Nuclear Energy Institue


PHONE 202 739-8000

April 27, 1999


10:45 EDT

"Atomic Train" Status Report

This INFOWIRE is sent to update you on details about the upcoming NBC-TV miniseries "Atomic Train," and on the Nuclear Energy Institute's strategy and plan of action for addressing the communications issues that it raises.

Details of "Atomic Train"

The two-part miniseries airs Sunday and Monday, May 16-17 (9-11 p.m. EDT) during one of three "sweep months." The plot, as promoted by the network is this: "A runaway train carrying armed nuclear weapons and deadly nuclear waste suddenly careens out of control down the Rocky Mountains, picking up speed every second as it races toward Denver and countless innocent victims....Compelling human stories unfold as lives are lost and simple human bravery is displayed by scores of people... Tragically, a human error eventually causes the nuclear weapons to detonate."

We have learned that a relatively small U.S. audience is expected to view "Atomic Train." The network is predicting a 13.6 point Nielsen rating for the miniseries. "Frasier" is the top-rated show on TV, typically delivering a 20 Nielsen rating, which means that 20 percent of the total US households watch this show. Eighty percent don't even tune in. NBC anticipates that only 13.6 percent of the total U.S. households will be watching "Atomic Train." Another NBC action movie in the same time slot in May 1998 garnered a 12.4 rating. "Atomic Train" will be competing against the following shows on the networks:

    Sunday, May 16:
      ABC: Double Platinum (Diana Ross)
      CBS: Joan of Arc
      Fox: Simpsons/Family Guy/X-Files

    Monday, May 17
      ABC: Half a Dozen Babies
      CBS: Raymond/Becker/48 Hours
      Fox: Melrose Place/Ally McBeal

NEI Strategy and Plan of Action

NEI, In consultation with industry communicators and representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy and the American Association of Railroads, has adopted a "containment strategy" for the upcoming movie. We do not want to do anything to provide additional publicity for the movie prior to its airing. We certainly do not want to provide news outlets a reason to air a "Could this happen in our town?" story that—absent an industry overreaction to fictitious entertainment fare—they otherwise might not air.

The containment strategy is not a passive one, in that it envisions an aggressive effort, prior to the broadcast, to arm industry employees and key external audiences (state regulators, elected officials) with materials that address issues, such as transportation safety and emergency preparedness.

Resource materials, including talking points and a list of third-party experts, and identification of a central point of contact for affected industries and agencies (including the Department of Transportation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency), will be critical to efforts to effectively prepare key audiences to address public inquiries triggered by the miniseries. The Energy Department, for example, has prepared a two-page fact sheet entitled "Transporting Radioactive Materials," that is available from NEI and soon will be accessible via the agency's world wide web site. Existing NEI materials include the issue brief, "Safely Transporting Used Nuclear Fuel" and a multicolored, eight-paneled poster entitled, "An Integrated Approach to Managing Used Nuclear Fuel." A complete packet of materials will be sent to you during the first week of May.

Use of outside experts to carry the industry's message will help validate our point of view. NEI regularly calls upon several eminently qualified transportation experts, and will activate them to be prepared to address media or other inquiries by the miniseries. Please contact NEI to coordinate use of these third party experts in your area.

For further information on the INFOWIRE, contact Steve Kerekes at 202.739.8073. To contact Nuclear Energy Institute staffer outside of working hours, call 703.644.8805