May 12, 1999
Truth is Stranger than Fiction: GE-NBC Re-Edits Atomic Train to Erase Nuclear Waste
Industry Pressures Network
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The consumer and nuclear watchdog group Public Citizen condemned NBC today for the “corporate cleansing” of its upcoming miniseries Atomic Train, which is being edited at the last minute to erase nuclear waste from a runaway train that causes a nuclear catastrophe in Denver.
In the original version of the movie, which airs Sunday and Monday nights, the train carries nuclear waste and a nuclear weapon. NBC executives, after viewing the movie, made a last-minute decision to change “nuclear waste” references to “hazardous materials.” A network spokeswoman said the change was made because the movie contained incorrect information.
“This corporate cleansing of Atomic Train does nothing to make the film more accurate,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The more likely scenario is that the nuclear industry — including the network s corporate parent, General Electric — leaned hard on NBC. The nuclear companies have a lot at stake, because Congress is in the middle of debating legislation that would require thousands of highway and rail shipments of deadly nuclear waste across the country. They don t want public reaction to derail this unprecedented bailout of the industry.”
NBC is owned by General Electric, which built about a third of the nuclear plants operating in the United States, including some identified as the most dangerous. The company s nuclear division, GE Nuclear Energy, now supplies parts and service for reactors. The president of that division, Steven R. Specker, sits on the board of the industry s lobbying group, the Nuclear Energy Institute.
NBC says the movie did not accurately portray the casks in which nuclear waste is transported. That criticism likely came from the industry. Public Citizen believes that these casks have not been adequately tested and might not prevent the release of radioactive material in the event of a crash.
In NBC promotional material and advertising produced and widely distributed before the revisions were ordered, nuclear waste is mentioned prominently — and often. In fact, one press release says: “Because the issue of secretly transporting radioactive materials and waste is so threatening, many viewers might want to dismiss it as make-believe. That is simply not true.”
Public concern about rail shipments of nuclear waste is all too real. Under H.R. 45, currently pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, nuclear waste from commercial reactors across the country would be shipped by trains and trucks across 43 states over the next 30 years, traveling within a half mile of 50 million Americans.
“NBC doesn t need to resort to far-fetched fiction to portray the problems of nuclear waste transport,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project. “And although the movie is fiction, the nuclear industry is afraid it will open people s eyes to the reality of decisions now being made in Congress and the Department of Energy.”
Indeed, an internal Nuclear Energy Institute memo talks about a “containment strategy” developed in consultation with the U.S. Department of Energy and the American Association of Railroads. “NEI regularly calls upon several eminently qualified transportation experts and will activate them to be prepared to address media or other inquiries triggered by the miniseries,” the memo says. “Please contact NEI to coordinate use of these third party experts in your area.”