‘Loose Nukes’: ABC Goes Nuclear in Search of Ratings

By October 13, 2005General

Loose NukesThis week, ABC is running a story called “Loose Nukes” (Anybody remember Nuke LaLoosh? He should’ve been the anchor for this story.) Apparently the enviros feel their anti-nuke grip weakening and have turned to the ABC who has rushed in to help. The story is well nigh hysterical — and hysterically inaccurate — in its claims of porous security at America’s nuclear facilities. If you live near one of these babies, yes indeedy you oughta run for your lives because security is akin to Swiss cheese. Or so says ABC. The story is basically running 24/7 all week — GMA, Nightline, World News, Supernanny, Wife Swap, Housewives, Joanie Loves Chachi, you name it. Hey, when you’ve got a winner, go with it. Who cares if it’s not entirely true? This is entertainment!

Here’s the set-up: Last Summer, a bunch of college interns hired by ABC attempted to penetrate the very public world of “TRTR”. To the nuke world, these are the Test, Research and Training Reactors, essentially the university nuclear research facilities…

TRTR, says its website, “represents research reactor facilities across the nation from government, major universities, national laboratories, and industry.” Its mission, it goes on to say, “is education, fundamental and applied research, application of technology in areas of national concern, and improving U.S. technological competitiveness around the world.” So far, so good. As it turns out, a big part of TRTR’s mission is to debunk the kind of hysteria sowed by ABC in this story. To that end, they do frequent tours of school groups of all ages, including patrician interns from elite schools trying to break out of J-school and into a network gig.

So these interns all surreptitiously contacted their local neighborhood TRTR and got themselves a tour. Kinda like surreptitiously contacting your Member of Congress for a tour of the White House or the Capitol. These are secure areas that welcome tours and do so with a constant eye toward security as you’ll see. The interns took in “hidden” cameras and started bombarding their hosts with questions about security. Their hosts, rightfully suspicious, took the correct security steps and contacted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Lo and behold, the NRC replied to TRTR to say that their investigation revealed that these were nothing but a bunch of ABC hooligans out for some cheap journalistic thrills. But the NRC didn’t end there, going on to scold the entire adventure:

“The NRC continues to believe that trying to gain access to reactor facilities under potentially suspicious circumstances, especially in the current threat environment, creates unnecessary concerns, diverts limited resources, and inappropriately distracts from high priority law enforcement activities.”

Advantage NRC. In fact, the various members of TRTR who were subject to ABC’s prank were all well aware of their visitors, right down to their license plate numbers. But truth be damned, ABC is undaunted, and still is running this journalistic drivel all week, all the time.

Under the “if it weren’t so serious it would be hilarious” category is one part of the ABC piece that alleges even more hysterically that a gardener let these interlopers into a facility. He had a key to the reactor facility!!! Run!!! Keep running!!! Well, as it turns out, the “gardener” is a retired employee who still holds a Senior Reactor Operator’s (SRO) license and who works part time at the facility. This is Dan Rather-Mary Mapes kind of fact checking. ABC should hang its head in shame on this piece.

Thanks to Eric McElwain of NEI for this — a truly incredible story of sham journalism run amok. Their blog has fairly thoroughly covered story of this latest lapse in what’s left of journalistic ethics.