Defending the nuclear discipline

July 18, 2022, 9:32AMNuclear NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

If you keep tabs on nuclear in popular culture, you know that Netflix recently released a four-part series entitled Meltdown: Three Mile Island. Nominally listed as a “documentary,” the series starts out with a generally accurate chronology of the 1979 event. However, it soon veers off the rails into an uncorroborated conspiracy theory of how the cleanup team risked “wiping out the entire East Coast” in their haste to complete the job on time. Nuclear Newswire has done a fantastic job of unpacking the distortions and outright falsehoods in “Meltdown: Drama disguised as a documentary."

Netflix showrunners were clearly more interested in maximizing the number of eyeballs on their content than in the accuracy of the information they present. But should that make us angry? Netflix is not a news organization; they are a highly algorithm-driven purveyor of video entertainment. Their “recommendation engine” knows what we want, and we happily let them spoon-feed us our next binge watch.

Meltdown: Drama disguised as a documentary

June 3, 2022, 7:02AMNuclear NewsJohn Fabian
The cooling towers of Unit 2 at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, closed since the accident in 1979.

The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 was the most-studied nuclear reactor event in the U.S. There is a plethora of research about the accident available to the general public, including the president-appointed Kemeny Commission report and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Rogovin inquiry report (split into volume one, and volume two, parts one, two, and three), which are the two detailed government-sponsored investigations into the accident. There are also thousands of documents in the NRC’s ADAMS database available to the public, an excellent overview by NRC historian Samuel Walker Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective, as well as the Nuclear News special report from April 1979, and articles written by ANS members like William Burchill about the accident and the many changes it forced on the industry. If the producers of Meltdown: Three Mile Island—available on Netflix—had read any of those documents instead of relying mostly on input from antinuclear activists, their “documentary” might have been presented with at least some sense of balance and credibility.

Instead, similar to a recent Science Channel documentary on the Three Mile Island accident, Meltdown focuses on drama instead of science. This four-part miniseries does not attempt to provide a balanced set of facts from the technical community and instead relies heavily on nonexpert opinions and anecdotal statements to tell a story that easily falls apart under even the faintest scrutiny.

Nuclear News reached out to multiple ANS members who were involved with either the accident response or the clean up to help provide a critical look at some of the more egregious statements made in the documentary.

Netflix’s History 101 gets a D- for episode on nuclear

June 7, 2020, 8:54PMEdited June 8, 2020, 8:55AMNuclear News

Netflix recently launched History 101, a series of short documentaries that the popular streaming service calls “bite-size history lessons on scientific breakthroughs, social movements, and world-changing discoveries.” Included among episodes on topics such as fast food, plastics, and the growth of China’s global influence, is an episode on nuclear power.

From the series’ academic-sounding name, one would hope for a thoughtful, even-handed discussion of the history of nuclear technology, along with its pros and cons. Yet, with a title like “Nuclear Power: Playing with Fire,” it quickly becomes apparent that the episode provides more heat than light. As one online commenter said of the series, “This is not a history documentary; it’s a middle schooler’s slick history report.”