Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Notable Omissions: Content Analysis of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal Coverage of Hurricane Affected Nuclear Plants

Majia here: The media often set the AGENDA for public discourse through their coverage (or not) of important issues.

Hurricane Sandy posed a severe threat to nuclear plants located on the east coast due to flooding and power outages. Arnie Gunderson warned that a spent fuel pool fire could occur at Oyster Creek nuclear plant

see also


I've conducted an analysis of coverage by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal for October 30 and October 31.

I've concluded from my analysis that the best coverage was in the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post and the worst coverage was by the New York Times. 

I can find NO mention of a release of radioactive tritium that occurred in Salem in the New York Times or The Washington Post. It was reported in the Wall Street Journal.

In general, we can see here MEDIA AGENDA SETTING AND FRAMING occurring as none of the papers addressed the risks posed to the nuclear plants and the dangers of a spent fuel pool fire in any detail. None of the three papers analyzed here commented on Reuters' observation that the spent fuel pools at Oyster Creek might have to be cooled by fire hoses.

The absence of reporting on the release of tritium outside of the WSJ article is an especially significant omission because that release could impact citizens' health.

Only the Washington Post included a comment by someone representing concerns about nuclear safety. The quote was from a representative from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which is not anti-nuclear.

Please see my detailed analysis below: 


Majia here: I was very surprised that The New York Times makes no mention of imperiled nuclear plants so I conducted three google searches using the following key words:

1. New York Times nuclear plant october 30 2012. This search generated no relevant hits but I later found this article at the New York Times green blog:

The Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey went on higher alert, and nearby plants lost power from the grid or reduced their own power output. But no major incidents were reported due to Hurricane Sandy....

2. New York times October 31 nuclear plant: No relevant hits. 

3. New york times nuclear and tritium October 31: No relevant hits despite the report in the Wall Street Journal noted below that tritium was released from a reactor in Salem (tritium is a beta emitter that has dangerous biological effects. See here


NO mention in these Washington Post articles

The Washington Post DOES mention nuclear plants affected in 3 articles from 10/30 - 10/31:
Powerful storm devastates New York, New Jersey. The Washington Post 10/30
[Excerpted] Three nuclear power reactors were shut down because of electricity issues during the storm, while a fourth plant, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, remains in “alert” mode because of high water levels in its water intake structure, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Tuesday.
The three reactors to experience trips, or shutdowns, during the storm were Nine Mile Point 1 in Scriba, N.Y., Indian Point 3 in Buchanan, N.Y.; and Salem Unit 1 in Hancocks Bridge, N.J., the NRC said.

3 nuclear power reactors shut down during Hurricane Sandy. 10/30
[Excerpted] Three nuclear power reactors were shut down because of electricity issues during Hurricane Sandy, while a fourth plant, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, remains in “alert” mode because of high water levels in its water intake structure, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Tuesday.
All three reactors shut down safely, the NRC said, but the incidents are likely to come under close scrutiny given the series of electrical problems that led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex disaster in Japan in 2011.

“Sandy should be a wake-up call for the NRC and the industry to accelerate efforts launched after Fukushima to strengthen protection against natural disasters so that they will be better prepared to cope with the unexpected,” Edwin Lyman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an e-mail.

Alert ends at NJ nuclear plant; Superstorm Sandy blamed for forcing 3 reactors offline. The Washington Post 10/30[Excerpted from short 3 paragraph article] "The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said an alert at the Oyster Creek plant in Forked River, N.J., ended early Wednesday. An alert is the second-lowest designation in a four-tiered warning system...."


NO MENTION of affected nuclear plants in these Wall Street Journal articles:

1. Sandy Cuts Wide Swath of Damage 10/31/2012 p. A1, A10. NO MENTION

2. New Jersey Sorts Through Wreckage 10/310/212 p. A10. NO MENTION

3. FEMA in the Spotlight a Week Before Election 10/31/2012 A10. NO MENTION  

4. Darkness has New Yorkers on the Move. 10/31/2012 A4. NO MENTION

5. Travelers Face a Nightmare. 10/31/2012 A3. NO MENTION.

6. Storm Exacts Toll on the Economy. 10/31/2012 A7. NO MENTION.

7. Losses May Exceed Those of 2011 Storm. 10/30/2012 A6. NO MENTION

8. Range of Events Feeds Surge. 10/30/2102 A8. NO MENTION  

NUCLEAR PROBLEMS MENTIONED IN 2 Wall Street Journal articles:

Sandy Hits Coast, Floods New York 10/30/2012 A1, A4 (1 paragraph mention page A4)

[Excerpted] The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission sent extra inspectors to 10 nuclear plants from Maryland to New York, aware that Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster last year unfolded after that plant was struck by a devastating flood of water from a tsunami" 

"Power Outages May Last More Than a Week" 10/31/2012 p. A4.

last column in article: "Five nuclear plants developed problems from the story, though the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said none posed a treat to workers or the public.   

Reactors at three of the plants - Indian Point in Westchester County, NY, Salem in New Jersey on the Delaware Bay, and Nine mile Point n Scriba, NY - remained out of service Tuesday.

Exelon's Oyster Creek plant in Lacey Township, NJ lost grid electricity forcing it to rely on a backup generator. It also had trouble because of rising water on Bernegat Bay, from which it draws water.

The reactor - the oldest still operating in the US - already was shut down for refueling, lowering the risk of serious incident. Exelon also said 36 of the 43 sirens intended to alert nearby community of problems at the plant weren't working.

Elsewhere, Public Service Enterprise Group said its Salem plant had problems with pumps due to the storm surge that forced operators to shut down the Unit 1 reactor Tue morning. A spokesman said the plant released steam with trace levels of radioactive tritium into the atmosphere to shed heat but at levels that should be 'no cause for concern by the public'. 

MAJIA HERE: I think it important to note that Reuters did report on 10/30 that the spent fuel pool at Oyster Creek might have to be cooled by fire hoses:

* Exelon Corp declares alert at New Jersey Oyster Creek nuclear plant on storm surge

* Further water rise could mean fire hose to cool spent rods-NRC spokesman

SOURCE: UPDATE 1-US nuclear plant declares "alert" after Sandy storm surge-NRC Tue Oct 30, 2012 12:51am EDT

I believe my empirical analysis demonstrates that the mainstream media tend to under-report and trivialize the dangers posed by nuclear plants, even when those nuclear plants experience alerts and significant safety risks.

1 comment:

  1. Hi -

    This "Nuclear Hot Seat" interview of Karl Grossman discusses the New York Times and their coverage of nuclear issues, which apparently has been going on for decades.


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