Friday, July 15, 2011

Bad Directions: Energy Blog Post Directs Readers to Shoddy AP Series

Around the time of the July 4 holiday, we responded to a four-part series published by The Associated Press that was larded with inaccuracies about the nuclear energy industry. It’s one thing for a single newspaper to get something wrong in a single print file; quite another when a global news wire service devotes more than a year and notable resources to an “investigative” series characterized by shoddy reporting throughout. What could have been a notable public service by the AP instead turned out to be a grievously misguided series that lacked vital context. NEI’s Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo pulled no punches in assessing the merits of the AP series in a video posted to our YouTube channel.

Most recently, this post – AP: US nuclear power plant safety isn’t being tightly regulated – directs readers to the AP articles. While the post contains some perspective that highlights how nuclear energy can be beneficial in the economic and environmental arenas, the AP series most certainly does not. And we weren’t the only ones troubled by the AP reporting – our regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, took the unusual step of responding formally and directly and critically to the news organization’s series.

It is wrong to conclude that nuclear plant operators are systemically working with regulators to endanger the lives of employees, their families and their neighbors by implementing subpar standards and regulations. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses the professionals who operate a facility’s reactor, in addition to continuously assessing a plant’s performance and safety. The independent NRC inspectors who work at each nuclear energy facility have unfettered access to workers and information at that site and have the authority to shut down facilities they believe are unsafe. They can also order changes in operations. Bottom line: the NRC can shut America’s nuclear plants down if they aren’t operating safely.

And if there is ever a doubt in nuclear power safety, remember this fact: there have been zero “abnormal occurrences” [the NRC’s term] throughout the U.S. nuclear energy industry over the past eight years (2003-10). Optimized technology, expertise and innovation from industry employees (your neighbors), continuous sharing of plant operating experience and precise monitoring capabilities are among the reasons U.S. citizens near nuclear energy facilities are safe.

The author of the BoingBoing post references protection of the Ft. Calhoun reactor in Nebraska in the wake of record Missouri River flooding. The facility was safe because it met all NRC requirements for flood protection (it was designed and built on a higher elevation as step one) and because Omaha Public Power District took additional measures to hold flood waters back. Among these extra measures was installing a 2,000 foot long water-filled berm to protect electrical equipment—yet another example of the nuclear energy industry exceeding federal safety standards.

Every industry has its supporters and detractors, and the flow of information will be abundant. This is why we urge everyone to effectively weigh the information included and omitted in the AP series by reading “Setting the Record Straight: NEI Responds to AP Series on Nuclear Energy.”

Safe, reliable nuclear energy is a vital part of America’s energy portfolio today. The industry is building new reactors in Georgia and South Carolina and designing the next generation of plants to maintain the most significant of low-carbon electricity we have to secure our energy future.

By NEI’s Media Relations Manager, John Keeley (you can see him in the YouTube video)

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