Monday, February 12, 2024

Anti-Nuclear by necessity

On January 30th the government of Ontario, currently headed by Doug Ford, announced it was advancing the refurbishment of the four “B” reactors at the Pickering Nuclear Generation Station (PNGS), Initial media response has been largely positive, with Ontario’s public broadcaster (TVO) noting, “ it’s hard to see a future government changing course”. Apparently TVO, and other news outlets, felt compelled to offer their readers articles opposed to the refurbishment for balance. At TVO the negative response came shortly after the news broke in an article by Taylor C. Noakes. Rebutting that work is one goal of this one, but it may be more important to explore the emerging tools for producing an article to counter a narrative in another.

There is a commendable aspect of TVO attaining the work by Noakes, who I believe to be ‘stringer’ - which is an independent producer of content: Noakes has produced multiple articles for, at least, TVO and Desmog, on a wide variety of topics. If you wanted an article with a perspective, Noakes is exactly the type of person you’d go to - particularly, if you’re familiar with Desmog and want an anti-nuclear position. The most obvious alternative approach, and the one taken by The Globe and Mail, is to publish an op-ed from a career antinuclear personality. Mark Winfield’s The folly of Ontario’s nuclear power play (subscription) is exactly what you’d expect from a person with a career based on opposing nuclear - I’ve previously highlighted his mid-2000’s publication at Pembina that planned for a nuclear-free Ontario by 2020 that would have had electricity-sector emissions 400% higher, and will simply emphasize that his status as an expert relies not on the the wisdom in his past work, but simply in his opposition to nuclear power.

Noakes’ stringer work may be enhanced with the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools. Given a topic a writer can simply use an AI tool such as that embedded with the Bing browser, or OpenAI’s tools (I tested only the free version), and get the skeleton of an article. Bing’s Co-pilot, responding to my prompting, “argument to oppose refurbishment of Pickering nuclear generating station”, produced bullet points supporting 5 themes: Environmental Concerns, Cost and Overruns, Safety and Aging Infrastructure, Changing Energy Landscape, and Public Consultation and Transparency. ChatGPT gave paragraphs supporting 7 possibilities for opposing: Cost, Safety Concerns, Environmental Impact, Technological Obsolescence, Public health, Opportunity cost and Community opposition. These themes do emerge with every announcement of continued nuclear operations.

To acquire an article opposing nuclear power in 2024 a polymath isn’t required, but mostly somebody who can wrap readily attainable content in a story. Noakes’ TVO story is titled:

The Ford government’s decision on nuclear will set Ontario back 30 years
OPINION: Our politicians keep subsidizing old technologies and industries — and putting opportunity and ideology ahead of basic economics

That sets the stage: a villain is presented (Ford, who heads what is actually Ontario’s government - but Ontario can’t be the villain), driven by ideology instead of rationality (a.k.a. ‘Basic economics’). You can almost hear a pantomime’s audience booing the modern “not following the science” villain..