Here's another followup to yesterday's AP story on drought and nuclear energy that we referred to earlier today. Steve Kerekes, a colleague of mine who runs the media relations department for NEI, dealt directly with Mitch Weiss, the AP reporter who wrote the story. He dropped me the following note that he asked me to share with everyone:
Call me old-fashioned. When I studied journalism in college, and in my subsequent career as a reporter many moons ago, the goals to strive for in covering the news, beyond accuracy, were balance and context. Thus my disbelief at the refusal of the Associated Press over the past 24 hours to provide context for a story it moved on the wire yesterday with a Lake Norman, N.C., dateline. It’s running in newspapers across the country under headlines such as “Drought Could Force Nuke-Plant Shutdowns,” and the story opens, “Nuclear reactors across the Southeast could be forced to throttle back or temporarily shut down later this year because drought is drying up the rivers and lakes that supply power plants with the awesome amounts of cooling water they need to operate.”Just another day at the office. As you can imagine, we'll be hunting down strings from this story for quite a while thanks to the AP. But hey, when you can buy a line from an anti-nuclear activist like the one that was served up yesterday, who cares about truth or context?
In full, the nuclear-centric story runs more than 20 paragraphs and 1,000-plus words, yet the AP remarkably couldn’t find room to include four or five words of context explaining that ANY power plant that generates electricity by moving steam through a turbine and then uses cooling water to condense the steam can face a similar circumstance under drought conditions. No, AP insists, it wanted to focus strictly on nuclear power plants.
So what, in AP’s view, that readers may receive an incomplete view of this dynamic, given that an anti-nuclear critic is quoted in the article’s FOURTH paragraph saying, “Water is the nuclear industry’s Achilles’ heel.”
So what, in AP’s view, that the percentage of electricity produced by coal-fired power plants – exceeds the percentage of electricity produced by nuclear power plants in the following Southeast states: Alabama (55 percent coal, 23 percent nuclear), Arkansas (47 percent coal, 29 percent nuclear), Florida (32 percent coal, 14 percent nuclear), Georgia (63 percent coal, 23 percent nuclear), Kentucky (95 percent coal, 0 percent nuclear), Maryland (60 percent coal, 28 percent nuclear), Mississippi (39 percent coal, 22 percent nuclear), North Carolina (60 percent coal, 32 percent nuclear), Tennessee (65 percent coal, 26 percent nuclear) Texas (37 percent coal, 10 percent nuclear) and Virginia (47 percent coal, 38 percent nuclear).
In its conversations with AP while it was researching the story, NEI pressed the point that all steam-cycle power plants can be affected by drought conditions. When the story first hit the wire, NEI tried again to have a four- or five-word update included to provide the appropriate context.
No, says AP, “We wanted to focus on nuclear.”
Readers around the country can be forgiven today if they’ve come away with a misguided view of the nation’s energy alternatives going forward. The Associated Press isn’t inclined to clear it up for them.