Looking at recent stories from the AP and Al-Jazeera, as we’ve done over the last week, may make one think that the media has the knives out for the nuclear energy industry. To be honest, journalists never, and never should, put the knives back in the case. Trying to find malfeasance is a goal of journalism. Finding it is the tough part.
While I think the nuclear energy industry provides a poor target for malfeasance hunting, the accident at Fukushima Daiichi has put the industry front and center, so any reporter looking to fill an annoying empty space on the wall with a Pulitzer Prize has zeroed in on nuclear energy. So be it – let’s wish them well.
But let’s not pretend the stories are even remotely fair, largely because fairness would ruin the arguments. Instead, one can just point out the flaws, link to documents that demonstrate the flaws, and note logical inconsistencies.
And, of course, wait. The media is like a school of sharks in that it has to keep moving to keep up with events. Oil spills yesterday, nuclear energy today, what next? – windmills and birds? solar arrays and land use? a coal ash spill? Something. Just wait it out.
Because once the movable feast moves on, the more mundane stories will attain more prominence or at least not be embedded in negative stories:
56 percent of Californians said they believe that the state's existing power plants are safe, compared with 32 percent who do not. When asked whether existing nuclear plants in the state should be phased out over a 10-year period, 46 percent were opposed, while 39 percent were in favor.
The actual lede is that more Californians than in a previous poll do not want new facilities built. Fukushima is still pretty fresh in the mind, so this is to be expected. But determining that California’s current facilities are safe and should not be phased out – and remember, California is quite seismically active, like Japan – is rather more surprising. This might explain why, partially:
The poll also found that 53 percent of registered voters said they oppose allowing oil companies to drill more oil and gas wells in state tidelands along the California coast, while 43 percent believed they should be allowed to drill.
We can’t assume too much based on such skimpy information, but environmental concerns seem to play a part in Californians’ thinking, which may tilt opinions away from oil and toward nuclear.
Speaking of polls, what are the Japanese thinking these days?
But surprisingly in Japan, 45 percent of people still view nuclear power as a viable energy option and 71 percent support its modernization.
"The Japanese people still show some realism," said Henri Wallard, deputy chief executive officer at [polling firm] Ipsos "They believe they will continue to use nuclear energy in the energy mix for some time."
Support for nuclear power was strongest in India, Poland and the United States where the majority of people supported it.
Now, to be honest, Ipsos is showing that in most countries, nuclear energy has lost some support. And that’s really the result you’d expect in Japan, too, not that the Japanese would want to continue with it.
In general, polls taken around the time of an accident – this was true of the BP spill as well – tend to focus all answers through the accident. But it’s interesting that some more upbeat numbers are peeking though polls about nuclear energy – a trendline, as they say in poll-speak, there’s no reason not to expect continue. (That also happened in polling on the BP spill.)
Surfing and San Onofre – just says California, doesn’t it?