Demystifying Nuclear Power: Public Service Announcement: Nukespeak Watch

By Maggie Gundersen and Sue Prent

We at Fairewinds think it’s time to further reframe the conversation around nuclear energy and the myths and misconceptions it perpetuates. 

For far too long, spin doctors within the nuclear energy industry have successfully obscured bad news about their product by carefully controlling the language chosen for public consumption. It is called “Nukespeak”. 

Nukespeak is the “language of euphemism and distortion—a language like ‘newspeak’ from George Orwell’s 1984—has profoundly shaped public debate about nuclear technology since its inception”, according to a summary of the book Nukespeak first published in 1982 by Sierra Club Books following the first commercial nuclear power reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI).

“After World War II, nuclear developers used information-management techniques, including official secrecy and public relations, to promote what …would supposedly power a new Golden Age. Such euphoric visions set the stage for one of the most extraordinary public-relations efforts in history: the selling of nuclear technology to the American public”, and to people around the world including the government of Japan, even though most citizens were against atomic power following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

“Breaking through the linguistic filter of the nuclear mindset, it [Nukespeak] carefully documented how nuclear developers confused their hopes with reality, covered up damaging information, harassed and dismissed scientists who disagreed with official policy, and generated false or misleading statistics to bolster their assertions”, according to the summary. 

The authors of Nukespeak: Stephen Hilgartner, Richard C. Bell , and Rory O'Connor have created a seminal work that is more applicable today than ever as we face aging and leaking atomic plants all around the world and the myths of cold shutdown, SAFSTOR, and no radiation exposures to the public from operating reactors.

This is the first of many posts in which we will expose examples of Nukespeak and suggest more truthful alternatives. 

Nukespeak: When an “anniversary” is not a happy occasion.

It’s been 37 years since the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown.  That isn’t an “anniversary,” it is a solemn remembrance, as are the days on which we remember the nuclear catastrophes at Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi.

“Anniversary” also frames these disasters as events that belong to the past. No atomic meltdown event will ever be “in the past,” since radioactive decay is both continuous and spontaneous and will last into perpetuity.

We suggest that these occasions should more appropriately be referred to as Days of Remembrance for their human and environmental toll, leaving “anniversaries” tocommemorate happy occasions.

Let’s change the Nukespeak by telling the truth and speaking truth to power.