Sunday, July 6, 2008

Surprising Poll Results

The Zogby poll for June 6, 2008 offered some surprises. It showed that 67% of Americans favored building nuclear power plants. That's good news for the country, but the same poll showed that 51% favored building new coal-fired plants.

The same surprise came from the Rasmussen poll for July 2, 2008. 52% disagreed with Senator Harry Reid's observation that "Coal makes us sick."

Health experts have been telling us for decades that coal pollution isn't just making us sick, it's killing us. The most authoritative study done, the Abt report, confirms what studies have been showing for decades, that thousands of Americans die every month because of burning coal to generate electricity.

How is it possible that something this important is unknown to most Americans? Clearly, the news media haven't been doing their job. Commentators have complained for as long as I can remember that the news media only cover novel and photogenic stories.

Let's take the accident at Three Mile Island. It received saturation coverage. Ever since, it's been known as The Worst Nuclear Accident in American History. Any time nuclear energy is mentioned in the news, the public is reminded of this stellar fact. What the news stories never mention is that no harm came to anyone because of the accident. See the Kemeny Report for details. Well, the owners of the plant lost big time, but that's not what we're talking about here.

As one would expect, misinformation flowed in to fill the information vacuum. Irresponsible political groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and their many imitators have fed the appetites of news media for lurid and frightening what-if scenarios. The fact that these scenarios are based on fantasy and not on reality doesn't bother media reporters in the slightest. The misinformation gets stories published and that's all that matters.

Why don't the political groups campaign against coal, since it truly is dangerous? That's more complicated. Greater coal consumption is the inevitable consequence of less nuclear energy. If they publicized the facts about coal, they'd have to admit they were wrong about nuclear energy. We can, however, note with new-found respect that the Sierra Club is intervening to stop the construction of new coal-fired plants. It will be interesting to observe whether or not the Sierra Club breaks ranks with less-credible political groups. Will the Sierra Club ever show the moral courage of environmental heavyweights like James Lovelock and Hugh Montefiore and reverse its position on nuclear energy?

In the meantime, what can be done to overcome the information deficit? The Nuclear Energy Institute does a valiant job of informing the public where it can, even sending spokespersons to public meetings. Anything NEI says, though, will naturally be discounted since its job is to promote a particular viewpoint. One might wonder if spending its budget on a race car really is effective at promoting nuclear energy, but the alternative would be sending out video documentaries no one would watch. One has to hope NEI knows what it's doing.

For the rest of us, the best we can do is inform ourselves as well as possible so we can offer good information whenever the subject comes up around us. This blog is an effort in that direction, as are the blogs recommended in the sidebar. Since the other side is working hard at spreading confusion and misinformation, we just have to hope readers can tell the difference. If people knew the truth about coal, the support for nuclear energy would be much higher than 67%.


Alexandra Prokopenko said...

I completely agree with the statement that the media are not doing a good job in promoting nuclear. Coal and fossil fuels are much more "familiar" and well-understood from the point of "how it works", while nuclear can be easily portrayed as something dangerous because of very few people out of general public understand properly how nuclear works and what are the consequences of this operation. Media often mention Chernobyl and Three Mile Island when speaking about nuclear, and that is much more horrifying for uncle John in front of TV then some kind of greenhouse gases that do not seem as dangerous to him - due to the media image. I suppose that mistake will become a subject of change in the nearest future.

Red Craig said...

Alexandra, thanks for your comment. By the way, the articles you publish at Atom Watch are greatly appreciated as a way of keeping us up-to-date on international developments.

Actually, I don't think the media should promote nuclear energy. I just wish they'd give their audiences reliable information. Your point is well taken, that greenhouse gases don't seem threatening.

Keep up the good work.