BORIS SHCHERBINA: I’m pleased to report that the situation in Chernobyl is stable. In terms of radiation, I’m told it is the equivalent of a chest x-ray.
VALERY LEGASOV: No! Chernobyl is on fire. And every atom of uranium is like a bullet, penetrating everything in its path: metal, concrete, flesh.
– Chernobyl promo, HBO, 28 March, 2019
Hello I’m Paul Barry, welcome to Media Watch.
And 33 years on, the world’s worst nuclear disaster is now playing out on Foxtel, as one of the hottest TV shows the world has seen.
Link to online trailer for Chernobyl: https://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/episodes/nuclear/11240618?jwsource=cl
But not everyone is a fan.
Indeed, the gripping drama has been sending News Corp’s star columnist Andrew Bolt into meltdown:
Antinuclear propagandists too blinded by eco-porn to see Chernobyl truth
– Herald Sun, 19 June, 2019
CHERNOBYL LIES TAKE THEIR TOLL
… the science now is actually quite clear: the known death toll from Chernobyl is fewer than 100.
– Herald Sun, 17 June, 2019
Bolt’s claim that Chernobyl was not a huge disaster has not gone down well. Especially with anti-nuclear campaigners, like Australia’s Dr Helen Caldicott, who tweeted angrily:
Andrew Bolt clearly knows not the first thing about radiation biology, genetics, embryology, carcinogenesis. How dare he write a piece like this!!!!
– Twitter, @DrHCaldicott, 18 June, 2019
But dare he did, and he was soon doubling down on Sky and again disputing the accuracy of the TV show:
ANDREW BOLT: … puts the death toll at between 4000 people and 93,000 people. But in my newspaper columns on Monday I pointed out the most authoritative bodies actually put the known death toll at less than 100 people, less than 100.
– The Bolt Report, Sky News, 19 June 2019
So, what’s the truth of this? Well, the number of direct or known deaths from the Chernobyl accident is indeed less than 100.
But many more are expected to die from cancer, and that number is anything but clear.
In 2005, the World Health Organisation said a team of more than 100 scientists had concluded:
A total of up to 4000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) accident …
– World Health Organisation, 5 September, 2005
Although making it clear those scientists believed the number was:
… impossible to assess reliably, with any precision …
– Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts, April, 2006
And 14 years on, not much has changed. But what is clear is the final figure is likely to be a lot more than 100.
And in the meantime, let’s not forget 350,000 people lost their homes, 4000 kids contracted thyroid cancer and thousands of women reportedly had abortions.
So why on earth does Bolt trivialise such distress?
Answer: he wants to argue that Chernobyl was not such a catastrophe and that people who worry about climate change should be delighted:
ANDREW BOLT: … you’d be glad that people aren’t in that danger and you’d be glad to hear that nuclear power, which has no carbon emissions, can actually be used if you believe in global warming. Perfect.
– The Bolt Report, Sky News, 17 June, 2019
And plenty of others agree, at least on Sky, 2GB and in the News Corp papers, where nukes are suddenly all the rage again:
It’s time we started talking about nuclear power as an option in Australia
– The Daily Telegraph, 2 June, 2019
Benefits far outweigh the risks of going nuclear
– The Daily Telegraph, 17 June 2019
Going nuclear: PM’s blessing sought for power inquiry.
– The Courier-Mail, 19 June, 2019
We’ve counted at least a dozen stories in the News Corp papers this month alone suggesting nuclear should be given a go.
And we’ve seen a similar barrage on Sky, where Bolt, Kenny, Richo and Jones have all been interviewing pro-nuclear politicians like Mark Latham and Craig Kelly, Queensland’s Keith Pitt, and fellow Coalition MP James McGrath, who’s joined Pitt in urging Parliament to consider lifting the current nuclear ban.
Plus, the Energy Policy Institute of Australia’s Robert Pritchard, who’s also a nuclear fan:
ALAN JONES: But I mean nuclear, no country’s got 44 percent of uranium. I mean, we’re just so richly endowed and we’re denying ourselves that benefit, aren’t we?
ROBERT PRITCHARD: We are.
– Jones & Co, Sky News, 18 June, 2019
Alan must have forgotten to tell viewers that Mr Pritchard has an interest in boosting nuclear. He chairs a company that wants to build small modular reactors.
Jones has also been on radio pushing the nuclear barrow, interviewing these pro-nuclear guests on 2GB and 4BC.
And he’s been spruiking it to viewers of Seven’s Sunrise:
ALAN JONES: Government’s got to grow up. We don’t need an enquiry. Get on with the damn thing. Keith Pitt and James McGrath are not 100 percent correct, they’re 1000 percent correct.
– Sunrise, Channel Seven, 19 June, 2019
So does anyone else think nuclear’s a no-brainer? Well, no.
Nine’s newspapers haven’t even broached the subject, while The Guardian and ABC have been unenthusiastic, and the Prime Minister lukewarm:
SCOTT MORRISON: … it’s not ‘not’ on the agenda. Wherever it can come from’s fine, but it’s gotta be self-sustaining.
… Ziggy Switkowski did a major project for the Howard government on this issue …
BRIAN CARLTON: Yes, I know.
SCOTT MORRISON: … and it came, and it came back and it didn’t come, it didn’t come back, you know, saying it could support itself
– Tasmania Talks, 18 April, 2019
In fact, the economics of nuclear power are a bigger problem than Chernobyl because it doesn’t even get to first base on cost.
Although you wouldn’t hear that message from Alan Jones, or 90 per cent of the coverage from News Corp and Sky.
But, as the vice-president of the Australian Nuclear Association told The Guardian earlier this month, nuclear reactors, quote:
“… don’t stack up in the current environment unless you have got some direct government intervention or a carbon price,” …
– The Guardian, 4 June, 2019
And Renew Economy has painted an even bleaker view of why nuclear does not stack up:
Nuclear power exits Australia’s energy debate, enters culture wars.
– Renew Economy, 13 June, 2019
Admittedly written by an opponent of nuclear power, the analysis by Dr Jim Green chronicles a shocking recent history of abandoned nuclear projects, massive cost increases and huge delays in construction.
But it also cites estimates from Lazard, the investment bank, from November last year, showing the “levelized cost of nuclear power at $112 to $189 per Megawatt hour” is now four or five times higher than onshore wind or large scale solar.
So, was any of this examined by News Corp, Sky or Alan Jones on 2GB? Answer, no.
Which is remarkable, given that they normally spend so much of their time talking about rising power prices. And so much of their time accusing others of lack of balance.
And that’s disappointing, because we need a proper energy debate — but on the evidence.
Originally published: https://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/episodes/nuclear/11240618