Money Is the Real Green Power: The Hoax of Eco-Friendly Nuclear Energy

by Karl Grossman

Nuclear advocates in government and the nuclear industry are engaged in a
massive, heavily financed drive to revive atomic power in the United
States-with most of the mainstream media either not questioning or actually
assisting in the promotion.

"With a very few notable exceptions, such as the Los Angeles Times, the U.S.
media have turned the same sort of blind, uncritical eye on the nuclear
industry's claims that led an earlier generation of Americans to believe
atomic energy would be too cheap to meter," comments Michael Mariotte,
executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "The
nuclear industry's public relations effort has improved over the past 50
years, while the natural skepticism of reporters toward corporate claims
seems to have disappeared."

The New York Times continues to be, as it was a half-century ago when
nuclear technology was first advanced, a media leader in pushing the
technology, which collapsed in the U.S. with the 1979 Three Mile Island and
1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant accidents. The Times has showered readers with
a variety of pieces advocating a nuclear revival, all marbled with omissions
and untruths. A lead editorial headlined "The Greening of Nuclear Power"
(5/13/06) opened:

  Not so many years ago, nuclear energy was a hobgoblin to
environmentalists, who feared the potential for catastrophic accidents and
long-term radiation contamination. . . . But this is a new era, dominated by
fears of tight energy supplies and global warming. Suddenly nuclear power is
looking better.

Nukes add to greenhouse

Parroting a central atomic industry theme these days, the Times editors
declared, "Nuclear energy can replace fossil-fuel power plants for
generating electricity, reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that
contribute heavily to global warming." As a TV commercial frequently aired
by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the nuclear industry trade group,
states: "Nuclear power plants don't emit greenhouses gases, so they protect
our environment."

What is left unmentioned by the NEI, the Times and other mainstream media
making this claim is that the overall "nuclear cycle"-which includes uranium
mining and milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication and disposal of radioactive
waste-has significant greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global

As Michel Lee, chair of the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation
Policy, wrote in an (unpublished) letter to the Times, the

  dirty secret is that nuclear power makes a substantial contribution to
global warming. Nuclear power is actually a chain of highly energy-intensive
industrial processes. These include uranium mining, conversion, enrichment
and fabrication of nuclear fuel; construction and deconstruction of the
massive nuclear facility structures; and the disposition of high-level
nuclear waste.

She included information on "independent studies that document in detail the
extent to which the entire nuclear cycle generates greenhouse emissions."

Separately, Lee wrote to a Times journalist stating that the "fiction" that
nuclear power does not contribute to global warming "has been a prime
feature of the nuclear industry's and Bush administration's PR campaign"
that "unfortunately . . . has been swallowed by a number of New York Times
reporters, op-ed columnists and editors."

Greens for hire

In "The Greening of Nuclear Power," the Times, like other mainstream media
touting a nuclear restart, also spoke of environmentalists changing their
stance on nuclear power. "Two new leaders" have emerged "to encourage the
building of new nuclear reactors," according to the editorial. They happen
to be Christine Todd Whitman, George W. Bush's first Environmental
Protection Agency administrator, and Patrick Moore, "a co-founder of
Greenpeace." The Times heralded this as "the latest sign that nuclear power
is getting a more welcome reception from some environmentalists."

However, "both Whitman and Moore . . . are being paid to do so by the
Nuclear Energy Institute," noted the Center for Media and Democracy's Diane
Farsetta (, 3/14/07). In her piece "Moore Spin: Or, How Reporters
Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Nuclear Front Groups," Farsetta also

  A Nexis news database search on March 1, 2007 identified 302 news items
about nuclear power that cite Moore since April 2006. Only 37 of those
pieces-12 percent of the total-mention his financial relationship with NEI.

Whitman and Moore were hired as part of NEI's "Clean and Safe Energy
Coalition" in 2006, which is "fully funded" by the institute, Farsetta
noted. As for Moore and Greenpeace, his "association . . . ended in 1986,"
and he "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."

According to Harvey Wasserman, senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and
co-author of Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America's Experience With
Atomic Radiation (Brattleboro Reformer, 2/24/07), "Moore sailed on the first
Greenpeace campaign, but he did not actually found the organization."
Wasserman went on to cite an actual founder of the organization, Bob Hunter,
describing Moore as "the Judas of the ecology movement."

Scarce high-grade fuel

Insisting that "there is good reason to give nuclear power a fresh look,"
"The Greening of Nuclear Power" further claimed, "It can diversify our
sources of energy with a fuel-uranium-that is both abundant and

This, too, was bogus. The uranium from which fuel used in nuclear power
plants is made-so-called "high-grade" ore containing substantial amounts of
fissionable uranium-235-is, in fact, not "abundant." As Andrew Simms of the
New Economics Foundation told BBC News (11/29/05), another "dirty little
secret" of nuclear power is that "startlingly, there's only a few decades
left of the proven high-grade uranium ore it needs for fuel." This has been
the projection for years.

Indeed, this limit on "high-grade" uranium ore is why the industry projects
that, in the long-term, nuclear power will need to be based on breeder
reactors running on manmade plutonium. But use of plutonium-fueled reactors
has been stymied because they can explode like atomic bombs-they contain
tons of plutonium fuel, while the first bomb using plutonium, dropped on
Nagasaki, contained 15 pounds. Because it takes only a few pounds of
plutonium to make an atomic bomb, they also constitute an enormous
proliferation risk.

Blaming Jane Fonda

"The Jane Fonda Effect" (9/16/07), a Times Magazine column by Stephen Dubner
and Steven Levitt, blamed nuclear power's stall on the 1979 film The China
Syndrome, starring Jane Fonda, which opened days before the Three Mile
Island partial meltdown. "Stoked by The China Syndrome," it caused
"widespread panic," wrote Dubner and Levitt, even though, they maintained,
the accident did not "produce any deaths, injuries or significant damage."

In fact, the utility that owned Three Mile Island has for years been quietly
paying people whose family members died, contracted cancer or were otherwise
impacted by the accident. While settlements range up to $1 million, the
utility company continues to insist this does not acknowledge fault. The
toll of Three Mile Island is chronicled in my television documentary Three
Mile Island Revisited (EnviroVideo, 1993) and Wasserman's book Killing Our
Own (which includes a devastating chapter, "People Died at Three Mile
 Island"), among other works.

But Dubner and Levitt continue undeterred, declaring, "The big news is that
nuclear power may be making a comeback in the United States." They
acknowledge the Chernobyl accident, stating that it "killed at least a few
dozen people directly." They admit that it "exposed millions more to
radiation," but keep silent about the consequences of this in terms of
illness and death. This atomic version of Holocaust denial flies in the face
of voluminous research on the disaster that puts the number of dead in the
hundreds of thousands.

"At least 500,000 people-perhaps more-have already died out of the 2 million
people who were officially classed as victims of Chernobyl in Ukraine," said
Nikolai Omelyanets, deputy head of the National Commission for Radiation
Protection in Ukraine (Guardian, 3/25/06). Dr. Alexey Yablokov, president of
the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, calculates a death toll of
300,000. In the book Chernobyl: 20 Years On, which he co-edited, Yablokov
writes, "In 20 years it has become clear that not tens, hundreds of
thousands, but millions of people in the Northern Hemisphere have suffered
and will suffer from the Chernobyl catastrophe."

The New York Times Magazine also published "Atomic Balm?" (7/16/06), by Jon
Gertner; the subhead read, "For the first time in decades, increasing the
role of nuclear power in the United States may be starting to make
political, environmental and even economic sense." Gertner used the term
nuclear "renaissance," and again forwarded the claim that "the supply [of
uranium] is abundant."

Gertner told of how the "lifespan" for nuclear plants was set at 40 years
because this was considered "how long a large nuclear plant could safely
operate." This has "proved a conservative estimate," he states-without
providing a factual basis. So the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been
"granting 20-year extensions" to the 103 U.S. nuclear plants so they "can
run for a total of 60 years." (Consider the safety and reliability of
60-year-old cars speeding down highways.)

"Even with such licensing renewals, though, it's doubtful the current fleet
of plants will run for, say, 80 years," he continued, and "that means the
industry, in a way, is in a race against time." It needs to build new plants
because the "absence" of nuclear power "would probably pose tremendous
challenges for the United States."

The New York Times also allows its nuclear advocacy to slip into its news
stories. In an article (11/27/07) about the French nuclear power company
Areva signing a deal with a Chinese atomic corporation, Times reporter John
Tagliabue wrote of Areva chief executive Anne Lauvergeon's "long path from
dirty hands to clean energy." The "dirty hands" referred to a youthful
interest in archaeology; that nuclear power is "clean energy" appears to
require no explanation.

Another story, datelined Fort Collins, Colorado (11/19/07), reported on two
energy projects proposed for what the paper calls "a deeply green city."
Describing the plans as "exposing the hard place that communities like this
across the country are likely to confront," Times reporter Kirk Johnson

Both projects would do exactly what the city proclaims it wants, helping to
produce zero-carbon energy. But one involves crowd-pleasing, feel-good solar
power, and the other is a uranium mine, which has a base of support here
about as big as a pinkie. Environmentalism and local politics have collided
with a broader ethical and moral debate about the good of the planet, and
whether some places could or should be called upon to sacrifice for their
high-minded goals.

Other revivalists

Other media promoting a nuclear revival-their words prominently featured on
NEI's website-include USA Today (3/5/06): "The facts are straightforward:
Nuclear power . . . creates virtually none of the pollution that causes
climate change and delivers electricity cheaper than other forms of
generation do." And the Augusta Chronicle (8/21/06): "Nuclear power-for
decades perceived as an environmental scourge-is emerging as the cleanest
and most cost-efficient source of energy available, a fact conceded even by
environmentalists." And Investor's Business Daily (12/1/06): "We can worry
about imaginary threats of nuclear energy or the real dangers of fossil fuel

Glenn Beck of CNN Headline News also joined the chorus of support (5/2/07):
"Look, America should embrace nuclear power, even if it's [just] to get off
the foreign oil bandwagon." This is also common nuclear disinformation, that
nuclear power is needed to displace foreign oil. The only energy produced by
nuclear power is electricity-and only 3 percent of electricity in the U.S.
is generated with oil.

There are a few exceptions in the mainstream media, notably the other Times,
the Los Angeles Times. "The dream that nuclear power would turn atomic
fission into a force for good rather than destruction unraveled with the
Three Mile Island disaster in 1979 and the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986," the
paper stated (7/23/07) in an editorial headlined: "No to Nukes: It's
Tempting to Turn to Nuclear Plants to Combat Climate Change, but
Alternatives Are Safer and Cheaper." Those who claim nuclear power "must be
part of any solution" to global warming or climate change "make a weak
 case," said the L.A. Times, citing

  the enormous cost of building nuclear plants, the reluctance of investors
to fund them, community opposition and an endless controversy over what to
do with the waste. . . . What's more, there are cleaner, cheaper, faster
alternatives that come with none of the risks.

Staggering numbers

As to the risks, the mainstream media's handling-or non-handling-of the U.S.
government's most comprehensive study on the consequences of a nuclear plant
accident is instructive. Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences 2
(known as CRAC-2) was done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the
1980s. Bill Smirnow, an anti-nuclear activist, has tried for years to
interest media in reporting on it-sending out information about it

The study estimates the impacts from a meltdown at each nuclear plant in the
U.S. in categories of "peak early fatalities," "peak early injuries," "peak
cancer deaths" and "costs [in] billions." ("Peak" refers to the highest
calculated value-not a "worst case scenario," as worse assumptions could
have been chosen.) For the Indian Point 3 plant north of New York City, for
example, the projection is that a meltdown would cause 50,000 "peak early
fatalities," 141,000 "peak early injuries," 13,000 "peak cancer deaths," and
$314 billion in property damage-and that's based on the dollar's value in
1980, so the cost today would be nearly $1 trillion. For the Salem 2 nuclear
plant in New Jersey, the study projects 100,000 "peak early fatalities,"
70,000 "peak early injuries," 40,000 "peak cancer deaths," and $155 billion
in property damage. The study provides similarly staggering numbers across
the country.

"I've sent the CRAC-2 material out for years to media and have never heard a
thing," Smirnow told Extra!:

  Not anyone in the media ever even asked me a question. There's no excuse
for this media inattention to such an important subject, and it shows how
they're falling flat on their faces in not performing their purported
mission of educating and informing the public. Whatever their reason or
reasons for not informing their readers and listeners, the effect is one of
helping the nuclear power industry and hurting the public. If the public was
informed, this new big pro-nuke push would never happen.

Also in the way of sins of omission is the media silence on "routine
emissions"-the amount of radioactivity the U.S. government allows to be
routinely released by nuclear plants. "It doesn't take an accident for a
nuclear power plant to release radioactivity into our air, water and soil,"
says Kay Drey of Beyond Nuclear at the Nuclear Policy Research Institute.
"All it takes is the plant's everyday routine operation, and federal
regulations permit these radioactive releases. Rarely, if ever, is this
reported by media." The radioactive substances regularly emitted include
tritium, krypton and xenon. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission sets a
"permissible" level for these "routine emissions," but, as Drey states,
"permissible does not mean safe."

Hidden subsidies

Another lonely voice amid the media nuclear cheerleaders is the Las Vegas
Sun, which recently has been especially outraged by $50 billion in loan
guarantees for the nuclear industry to build new nuclear plants included in
the 2007 Energy Bill. The Sun demanded (8/1/07): "Pull the Plug Already."

In reporting on the economics of nuclear power, mainstream media virtually
never mention the many government subsidies for it, while continuing to
claim that it's "cost-effective" (Augusta Chronicle, 8/21/06). One such
giveaway is the Price-Anderson Act, which shields the nuclear industry from
liability for catastrophic accidents. Price-Anderson, supposed to be
temporary when first enacted in 1957, has been extended repeatedly and now
limits liability in the event of an accident to $10 billion, despite CRAC-2'
s projections of consequences far worse than that.

Writing on (9/11/07), Ralph Nader explored the economic
issue. "Taxpayers alert!" he declared:

  The atomic power corporations are beating on the doors in Washington to
make you guarantee their financing for more giant nuclear plants. They are
pouring money and applying political muscle to Congress for up to $50
billion in loan guarantees to persuade an uninterested Wall Street that
Uncle Sam will pay for any defaults on industry construction loans. . . .
The atomic power industry does not give up. Not as long as Uncle Sam can be
dragooned to be its subsidizing, immunizing partner. Ever since the first of
100 plants opened in 1957, corporate socialism has fed this insatiable
atomic goliath with many types of subsidies.

Ignored alternatives

Yet another claim by mainstream media in pushing for a nuclear revival is
the "success" of the French nuclear program. 60 Minutes (4/8/07) did it in a
segment called "Vive Les Nukes." (See FAIR Action Alert, 4/18/07.)
Correspondent Steve Kroft started with the nuclear-power-doesn'
t-contribute-to-global-warming myth:

  With power demands rising and concerns over global warming increasing,
what the world needs now is an efficient means of producing carbon-free
energy. And one of the few available options is nuclear, a technology whose
time seemed to come and go, and may now be coming again. . . . With zero
greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. government, public utilities and even
some environmental groups are taking a second look at nuclear power, and one
of the first places they're looking to is France, where it's been a
resounding success.

Though she was totally ignored, Linda Gunter of Beyond Nuclear told 60
Minutes of radioactive contamination in the marine life off Normandy where
the French reprocessing center sits, leukemia clusters in people living
along that coast, and massive demonstrations in French cities earlier in the
year protesting construction of new nuclear power plants.

The Union of Concerned Scientists was upset by 60 Minutes' downplaying of
alternative energy technologies such as wind and solar. UCS's Alden Meyer
wrote to 60 Minutes:

  In fact, wind power could supply more energy to the U.S. grid than nuclear
does today, and when combined with a mix of energy efficiency and other
renewable energy sources, could provide a continuous energy supply that
would help us make dramatic reductions in global warming.

Dismissal of renewable energy forms is another major facet of mainstream
media's drive for a nuclear power revival. As the St. Petersburg Times put
it (12/08/06), "While renewable sources of energy such as solar power are
still in the developmental stage, nuclear is the new green." Renewables Are
Ready was the title of a 1999 book written by two UCS staffers. Today, they
are more than ready. "Wind is the cheapest form of new generation now being
built," wrote Greenpeace advisor Wasserman (Free Press, 4/10/07). He pointed
to an "array of wind, solar, bio-fuels, geothermal, ocean thermal and
increased conservation and efficiency."

Wasserman has also written about another element ignored by most mainstream
media (Free Press, 7/9/07): "The switch to renewables defunds global
terrorism. Atomic reactors are pre-deployed weapons of radioactive mass
destruction. Shutting them down ends the fear of apocalyptic disaster by
both terror and error." He stressed, again, that safe, clean energy is here
and "we could replace everything with available technology that could easily
supply all our needs while allowing a sustainable planet to survive and

The one green thing

What are the causes of the media nuclear dysfunction? The obvious problem is
media ownership. General Electric, for one, is both a leading nuclear plant
manufacturer and a media mogul, owning NBC and other outlets. (For years,
CBS was owned by Westinghouse; Westinghouse and GE are the Coke and Pepsi of
nuclear power.) There have been board and financial interlocks between the
media and nuclear industries. There is the long-held pro-nuclear faith at
media such as the New York Times. (See sidebar.)

There is also the giant public relations operation-both corporate, led by
the NEI, and government, involving the Department of Energy and its national
nuclear laboratories. "You have the NEI and the nuclear industry
propagandizing on nuclear power, and journalists taking down what the
industry is saying and not looking at the veracity of their claims,"
Greenpeace USA nuclear policy analyst Jim Riccio told Extra!.

And then there's lots of money. FAIR recently exposed (Action Alert,
8/22/07) how National Public Radio, which broadcasts many pro-nuclear
pieces, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from "nuclear operator
Sempra Energy" and Constellation Energy, "which belongs to Nustart Energy, a
10-company consortium pushing for new nuclear power plant construction."

The only thing green about nuclear power is the nuclear establishment's

Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New
York College at Old Westbury. Books he has written about nuclear technology
include Cover Up: What You ARE NOT Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power. He
has hosted many television programs on nuclear technology on

Extra! January/February 2008

The NYT's Nuclear 'Promised Land'

By Karl Grossman

Sidebar to "Money is the Real Green Power" (Extra! 1-2/08)

The New York Times is not alone in promoting a revival of nuclear power. But
as the U.S. paper of record, it sets the media tone. Its pro-nuclear
editorial culture began decades ago when the Manhattan Project and its
corporate contractors (notably General Electric and Westinghouse, which
became the major manufacturers of nuclear power plants) sought to perpetuate
what was established during World War II, by making other things atomic.

Because of the Times' importance, Manhattan Project director Gen. Leslie
Groves personally arranged for its reporter, William Laurence, to join the
project. Laurence was responsible for the first piece of nuclear media
disinformation; he wrote a press statement to cover up the first test of an
atomic device, claiming there had been an ammunition dump explosion.
Laurence later, as the only "journalist" that had been at the 1945 Trinity
test, wrote that it was like being "present at the moment of creation when
the Lord said 'let there be light.'"

After atomic bombs dropped on Japan, the Times both ran and "distributed
free to the nation's other newspapers" a 10-part series written by Laurence
glorifying the Manhattan Project, notes News Zero: The New York Times and
The Bomb by Beverly Keever (Common Courage Press). Radioactivity was all but
unmentioned in the series.

And the Times science reporter continued for years to wax poetic about
atomic technology. "From the dawn of the atomic-bomb age, Laurence and the
Times almost single-handedly shaped the news of this epoch and helped birth
the acceptance of the most destructive force ever created," writes Keever,
professor of journalism at the University of Hawaii. Laurence would describe
nuclear power as "making the dream of the Earth as a Promised Land come


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