Sunday, April 15, 2007

Nuclear power in the Middle East

This post is more of a bookmark for future reference.

There is a curious article in The New York Times by William Broad and David Sanger entitled "Eye on Iran, Rivals Pursuing Nuclear Power." What initially caught my eye was the loose and dangerous ambiguity of the title with reference to the term "nuclear power" which can be read as reference either to peaceful "nuclear energy" or military "nuclear arms" or "nuclear weapons." Most of the article discusses efforts in the Middle East to ramp up use of nuclear energy, but then there are quotes and characterizations of various right-wing hawks whose position is a classic "where there is smoke there is fire" approach to connecting the dots between peacful nuclear energy and a nuclear arms race.

The alleged "connection" between pursuit of nuclear energy and nuclear arms was drawn by The Times itself in the short sumary of the article I received by email:

Eye on Iran, Rivals Pursuing Nuclear Power
Officials from Middle East governments have warned of the
possibility of "a grave and destructive nuclear arms race
in the region."

That summary suggests that the title refers to countries wanting to become "nuclear powers" (i.e., obtain nuclear arms), but the actual article offers no evidence of "rivals pursuing nuclear weapons." That "connection" is left to the reader, but is very clearly implied by the article summary. Shame on The Times for such sloppy, misleading, and outright, inciteful yellow journalism.

Further, the article is not properly labeled as being "news analaysis", where characterizations and judgments of the writer are to be expected. It is unlabeled so that the reader is lead to belief that they are reading actual news, when mostly the article is "analysis" and connecting the dots by the writers.

The Times draws an incorrect and misleading inference in the lead paragraph:

Two years ago, the leaders of Saudi Arabia told international atomic regulators that they could foresee no need for the kingdom to develop nuclear power. Today, they are scrambling to hire atomic contractors, buy nuclear hardware and build support for a regional system of reactors.

First, it misguidely uses the ambiguous term "nuclear power" when "nuclear energy" would aid clarity and eliminate the (hopefully) unintended effect of implicitly drawing a connection between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

Second, it misguidedly implies that there are some dark and sinister forces at play that caused the change of heart, when in reality the same change of heart has occurred even here in the U.S., being driven by a combination of sky-high fossil fuel prices and concern over the role of fossil fuel consumption on global warming. Today there are plans for new nuclear plants to go forward here in the U.S., while two years ago there were none. The simple fact, completely unmentioned by The Times is that compared to two years ago, the future of nuclear energy is looking much brighter. Why shouldn't the future look equally bright in the Middle East?

With high oil prices, it makes perfect economic sense for both oil exporters and oil importers to wean themselves away from domestic consumption for production of electricity. For oil exporters in the Middle East, it makes more sense to export oil at $60 a barrel than to burn it for mere electricity production. Again, no mention by The Times of this rationale for pursuing nuclear energy.

I'm very disappointed in the editorial judgment of The New York Times for how they handled this article. If The Times has solid evidence that countries are pursuing nuclear weapons, lay it out. If not, spare us the misguided implications that a connection exists when they are unable to produce any evidence. This is the kind of shoddy "analysis" that got us in trouble with Iraq.

-- Jack Krupansky


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home