Public Meltdown: The Story of Vermont Yankee

by Jim Riccio

March 12, 2012

The Unusual Suspect

Its a year after Fukushima and theres a new book out about nuclear power in America, but theres more to it than meets the eye.

Public Meltdown is about the struggle by the state of Vermont to gain control over and close the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and the efforts by the plants owner Entergy Nuclear of New Orleans to keep it open. The book, however, is not the usual suspects tale of fighting the good fight to save the planet.

Yes, its about the pros and cons of nuclear power and the Vermont Yankee story is a compelling back-and-forth battle, but what the book reveals is applicable to public policy debates beyond nuclear power and beyond the environmental movement. Anyone interested in shifting the body politic, anywhere for any reason, will find this work closer to George Lakeoff than Helen Caldicott.

The books author, Richard Watts, a research professor at the University of Vermont, is primarily interested in the way we make public policy. Entergy Nuclear wants to influence government to keep the plant open, so it frames the issue as safe, reliable, affordable energy. Environmentalists want to close the plant and frames the issue as dirty, dangerous and outdated accident waiting to happen.

Dr. Watts tracks the debate and the up-and-down fortunes of each frame by counting the number of times each frame appears in the media over a number of years. Whos repeating Entergys frame? Whos repeating the opponents frame? Whose frames are the politicians and editorial boards repeating? Have they changed their frame? When? Why?

Its a book about a nuke fight, but for Dr. Wattss media laboratory, its a case study from a small state with a media market a researcher can get his arms around. The insights he draws from the public debate which has now shifted to the courts are ones everyone in the environmental movement would be well advised to heed.

(Mark Floegel is a Senior Investigator with Greenpeace and lives in Burlington, VT)

Jim Riccio

By Jim Riccio

Jim Riccio served as Greenpeace’s Nuclear Policy Analyst from 2001 to 2017 and has over two decades of nuclear activist experience. He has been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe, and has appeared on ABC News, NBC News, Al Jazeera, CNN, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel.

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