Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ABC News - A Nuclear America

Last night, ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer led the broadcast with a 3-minute "A Nuclear America: The President is Promoting Nuclear Energy as the Country's Future" describing yesterday's presidential announcement of a partial guarantee on loans that Southern Company and its partners will borrow to construct two new reactors in Georgia.

Say what you will about the networks and broadcast news, Sawyer's program averages 7-8 million viewers. Compare this with the highest rated cable news programs: the Fox Report with Shepard Smith averages 1-2 million viewers.

A lot of people, then, watched ABC's top story, and it was a good one. In the lead-in at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, Sawyer said, "President Obama said today that nuclear power plants are good for the environment, the economy, and jobs."

Correspondent Jake Tapper noted that a lot has changed in America, in the Democratic Party, and in the nuclear power business, since 1979. Tapper cited the 550,000 homes the new reactors will warm and illuminate, the 30 million barrels of oil the new plant will offset – which President Obama said was equivalent to taking 3.5 million cars off the road.

The piece also featured sequential interviews with Patrick Moore, formerly of Greenpeace, who supports today's announcement, and with Jim Riccio, currently of Greenpeace, who does not. Tapper said that besides Moore, many other Americans, some 52 percent, have come around in the past couple decades to supporting new nuclear construction.


Gwyneth Cravens said...

Please also see MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan and Keith Olbermann on their approaches to nuclear power:

People in the nuclear industry who want to do a better job of communicating with the public have an incredible opportunity here. Why not immediately invite these two guys to tour Indian Point or some other conveniently located, working nuclear plant? They'll have to go through the safety lecture, they'll see all the barriers, they'll meet the people who work there and who definitely do not look like Homer Simpsons.

Memo to David Bradish: Olbermann is a sports fan who likes stats. He said he was terrified by the release of 45,000 curies from TMI but acknowledged that he didn't know what that meant. He also appeared to think that Chernobyl killed 100,000 or more people. He probably does not know that waste from fossil fuel combustion causes 70,000 premature deaths/year in the US. He probably does not know that without new nuclear plants, new coal-fired plants will be built to provide base-load power. He probably does not know that 73% of low-carbon electricity in the US comes from nuclear power.

Getting accurate info to influential people in the media through supplying not only correct statistics but also tours of plants could go a long way toward changing minds. Worked for me!

Chad said...

The media still gets it wrong. In the ABC report, they said that new nuclear plants are safer because they shut down automatically when there is a problem--they've always done that, just now some of the new designes can do it passively.

DocForesight said...

@Gwyneth - Excellent point.

"Show and Tell" worked in grade school quite effectively.

Perhaps it would work for adults who act like children?

Anonymous said...

How does one compare barrels of oil to megawatts? Oil is in units of energy, and watts are units of power. I'm not at all surprised that they did this, though. Network news is full of dim bulbs.

David Bradish said...

How does one compare barrels of oil to megawatts?

Watts can be converted to btus or nearly any other energy unit. Just have to make sure to understand the efficiency differences in the calculation.

Anonymous said...

OK David, so how many barrels of oil are in 1 megawatt? :) I stand by my comment. BTUs are also units of energy. They are commonly used as units of power, with an assumed rate of "BTUs per hour". The first link in your search contains a hint. The conversion calculator has the label "BTU (per hour)". If ABC News had said "Barrels of oil per year" or "per day", it would have been a valid comparison. But "Barrels of oil" by itself can not be expressed in units of power. This is a very common mistake in the media. Another one I see is "kilowatts per hour", instead of "kilowatt hours". This shows a profound lack of understanding of what is being measured.

David Bradish said...

Yes, ABC missed putting a measure of time on the units for the comparison to be legit. Your original comment just made it sound like it couldn't be done period.