Saturday, 24 November 2007

Media and Nuclear Power

From a review of Gwyneth Cravens' book Power to Save the World on the New York Times Freakonomics blog: Do Not Read This If You Are Anti-Nuclear Energy.

Mrs. Cravens sent an Email to the blog author, adding the below information, explaing how the media is responsible for what her colleague Rip Anderson refers to as the profound 'second-hand ignorance' among the genreal public with respect to nuclear technology:

In the book (p.184) there is a graph based on a study by Bernard Cohen, Prof. Emeritus, U. of Pittsburgh, about stories by the New York Times of different types of accidents between 1974-78 (prior to Three Mile Island). He compared their frequency with the annual fatalities caused by these accidents. Cohen writes:
On an average, there were 120 entries per year on motor vehicle accidents, which kill 50,000 Americans each year; 50 entries per year on industrial accidents, which kill 12,000; and 20 entries per year on asphyxiation accidents, which kill 4,500; note that for these the number of entries, which represents roughly the amount of newspaper coverage, is approximately proportional to the death toll they cause. But for accidents involving radiation, there were something like 200 entries per year, in spite of there not having been a single fatality from a radiation accident for over a decade.

Another problem, especially in TV coverage, was use of inflammatory language. We often heard about “deadly radiation” or “lethal radioactivity,” referring to a hazard that hadn’t claimed a single victim for over a decade, and had caused less than five deaths in American history. But we never heard about “lethal electricity,” although 1,200 Americans were dying each year from electrocution; or about “lethal natural gas,” which was killing 500 annually with asphyxiation accidents. (Bernard Cohen, “The Nuclear Energy Option,” pp. 58-59.)
Again, I'll say she's definately done her homework.

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