Press coverage of nuclear is so negative this Trump appointee says propaganda is needed

Workers at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant January 31, 2018. Credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, one of President Trump’s appointees at the Department of Energy (DOE) complained about recent media coverage of nuclear energy and promised to do something about it.

Suzanne Jaworowski, chief of staff for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, told attendees at a nuclear summit, “A lot of the challenges that we have have been blown out of proportion in the media.” She reassured them, E&E News reported, that “You’re going to start to see more positive stories featured in the news about nuclear.”

Certainly media coverage of nuclear power has been tough over the last year. Just this week there have been several headlines that aren’t favorable to the nuclear industry, such as a March 5 one stating “S.C. utilities knew of big problems 6 months into nuclear project but didn’t tell customers.” Or one the next day which said “Belgium hands out millions of iodine pills in case of nuclear accident.” This was followed by a March 7 headline stating “Richland Nuclear Power Plant Under Extra Federal Scrutiny.”

Last summer the coverage was even more challenging, with the Financial Times reporting in August, “It sometimes seems like US and European nuclear companies are in competition to see which can heap greater embarrassment on their industry.”

And Bloomberg certainly wasn’t doing the industry any favors reporting in June, “More than half of America’s nuclear reactors are bleeding cash, racking up losses totaling about $2.9 billion a year, based on a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis.”

There was also the leaked July study that found nuclear plants were closing because of “unfavorable market conditions” namely that “the marginal cost of generation for many nuclear plants is higher than the cost of most other generators.” The result is “the typical nuclear plant will lose money on every kWh produced.”

That leak came from a DOE staff draft of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s grid study obtained by Bloomberg.

While Jaworowski might be able to stop departmental leaks, it may be more difficult to generate good press when Perry announces the department will authorize up to $3.7 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to finish building the last remaining new U.S. nuclear plant under construction. This construction has been described as a “financial quagmire,” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and is more than $10 billion over budget.

But Jaworowski, who previously served as director of communications at Sunrise Coal in Indiana, has a plan: “We want to take the opportunity to right that information, to make sure that if people are going to form an opinion about nuclear, at least they can do it with the facts.”

What facts are the press and public missing? As E&E News reports, “the media campaign will focus on how nuclear touches medicine, food safety, NASA, military propulsion and other parts of people’s lives.”

DOE’s biggest challenge in turning around media coverage, however, was summed up in an August Houston Chronicle piece headlined, “Nuclear power as we know it is finished.” Business columnist Chris Tomlinson explained, “Let it be written that environmentalists didn’t kill the nuclear power industry, economics did.”

It’s hard to see how Jaworowski will be able to spin that.