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Do We Need More Balanced Reporting To Democratize Energy Policy?

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What if 400 people attending a consultation meeting in the provincial capital were overwhelmingly in support of the Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) pronuclear recommendations? Based on the Leader Post's long-standing pronuclear bias, this would likely warrant a front-page banner headline. But when the overwhelming majority at Regina actually opposed the UDP, it got a third page story, innocuously headed "Nuclear forum hears critics". The story gave extensive coverage to the Chief Executive of the Regina Chamber of Commerce which was represented on the UDP.

Such bias pervaded the 5-part series "The Nuclear Debate" which ran mid-May in the Leader Post and Star Phoenix. When I went to the library to study this series I hoped I'd find some reference to independent research, but, alas, the practice continued of treating nuclear industry employees as the experts. In the first story, AECL employee and promoter Jeremy Whitlock, trivialized reactor safety issues by saying "Essentially a nuclear reactor is just another heat source a steam engine than runs electric generators, in a similar way to a coal plant." The spin of the second story, headed "Nuclear Power Use Growing Globally", was justified with a quote from Jonathon Hinze, VP of UX, a nuclear consulting company. This is atrocious reporting. Had the Business Editor of the Star Phoenix, Joanne Paulson, wanted an independent source she could have gone to the "2008 World Nuclear Industry Status Report" of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. There she would have found that, even if all proposed nuclear plants are built (they never are), with the upcoming decommissioning of hundreds of existing plants, there is going to be a steady nuclear phase-out.

The third piece, "Nuclear Power Doesn't Come Cheap", used a seemingly more neutral source, Michael Moore of the Alberta Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environmental and Economy. But Moore was not that well informed; when he discussed economic impacts he was quoted as saying that the proposed reactor will have "a long life ahead of it - about 40 to 60 years." This is pure promotional conjecture from Bruce Power, for no power reactor has lasted more than 25 years and the average age of the 119 reactors already shut-down was only 22 years. Furthermore, refurbishing reactors to make them last longer, as is now being done in Ontario, costs as much as original construction.

The main "expert" in the fourth story, "Green Benefits of Nuclear Power Touted, Rejected", was retired nuclear engineer, Bruno Comby, founder of International Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, who asserts that nuclear energy is greenhouse-gas free. (The Leader Post version had a less balanced head: "Nuclear Reactors the Answer, Advocates Argue.") The writer, Jeremy Warren, quotes without question "facts" from Bruce Power's feasibility study. Had he asked me, during an interview the evening before publication, I would have told him that I'd already traced Bruce Power's "facts" to the Fusion Institute at the University of Madison, and found that its figures for carbon emission for various types of energy are cherry-picked from several studies; and, furthermore, that its figures for "solar" are for photo-voltaic (PV) technology, not for the much more cost-effective (and much lower carbon) solar technology which concentrates thermal energy to produce steam to create electricity.

The public has a right to learn about independent research on nuclear power. A few token quotes from those advocating non-nuclear options won't make up for a systematic pronuclear bias. The big city dailies have access to Internet and can surely locate researchers such as Jacobson at Stanford, Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute, Storm van Leeuwen at the Ceedata Consultancy, or the U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists, as a start. The reading public deserves better balance in reporting on the nuclear controversy. Democratizing energy policy requires it!