Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Former Frontline Science Advisor Blasts "Nuclear Aftershocks"

I've been perusing some of the comment strings over at Frontline since "Nuclear Aftershocks" aired last night, and I came across this comment from Neil Todreas, a professor at M.I.T who says he worked as a science advisor on last night's program. Todreas also served as co-chair of the Indian Point Independent Safety Evaluation Panel.

To say that his comment is illuminating would be a serious understatement. Please note I've inserted some line breaks in the copy in order to enhance readability:

The portion of the Frontline story which starts with the Fukushima accident is a worthwhile public service. However, as an initial scientific advisor to the team producing this show, I found the lack of accuracy and balance in the second half of the story covering the Indian Point reactor disturbing. The statement that that reactor lies "right on the faults" is not accurate, and the portrayal of the potential activity of the seismic faults by Professor Sykes is not balanced.

In 1972, the first fault was significantly studied when the Indian Point reactors were licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Earthquakes in the region were characterized as of minor magnitude and relatively trivial by the noted seismologist Charles Richter of Cal Tech, the originator of the Richter scale for characterizing earthquakes. The significance of the recently proclaimed second fault also has been disputed, most notably by Prof. Alan Kafka of Boston College. I made the producers aware of this information, but they chose not to disclose these counter opinions and only presented Professor Sykes’ views on the seismic issues.

Additionally, the story dialogue speaks of "the" evacuation route for residents near Indian Point, when in fact there are multiple routes in various directions from the plant. The producers could have balanced the correspondent's incredulous statements about the evacuation route by opinions of the surrounding county emergency response officials who have overseen the evacuation planning effort for the plant and have responsibility for its implementation should a need arise. This is a source of information I also pointed out to them.

Finally, the producers speak of the future of nuclear energy in America only in terms of the relicensing and eventual end of service of existing reactors. Balanced communication to the public would have been achieved by explaining that a new generation of reactors has been designed, certified as safe by the NRC (Westinghouse’s AP1000) and is being built in Georgia and South Carolina. Again, this was information I provided them in response to their request that I review the film prior to its airing.

Neil E. Todreas
KEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering and
Professor of Mechanical Engineering (Emeritus)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Click here for a screen capture of the comment. I wonder what the producers of the program think about this?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

'Former' Science Advisor is probably accurate.

Anonymous said...

Your quibble about whether Indian Point is directly on a fault line or not, and what evacuation routes my be employed during an emergency at the facility are hardly relevant to the larger issues dealt with in the FRONTLINE piece.

No doubt, you're opinions on the subject have been influenced by the industry, and as such you provide no service to the public debate whatsoever.