, "What are the forces that are aligning that make the industry optimistic that there's going to be a revival?" Whitford didn't mention one-sided reporting that fails to disclose its financial ties to the industry as factors that help the industry "shake off its bad reputation" and clear the ground for a nuclear revival.
ACTION: Please contact NPR to suggest that future reports on nuclear power include the consensus view of the environmental movement, and that such reports disclose NPR's financial ties to the industry.
Assistant to the Ombudsman, Chantal de la Rionda, through NPR's website.