The tragedy in Japan will quickly produce an army of PR flacks, fighting to protect the interests of those who have a stake in the building and maintaining of nuclear reactors and related nuclear energy facilities.
We know, from Wendell Potter's book, Deadly Spin, that there is a pattern of reaction that major industries engage in when they consider themselves under attack. The industry's primary corporations will work together to establish teams assigned to minimize damage and control message.
A Wall Street Journal article, Japan Nuclear Crisis Could Cause Reassessment in U.S. reports "The U.S. nuclear power industry believed it was poised for a renaissance." The industry had been "chipping away" at US citizens' concerns about nuclear power that developed in response to the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island disasters.
Further, President Obama's proposed budget has $35 billion in loan guarantees to fund new Nuclear reactors. Obama has political capital invested in Nuclear energy, just as he had foolhardily invested political capital in offshore drilling-- a mistake made painfully evident when BP's Macondo well exploded.
it is becoming clear that the Japanese were lied to, at least at first, about just how bad things were.
Already, the spin has begun. The Wall Street Journal article reports,
Mitch Singer, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group said the explosion should reassure Americans that their own plants will be prepared for any emergency, because the industry will disseminate lessons learned in Japan around the globe, helping other reactors shore up their defenses against even devastating natural disasters, like the quake and the tsunami that followed.
"At this point," Mr. Singer said, "I don't think we're going to see a major impact on the U.S. nuclear industry."
I think we can assume that Singer's statement is what the Nuclear Energy industry WANTS.
A New York Times article, Crisis Underscores Fears About Safety of Nuclear Energy, gives an indication of the kinds of PR flacking that can be expected. The NY Times quotes Nils J. Diaz, former head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2003-2006 under George W. Bush. We might assume that as a Bush appointee his role was most like deregulation rather than regulation. Not surprisingly, the NY Times, quotes Diaz criticizing Japan, suggesting that the disasters occurred because of too many regulations. The Times article reports,
Mr. Diaz suggested that the Japanese might have acted too slowly to prevent overheating, including procedures that might have required the venting of small amounts of steam and radiation, rather than risk a wholesale meltdown. Fear among Japanese regulators over public reaction to such small releases may have delayed plant operators from acting as quickly as they might have, he said -- a problem arising in part from the country's larger nuclear regulatory culture.
"They would rather wait and do things in a perfect manner instead of doing it as good as it needs to be now," Mr. Diaz said. "And this search for perfection has often led to people sometimes hiding things or waiting too long to do things."
What the New York Times fails to do is report what is easily Googled, that Diaz is now chief strategic officer for Blue Castle Holdings, a Utah Nuclear Energy company. It's not hard to guess how the senators from Utah will lean in dealing with nuclear regulations.
Perhaps most important, we see the NY Times first report that people have had concerns, followed by citing of experts who say there is nothing to worry about. later in the article, the writers pass onto readers this unattributed statement that could easily be a PR operatives perfect plant, "In the case of Saturday's blast, experts said that problem was avoidable." It is followed by a closing assurance, "Mr. Diaz said that a comprehensive nuclear power plant safety program developed in the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks would have prevented a similar accident at any of the nation's nuclear facilities."
Ha'aretz reports, in an article, Japan nuclear blast could be more deadly than Chernobyl, experts fear. Have we heard this from the US media?
No. We get this kind of message: Nothing to worry about. Don't interfere with the building of eight more US nuclear reactors before 2020. Don't increase the regulations and safety assessments of the existing 104 nuclear reactors in 31 states producing 20% of the USA's electricity.
And with Obama so heavily politically invested in nuclear energy, we can expect to see a slow, weak response, with obscure information from government officials, exactly as we saw during the BP disaster. It doesn't have to be that way. There's a chance there are people of integrity working in the Nuclear Energy field. Will they risk losing their jobs?
The American media are owned by major corporations. Will they follow in the footsteps of the NY Times, which already failed to do its job, simply informing readers who it was using as expert sources?
Wendell Potter has reported that there are far more people working as PR flacks than there are journalists, and the PR people are paid a lot more. We can expect a major investment in putting spin on nuclear safety and regulations and not much push-back from most of the mainstream media. It will take a bottom-up, grass-roots, alternative media, blogosphere, twitter, Facebook uprising to get the word out and counter the messaging that has already begun.