Tri-City Herald: Study against nuclear power plant lacks credibility

When activists hire a biased researcher to conduct a study, they accomplish nothing.

No matter how they tout their findings, their recommendation is suspect. Yet that is the situation presented by Seattle-based Heart of America Northwest and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, which commissioned a report that led to their calling for the shutdown of the only commercial nuclear power plant in the region.

They hired Robert Alvarez, who works for the Institute of Policy Studies and has a history of criticizing nuclear power, to author what turned out to be a 64-page report they are now using to justify the closure of the Columbia Generating Station at Hanford.

So, a longtime nuclear critic conducts a study for two established organizations with a history against nuclear power and (drum roll, please) their conclusion is that a nuclear power plant should be shut down. Surely, this report cannot be taken seriously.

Alvarez never once contacted Energy Northwest, the company that manages the plant, in order to get current information, according to Michael Paoli, Energy Northwest’s public information officer. Paoli said, instead, Alvarez’s study looks like he “cherry picked” information from old documents and strung them together out of context.

But even if Alvarez had been more thorough and timely, his frequent condemnation of nuclear power makes his research biased from the start.

If Heart of America Northwest and Physicians for Social Responsibility want to have an influence, they need to find a scientist who is considered neutral on nuclear issues and who will strive for objectivity. It would also be more impressive if they commissioned a study that included current information and not a rehash of past bits and pieces that were combined to look like a fresh evaluation.

Members of Heart of America and Physicians for Social Responsibility believe the nuclear power plant is unsafe and want it closed. Their latest study of the Columbia Generating Station listed many concerns, including that the pool used to cool nuclear fuel is vulnerable and could catch fire during an earthquake.

In light of the bias in the report, however, it is difficult to believe these findings are reliable.

Energy Northwest has countered the study’s claims, including that a fire in a steel-lined concrete structure is so unlikely that it is not one of the postulated events for the reactor, “and we postulate for everything,” Paoli said. Also, Energy Northwest is having its own earthquake assessment done and is waiting for its own safety analysis from the Department of Energy. While some may claim those reports could be biased as well, it just shows how helpful it would be to have an objective party involved.

But Heart of America Northwest and Physicians for Social Responsibility are no help in that department. No matter how they couch this latest study, it is too prejudiced to be believed.