Historic Energy Decision Initially Skipped by CBS, Bashed by ABC

Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves plans for two new nuclear reactors, but ‘World News’ can only find opposition.

On Feb. 9 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) made history, paving the way for two new nuclear reactors to be built in Georgia. According to CNN.com, they would provide enough energy to power a million homes. One broadcast network responded by only finding critics of the project, while the other two barely mentioned the news.

ABC “World News with Diane Sawyer” aired a one-sided story on Feb. 9, including only opposition to the “historic” announcement for a new nuclear plant in Georgia, the first in three decades. CBS didn’t mention it at all that night, while NBC “Nightly News” offered a news brief. In the few days that followed CBS and NBC provided three more news briefs about the NRC’s decision, according to a Nexis search..

Diane Sawyer began the “World News” story saying “the debate about safety has already begun.” But ABC didn’t supply a debate, they provided an anti-nuclear hit piece instead. Reporter Steve Osunsami first reminded viewers of the scary Three Mile Island disaster. He failed to mention that incident did not injure or kill anyone and no long-term health impacts have been proven.

Osunsami included two opponents of the decision, Gregory Jaczko of the NRC and Edwin Lymna of the left-wing Union of Concerned Scientists. Jaczko was outvoted by four other members of the NRC, but none of them were included in the ABC report. Osunsami made sure to mention that “on the Internet the opposition is already mounting” and families near the plant might sue.

Noticeably absent from ABC’s report was any proponent of the project or nuclear energy itself.

According to the NRC’s press release, the 4-1 vote makes way for the NRC to grant licenses (COLs), something they expect to do within 10 business days after “inspection and testing of squib valves.”

The networks responded in much the same way they have in the past, by either ignoring nuclear energy or by attacking it. The 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island terrified many, but not only because of communications problems with industry and government officials. There were also plenty of frightening news reports with predictions that ultimately didn’t happen, driven in part by an anti-nuclear Hollywood film called “The China Syndrome.”

That fictional thriller was released just days before the reactor shutdown at TMI. Unfortunately, thanks to the timing and the news media the “China Syndrome” became nearly synonymous with Three Mile Island despite stark differences. A 1999 PBS documentary about TMI (which extensively quotes a writer of “The China Syndrome”) revealed that at least one national publication picked which reporters to send to Harrisburg, Pa. based on whether or not they’d seen the movie.