Saturday, October 31, 2009

Media Bias, Anyone?

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I have a Google alert set up to notify me when nuclear related news stories hit the wire services and I’ve noticed something interesting: every spring and fall there’s a flood of media coverage when nuclear plants begin shutting down for refueling outages. In fact just today I received 14 messages letting me know that a hand full of nuclear McGuireunits shut down to refuel. Power plants like to schedule maintenance when electricity demand and replacement power prices are at their lowest, and that means in the fall and spring.

The spring / fall outage practice is not unique to nuclear plants; other kinds of power plants do it too. Interestingly enough, though, we rarely hear about coal, hydro, gas or wind power plant outages. The media does not seem to report when large coal or hydro plants shut down. If the news were being fairly reported, statistically, we would be hearing about even more power plant shutdowns.

Take coal for example; according to Wikipedia there are 1493 coal power plants in operation in the United States (compared to 104 nuclear plants). Taking into account typical nuclear refueling outages and the lower reliability of coal plants each spring and fall there are 25 to 30 nuclear plant outages and more than 400 coal plant outages. We should be getting blasted with news reports of coal plants shutting down! Instead, while there are more than ten times as many opportunities to report coal plant outages, we virtually never get those reports. I looked today and I could not find a single news story in the last week of any coal or hydro plant in the United States shutting down for any reason!

This is a subtle example of media bias against nuclear energy. ANYTHING that happens in a nuclear plant is news, yet we almost never hear of events, routine or otherwise, that take place at other kinds of power plants. I suppose the reporters and editors would argue they’re only reporting what the public wants to hear. Perhaps it’s the other way around – maybe they are selecting which events to report as a way of pushing an agenda. I’ll let you decide which is true but I think the data speaks for itself.

By the way, the photo on the right above is of the Gardiner Reid Power Plant in Nevada. According to the Environmental News Service, this plant produces the greatest amount of greenhouse gas of any power plant in the United States. The photo on the left is Wolf Creek Nuclear plant, an 1140 MW nuclear plant that produces zero greenhouse gasses while supplying enough energy for about 800,000 customers. Wolf Creek began a refueling outage today.

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