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Corporate Media Are Using Industry Talking Points to Lie to Us About Nuclear Power

The media should reject the use of industry rhetoric, stop using Nukespeak talking points, and start telling us the truth about nuclear power!

Nearly twenty years ago I co-wrote Nukespeak, a cultural history of the selling of nuclear technology for both peaceful and military purposes.

My co-authors and I dedicated the book to George Orwell, whose literary creation of 'newspeak' in the classic novel 1984 illustrated the power to control reality through the adroit manipulation of language. The euphemisms, obfuscations and omissions employed by nuclear boosters throughout both industry and government -- what one writer has called the "linguistic cosmetics" used "to avoid communicating uncomfortable or threatening thoughts so that the nuclear industry can control the images and perceptions of nuclear power" -- were so clearly reminiscent of Orwellian thought control that the homage seemed, if anything, perhaps a little too obvious.

Thus, in Nukespeak, proponents speak of "health effects" when they really mean "cancer." Accidents such as the infamous one at Three Mile Island are merely "anomalies," "significant events" or "abnormal occurrences" -- and when they recur, they are re-dubbed "normal abnormalities." Radioactive substances such as Strontium-90 are measured in "sunshine units," and when deadly plutonium somehow goes missing, it's simply a "MUF -- material unaccounted for." "Boundless energy" to save us from "freezing in the dark" would be "too cheap to meter" -- if we only went nuclear

Most of this universal nuclear language was created by such early government boosters as the Atomic Energy Commission -- acting in concert with industry forces -- as part of a conscious selling strategy that eliminated "scare words" and replaced them with "palatable synonyms." Nuclear "acceptance campaigns" featuring "truth squads" were created so as to create a "pro-energy climate" to "stabilize people's attitudes." And where government and industry experts weren't enough, a compliant and complicit media was co-opted and enlisted in the sales effort.

Sound familiar? Flash forward two decades -- to Barack Obama's announcement of billions of dollars in new loan guarantees for a supposedly new generation of nuclear power plants. (This despite the fact that nuclear reactors have already received more preferential treatment than any other source of electricity and that investments in nuclear plants are deemed too risky by private industry. Obama's new budget dedicates more than $50 billion to nuclear loan guarantees -- which means that we taxpayers could be left on the hook for a massive bailout… and that the companies ready to profit from new reactors, including NBC parent General Electric, are some of the wealthiest corporations in the country.)

Once again government and industry shills are ignoring reality and lying to us -- and once again the media is aiding and abetting them, as detailed in this Action Alert from the ever-estimable Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Entitled "Network Nukes Boosters," the FAIR report critiques "incomplete and unbalanced reports" by ABC World News and NBC Nightly News following Obama's recent announcement of $8 billion in new loan guarantees for a nuclear power plant in Georgia.

ABC's Jake Tapper stressed 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." Tapper barely mentioned nuclear opponents in his piece, but managed to squeeze in quotes from two anonymous Georgia residents saying their town needs the jobs, as well as one from 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 and it's worth noting that, as PR Watch pointed out, "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 NBC report wasn't much better: three sources were quoted supporting the nuclear plan, but only one critic. As FAIR noted,

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