Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On "Frontline" and "Nuclear Aftershocks"

My colleague, John Keeley, asked that I share the following note with our readers:

On January 17, PBS’ "Frontline" program will air "Nuclear Aftershocks," a documentary which purports to examine “the hazards and benefits of nuclear power.” Former CNN science reporter Miles O’Brien, with 30 years of journalism experience covering space, science and technology, leads the investigation and analysis for the program. O’Brien is a solid journo with a reputation for resisting the melodramatic and sensational in favor of substantive and balanced pieces. Would that we’d seen more of that among O’Brien’s broadcast peers covering Fukushima last spring.

Still, there are focus points to the piece we already know about that cause concern. O’Brien – who has been tweeting about the production for a few weeks – and his documentary team visited Indian Point Energy Center ostensibly on the premise that what happened at Fukushima Diachii could potentially happen at the New York plant located on the Hudson River. Indian Point is very much a political piƱata in New York, but few of its critics, I think, posit any likelihood of the plant being visited by a 48-foot tsunami. And in the U.S., we don’t locate our nuclear plants on subduction zones.

Know this: industry offered PBS inordinate assistance with this project. Both Exelon and Indian Point’s operator, Entergy, afforded "Frontline" generous access to their respective plant sites, and made executives available for reflection about industry in a post-Fukushima world. Exelon spent a full day with Frontline last August at its LaSalle site. The Frontline team was afforded a tour of the fuel pool/building, the B5b equipment stage areas, the cask loading area, dry cask storage, a working hydrogen recombiner, and a number of underground spaces where backup equipment, emergency fuel supplies, and submarine doors were visible.

Industry had hoped to preview this program in advance of its airing, but the representative of one of our member companies has yet to hear back from the producers of the program. We will be paying close attention to "Nuclear Aftershocks" to see if the show attempts to achieve some context for decisions made in both Germany and Japan to shutter nuclear plants, such as acknowledging that globally today more than 60 new nuclear plants are under construction. We do know that "Frontline" met with individuals outside of industry concerned by recent decisions by some countries to abandon nuclear power.

“We have not yet found a base-load electric power without carbon emissions, other than nuclear power,” NASA’s James Hansen informed O’Brien in an interview.

The program airs on PBS around the country beginning on January 17. Click here to check when it will air on your local PBS member station.

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