SECAUCUS, NJ—Dr. Gary Canton, a professor of applied nuclear physics and energy-development technologies at MIT and a leading expert in American nuclear-power applications, was rejected by MSNBC producers for being "too boring for TV" Monday.
"We could deal with Dr. Canton being so short," said Cal Salters, a segment producer at MSNBC. "And we could've made him up so he didn't look like he spends all day in front of a computer. We even considered cutting away to stock footage so our audience didn't have to look at him for too long. But when it turned out that listening to him is about as interesting as picking the lint off his lapels—well, there was nothing we could do about that."
Canton was brought in for a test interview based on a recent op-ed in the Boston Globe, in which he argued that increased reliance on nuclear power is "inevitable." When asked to address nuclear power's potentially disastrous consequences, however, Canton launched into a well-reasoned lecture that balanced modern energy demands against safety and environmental concerns.
"At MIT's Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, we see nuclear-power technology as the best option for the United States and the world to meet future energy needs without emitting carbon dioxide and other atmospheric pollutants," Canton said in the taped pre-interview, which has already been erased. "Other energy options include increased efficiency, renewables, and carbon sequestration. Actually, all of these options may be needed for a successful, non-stratified, growth-oriented national energy infrastructure."
Salters was not impressed.
"[Canton] went on like that for six... long... minutes," Salters said. "Fact after mind-numbing fact. Then he started spewing all these statistics about megawatts and the nation's current energy consumption and I don't know what, because my mind just shut off. I tried to lead him in the right direction. I told him to address the fears that the average citizen might have about nuclear power, but he still utterly failed to mention meltdowns, radiation, or mushroom clouds."
"I'm sure he knows what he's talking about," Salters added. "But we have a responsibility to educate and entertain our viewers. In the end, we had to go with someone else."
MSNBC chose Skip Hammond, former Arizona State football player, MBA holder, and author of Imprison The Sun: America's Coming Nuclear-Power Holocaust. Hammond is best known for his "atomic domino" theory of chained power-plant explosions and his signature lavender silk tie.
"Absolute Armageddon," Hammond said when asked about the dangers increased reliance on nuclear power might pose. "Atoms are not only too tiny to be seen, they're too powerful to be predicted. Three Mile Island? Remember it? I do. Don't they?"
"Clouds of radiation, glowing rivers, a hole reaching to the earth's core—that's what we're facing, " Hammond continued. "Death of one in four Americans! Count off, everyone: one, two, three, you. Millions of people gone. And no one's even mentioned terrorism yet. You have to wonder why not."
According to Salters, Hammond was "perfect."
"The way Skip looked right into that camera and said 'annihilation' with perfect enunciation—I've been in the news business for 14 years, and I still got goose bumps," Salters said.
Reached at his office, Canton said he was unsure why he wasn't chosen for the program.
"I discussed the interrelated technical, economic, environmental, and political challenges associated with increased nuclear-power usage over the next half-century and their relevance to government, industry, and community leaders," Canton said. "You'd think it would be exactly what they wanted. It was exactly what they wanted, according to the producer who contacted me."
Hammond is scheduled to appear in all six parts of the upcoming Learning Channel series Frost Or Fire: America's Coming Energy Tribulations.