What if you were promoting an industry that had the potential to kill and injure enormous numbers of people as well as contaminate large areas of land for tens of thousands of years? What if this industry created vast stockpiles of deadly waste but nevertheless required massive amounts of public funding to keep it going? My guess is that you might want to hide that information.
Yet, thanks to diligent lobbying efforts, strong government support, and a full public-relations blitz over the past decade, the once-reviled nuclear industry succeeded in recasting itself in the public mind as an essential, affordable, clean (low carbon emission), and safe energy option in a warming world. In fact, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has just cleared the way for granting the first two licenses for any new reactors in more than 30 years. The new reactors will be built at the Vogtle plant in Georgia, southeast of Augusta.
Even so, the ongoing crisis following meltdowns in three of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in Japan nearly a year ago has shined an unwanted spotlight on the dark side of nuclear power, once again raising questions about the reliability and safety of atomic reactors.
In response, the nuclear industry and its supporters have employed sophisticated press manipulation to move the public conversation away from these thorny issues. One example is PBS’s recent Frontline documentary, Nuclear Aftershocks, which examines the viability of nuclear power in a post-Fukushima world.
What follows is a detailed critique of many of the issues raised in the program, which initially aired January 17, 2012.
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