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When Asked for Proof, the Associated Press and Arnie Gundersen Come Up Empty

It's been a full week since we first raised some questions about a claim made by Arnie Gundersen about soil samples he took in Japan recently. Gundersen claims the lab results he obtained indicated that the soil would be classified as radioactive waste here in the U.S. -- a statement that was reported by the Associated Press in a subsequent story. We had our doubts about the story, so NEI decided to do some investigating of its own.

24 hours later, we sent an email to the AP asking questions about how they went about reporting the story. We wanted to know how they were able to verify Gundersen's claims without working with a radiation protection professional who could properly interpret the data. We wanted to know why the story lacked any specifics about the lab results that Gundersen provided to the AP. We were also concerned that the AP identified Gundersen as a "nuclear consultant" when in fact he has long track record as an anti-nuclear activist and is currently employed by the state of Vermont as it seeks to close the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.

AP responded to our note with a one-line response that there would be no correction, but didn't include any additional details concerning their reporting. We sent a followup note asking additional questions, and 48 hours later we've yet to receive any response. Yesterday, we sent a note to Gundersen challenging him to publish his test results so a third party might be able to verify them. We also requested the name of the lab and the name of a contact there so we could ask them some questions too. We heard back from Fairewinds this afternoon, and they're refusing to share the results of the lab tests with us.

So what can we learn from all this? First, when it comes to the AP, there seems to be a surprising lack of consistency in generally accepted standards of journalism. According to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, reporters should "Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error." From where we sit, there isn't any proof that the AP did anything to verify Gundersen's claims. Absent any specific test results or the identity of the lab that did the testing, one is almost forced to conclude that nothing was done to provide independent verification of Gundersen's claims at all prior to publication.

That's a pretty serious transgression if you ask me. After all, we're talking about a business where one old adage says, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Did Gundersen get a free pass? There's certainly no evidence to the contrary at this point.

POSTSCRIPT: This isn't the first time we've found fault with AP's reporting, and we're not the only ones who've identified flaws in their reporting on nuclear energy issues over the past year. Click here for a critique of the AP's reporting on nuclear energy that appeared recently at the Columbia Journalism Review. Our Chief Nuclear Officer, Tony Pietrangelo, sat down with NEI's John Keeley to discuss that AP series on our YouTube Channel.


Will Davis said…
Thanks for both putting the AP and Gundersen to the fire, and for keeping everyone abreast of the developments. Clearly, the AP has as much of an agenda here as does Gundersen or else they'd have produced something more substantive and responsive. The era of no one questioning what the AP publishes about nuclear energy is clearly over.
jimwg said…
This contemptuous disregard by AP to verify the assertions and "proof" of a prominent anti-nuclear activist reeks of agenda sympathies and complicity in dispelling the truth. AP is doubtlessly sure that this issue will blow over under the carpet, but please don't let their smug conceit win and continue to warp the whole nuclear issue to the nation. It would seem logical to me that NEI might wish to forward copies of this issue to pro-nuclear brethren like ANS and the public affairs offices of nuclear industry and agencies to give them a heads up that NEI was on its toes and got slapped down by a major media organ in seeking the truth. This should also call to arms all pro-nuclear bloggers such as Nuclear Carnival members to join and make as common item one the AP's blatant anti-nuclear biases. This just might also give the great nuclear unwashed out there pause to reflect on the corruptive influence that a anti-nuclear personality or group, or any other, has in on a major media organization in smothering truth verification swaying hearts and minds in a vital issue. I always wondered how an anti-nuclear group was able to whip up a har'em scare-em anti-San Onofre TV ad so quickly and without much begging for funds. I venture they had a bit of "assistance" from the local fair and balanced media. This is MAJOR stuff! Good bite, NEI!!

James Greenidge
Queens NY
jimwg said…
Re: NEI's Marv Fertel will be at @nytimes' Energy for Tomorrow conf. next week on April 11.

I hope Mr. Fertel goes bold from the herd and mentions NEI's run-in with the AP's truth in reporting policies, along with other grass-roots digestible nuke blogger points about Fukushima local rad/world background comparisons and other great notes appearing here. The public seriously needs to get a grip on reality and perspective about nuclear energy and the key are sharp and articulate down-home speakers! May there be a streaming link to this conference!

James Greenidge
Queens NY
Chuck said…

Did AP report on this????
Anonymous said…
There is more information that must be disclosed here, besides a copy of the test results that AP states Gundersen provided to them.

AP or Gundersen must also disclose what specific locations (parks, playgrounds, and roof top gardens) he collected the soil samples from, so that independent samples can be collected at these locations and tested.

The fact that Gundersen has recently refused to release the test reports creates additional questions, which include the chain-of-custody of the samples from the locations where they were collected to the laboratory where they were tested.

AP is a large news organization, and as a large organization it must take questions about journalistic integrity seriously. Faced with continuing requests, senior AP management will ultimately require its staff to pull all of the threads here the details of what has happened are understood.

The first step is to raise this issue progressively higher within the AP management until they agree to disclose the report provided by Gundersen and the identity of the laboratory that performed the analysis.

Next, there is the entire set of questions about where the samples were collected and how they were collected. AP should be expected to pull on this thread as well, and to determine whether Gundersen is willing to disclose this information to AP, so that independent collection and testing can be performed (AP does not need to perform the independent collection, just to disclose where Gundersen says the original samples were collected).

Senior AP leadership needs to be aware that they face a potentially significant issue here. The key point is that the AP investigation must include a thorough process to assess the credibility and integrity of the source (Gundersen) that the original article relied upon, and how AP staff handled their responsibilities after they became aware of the potential integrity problems with the information that they had reported.

So please do continue to follow up on this story until the lab report that AP received from Gundersen has been released and AP determines whether Gundersen is willing to disclose any further information about the specific locations where he claims he collected soil samples, so that independent samples can be collected.
jimwg said…
Anonymous said...
...So please do continue to follow up on this story until the lab report that AP received from Gundersen has been released and AP determines whether Gundersen is willing to disclose any further information...

Triple A-Mens to that! Keep the pressure on, NEI! Wish I could do something more to help!!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

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