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.

Remembering Three Mile Island

35-Year Commemoration at Penn State:

In March 2014, Fairewinds Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen was invited to speak at Penn State for the 35-year commemoration of Three Mile Island (TMI). The Fairewinds Crew invites you to watch Arnie's Penn State speech where he reveals to the public the pattern of denial regarding nuclear power plant failures and meltdowns, not just for TMI but also for Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi as well.


TMI Graphic Novel:

Gabriela Epstein, an illustration student at the Rhode Island School of Design, received a Maharam STEAM fellowship to conduct follow up research on Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant during the summer of 2014 to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the TMI meltdown. 

Her goal was to approach the incident from a humanistic perspective, by interviewing individuals who were involved, in order to understand the social & psychological effects of the meltdown and its ensuing politicization.

Using the interviews and additional research, Gabriela created an artistic re-telling of these stories to be dispensed by Three Mile Island Alert, a local non-profit that works with Three Mile Island to promote nuclear safety efforts.


TMI Opera:

Karl Hoffman, a German Public Radio and Television (ARD) correspondent and freelance journalist requested an opportunity to interview and film Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen for an opera about the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island. Subsequent filmed interviews with Arnie led to this German production and an Italian production of the opera, Three Mile Island. This video is the German version of the dynamic multi-media opera created with Karl Hoffmann’s amazing audiovisual documentation by dramatist Guido Barbieri, composer and international conductor Andrea Molino, and impresario and musician Oscar Pizzo.


TMI Demystify Blog:

"Beware the ides of March..."

Even thus forewarned, Shakespeare’s warrior emperor, Julius Caesar, dies by the sword as he lived by it. The lesson lost on him, in a later Shakespeare play, Caesar's protégé Marc Antony is delivered by his own political vanity to a similar untimely demise.

March has been a most unlucky month for the nuclear energy industry and its regulators, just as it was for the hapless Antony. The nuclear power industry has proven to be similarly resistant to learning its own lessons from five nuclear meltdowns that have occurred in 35 years, with four of those meltdowns occurring in the month of March...

TMI/Chernobyl Workshop Presentation:

In April of 2015, Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen and the Fairewinds crew headed to Quebec City for the World Uranium Symposium. Attended by more than 300 delegates from 20 countries that produce uranium for nuclear power and weapons, the symposium brought together experts who are calling on governments throughout the world to end all uranium mining. In this presentation, Arnie shares how the nuclear industry refused to learn from their own mistakes and repeated the same failures at Fukushima Daiichi that caused widespread devastation at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.