As unfortunate as it was, the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster near Harrisburg, in early 1979, finally forced the media to start to inform the American public of the dangers of nuclear power.
But the danger of nuclear power was an old story which had not previously been well covered by the mass media.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a national public interest group, has for years been trying to tell the story of nuclear hazards to the American public with little success.
Last year, the WS released a report titled “Scientists’ Group Judges Federal Nuclear Safety Inspection Effort” which received little coverage.
The report criticized the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s failure to be a tough inspector of nuclear power plants. UCS spokesman Robert D. Pollard said “Nuclear power plants are inherently hazardous. Irrespective of how safe reactors are in theory, Federal inspectors cannot be sure they are built and operated safely. This report shows the NRC’s inspection efforts are biased against enforcement, undermined by political considerations, weak and ineffective.”
Contrary to the common conception that the nuclear industry is closely regulated, UCS found: only one to five percent of safety related nuclear power plant activities are inspected; NRC inspectors spend most of their time inspecting utility records, not the power plants themselves; most regulatory standards are drafted by the nuclear industry itself.
In light of Three Mile Island, the UCS, which had been ignored by the mass media, revealed significant prescience.
It was only as a result of Three Mile Island that the media started to inform the American public of what the UCS and other groups have been trying to say for some time now.
As early as 1973, the Wall Street Journal, in a well documented article, pointed out the economic liabilities of nuclear power plants and termed them “atomic lemons,” another story which did not receive widespread coverage.
Even today, few Americans are aware that other societies have taken a strong and successful stand against nuclear research and development.
Last year, the Swedish government was overthrown as a result of opposition to nuclear power plant development.
Also, last year, the citizens of Austria voted against the opening of the $600 million Zwentendorf nuclear power plant.
It is not surprising that many Americans were shocked by what happened at Three Mile Island since the media had not told the public what a strong possibility there was for such a disaster.
An informed American public might not have been so complacent about nuclear power plant development such as that at Three Mile Island.
The media’s failure to provide a forum for groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and others and its failure to inform Americans of successful anti-nuclear activities in other countries qualifies this story for nomination as a “best censored” story of 1978.
Union of Concerned Scientists, November 26, 1978, “Scientists’ Group Judges Federal Nuclear Safety Inspection Effort.”
The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 1973, “Atomic Lemons,” by Thomas Ehrich.