On Monday's NBC Today, Tom Brokaw reported on veteran Mike Wright returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to continue work at New York's Indian Point nuclear power plant: "Entergy, Wright's employer, supported his deployments. Veteran hiring is a priority for the company, not out of sympathy, but as an investment in the bottom line....Mike Wright and Entergy, that's how it's supposed to work."
Now compare that praise for the plant's hiring practices, with NBC News fear-mongering almost exactly one year ago, shortly after the earthquake and nuclear crisis in Japan. On the March 20, 2011 Nightly News, anchor Lester Holt ominously warned: "A government report has found the plant with the highest risk of core damage from an earthquake here is just about 35 miles from our studios here in New York City at the Indian Point plant."
In the report that followed, correspondent Ron Allen began by declaring: "...Indian Point's critics insist it never should have been built so close to so many people." A sound bite followed of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo: "I understand the power and the benefit, I also understand the risk. And this plant in this proximity to New York City was never a good risk."
On the March 16, 2011 Today show broadcast, co-host Matt Lauer listed several nuclear plants, including Indian Point, located near major cities and wondered: "So how does a nuclear disaster impact the people and environment surrounding a plant?" He then introduced live reports from infamous nuclear disaster sites Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
On Monday, Brokaw asked Wright: "When you were overseas, because of the company that you worked for, did you have concerns about your job security when you came home?" Wright replied: "Not at all."
In 2011, Allen left the future of Indian Point very much in doubt: "All this scrutiny comes at a critical time for Indian Point, and not just because of the Japanese disaster. The plant's licenses that allow them to operate begin to expire in 2013, and a very contentious review process already is under way. Activists insist Japan is sending the U.S. a painful message."
Brokaw concluded his Monday report by stressing: "...it is critical that our veterans have the same kind of positive experience in the military as in the working world that Mike Wright has been able to have."
That won't happen if media outlets like NBC routinely seize on opportunities to bash the nuclear energy industry.
Here is a full transcript of the March 20, 2011 Nightly News report:
LESTER HOLT: As the disaster in Japan unfolds, serious questions are being raised about the safety of nuclear power plants in the United States. A government report has found the plant with the highest risk of core damage from an earthquake here is just about 35 miles from our studios here in New York City at the Indian Point plant. Just today America's Energy Secretary Steven Chu says the government needs to take a closer look at safety plans at Indian Point. NBC's Ron Allen went there to take a closer look.
RON ALLEN: Tucked along the Hudson River in New York suburbs, Indian Point's critics insist it never should have been built so close to so many people.
ANDREW CUOMO [GOV. D-NY]: I understand the power and the benefit, I also understand the risk. And this plant in this proximity to New York City was never a good risk.
ALLEN: In the 40 years since Indian Point was built, scientists have discovered it sits about a mile from two earthquake faults, which they say could trigger a 7.0 quake. A 10-mile evacuation zone would affect 450,000 people. A 50-mile zone, like the US set in Japan, would include some 20 million people, including all of New York City.
SEAN MURRAY: I think some of that data is interpreted incorrectly.
ALLEN: Sean Murray is mayor of Buchanan, New York, home to Indian Point. He's also a nuclear technician there.
MURRAY: We're convinced that an issue like what's occurring in Japan can't occur in New York.
ALLEN: Most people we talked to say it's a quiet village and they're not worried about Indian Point.
MARGARET GIBBS: That big tower right there, that's all part of the plant.
ALLEN: Margaret Gibbs, a retired teacher's aide, lives about 100 yards from the plant.
GIBBS: We've lived here all our lives and we're not scared.
ALLEN: All this scrutiny comes at a critical time for Indian Point, and not just because of the Japanese disaster. The plant's licenses that allow them to operate begin to expire in 2013, and a very contentious review process already is under way. Activists insist Japan is sending the US a painful message.
PAUL GALLAY [RIVERKEEPER]: In Japan, before March 11th, people said we'll never have a 9.0. We need to do better than that. We have a wake-up call here.
ALLEN: Indian Point's operators insist it's safe, well-protected from even a terrorist attack, and built to sustain the strongest earthquake anticipated for the area. Despite all of that, opponents say nature's unpredictability makes a nuclear plant here just not worth the risk. Ron Allen, NBC News, Buchanan, New York.
HOLT: We are back in a moment with a troubling question a lot of people are asking after the events of the past several days.