Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#261 - Nuclear Industry Discovers Solution To Waste Problem: Bribery And Deception, 26-Nov-1991

In freshman chemistry class you learn that, before you mix two
chemicals together, you need to plan where you're going to put the
products of the reaction. If you're going to create a strong acid, for
example, you'll need a container that can withstand attack by strong
acids. In short, it is standard procedure--and common sense--to decide
before you make something where you're going to put it for safekeeping.

Unfortunately, the nuclear industry has been making radioactive waste
for 50 years and today the industry still has no clear idea where to
put its radioactive byproducts for safekeeping.

Nevertheless, until we take pollution prevention seriously and stop
making radioactive waste, something has to be done with it. So in 1980
and 1982 Congress passed two laws to deal with "low-level" wastes (the
vast majority from nuclear power plants, plus small amounts from
medical uses) and "high level" radioactive waste from nuclear power
plants. Low-level waste is radioactive tools, coveralls, rags,
instruments, and liquids; high-level waste is a power plant's uranium
fuel after it has become "poisoned" with radioactive elements like
strontium and plutonium by undergoing nuclear "fission" for months or
years. Although some low-level wastes can contain high concentrations
of exceedingly radioactive elements, and some low-level waste can be
very long-lived, in general "high level" waste is vastly more
radioactive and much longer-lived than low-level waste. Both classes of
waste are dangerous, and the government's (and the industry's) plan for
dealing with them both is to bury them in the ground. Low-level waste
will be buried in landfills, and high-level waste will be buried up to
2600 feet below ground, if the government has its way.

Now in 1991 it is clear that the programs established under both laws
are in shambles. There are no low-level waste dumps under construction.
Each proposed site is subject of intense scrutiny and fierce
opposition. The only high-level waste site being considered is at Yucca
Mountain in Nevada. Two-thirds of all citizens in Nevada and most of
their political representatives are strenuously opposing continued
exploration of the Nevada site.

The nuclear industry and its supporters in federal and state
governments have now unveiled bold new plans for solving the
radioactive waste dilemma. The focus of the new initiatives is not
science or engineering but a public relations campaign to convince
citizens that radioactive waste can be transported and buried in the
ground safely. We see a trend developing. Consider these facts:

** A leading public relations industry "insider's" publication called
JACK O'DWYER'S NEWSLETTER on September 4, 1991, revealed that New York
state's Low-level Radioactive Waste Siting Commission earmarked
$900,000 for a public relations blitz in 1991 "to convince New York
state residents that low-level nuclear waste facilities are not
harmful." The Commission actually issued an RFP (request for proposals)
and 22 public relations firms have submitted written responses,
detailing how they would conduct a 3-to-5-year, multi-million-dollar PR
campaign to sell a low-level waste dump to New York residents.

** The North Carolina Radioactive Waste Management Siting Authority
paid a little over $21,000 to Chem Nuclear Systems, Inc. (CNSI)--the
radioactive waste dump subsidiary of Waste Management, Inc.--to
evaluate the political feasibility of siting a low-level radwaste dump
in six different counties of North Carolina. CNSI in turn hired a PR
firm called Epley Associates who produced a 500-page "profile" of the
six counties, including detailed evaluations of local political and
environmental leaders. An employee of Duke Power (largest producer of
radioactive waste in North Carolina) allowed a draft copy of the Epley
Report to fall into the hands of a news reporter, and then it spread
like measles. Three newspaper publishers and the NC Press Association
are now suing in Wake County to get the full Epley report released
under North Carolina's public records act, but no date has yet been set
for a hearing on the matter. Meanwhile, we have obtained 71 pages of
the 500-page DRAFT Epley Report. It contains judgments such as, "Wake
[County] may be the most 'do-able' county in the state, politically....
We should be able to put together an attractive economic package for
the southern Wake County area, which remains rural and feels left out
of the county's prosperity.... Opposition will be strong in [the towns
of] Chatham and perhaps Lee, and they must be included in any
socioeconomic package."

The Epley report recommended that state authorities announce in August,
1991, that 12 or 13 sites were being evaluated and not just the "[5] to
7 real sites" because the 12 or 13 sites "are geographically spread
around the state and therefore public opposition is likely to be more
dispersed and not clustered in one area. It may be more difficult for
environmental and citizens groups to gain strength if their activities
have to be spread over a wider area of the state."

From what is going on in New York and North Carolina, it is apparent
that people everywhere should be investigating the public relations
budgets of the "low-level radioactive waste siting commission" in their
locale. Wherever you live, it seems likely that taxpayers' money is
being used for a PR campaign to "sell" you a low-level dump.

** By far the biggest public relations campaign has been launched by
the nuclear industry to convince Nevada residents that a huge dump for
high-level spent-fuel waste at Yucca Mountain will be safe. The plan
came to light when a utility executive leaked documents to the Safe
Energy Communication Council, a public-interest group in Washington,
DC. The nameless executive released a letter from the President of
Florida Power Corporation (Allen J. Keesler, Jr.) to members of the
Edison Electric Institute's (EEI) Executive Committee; EEI is a nuclear
industry trade association. Mr. Keesler's letter to EEI outlines a
three-year, $8.7 million PR campaign that is actually underway now in
Nevada. Mr. Keesler described "The Nevada Initiative" as "an effort to
change public sentiment in Nevada from that of opposition to at least
neutrality, positive at best." Mr. Keesler wrote, "And please note this
document is 'Confidential.' You can understand the sensitivity with it
becoming public," he wrote. You bet we can.

Attached to Mr. Keesler's memo was a 22-page "proposal" from a PR firm
to "The American Nuclear Energy Council" (another industry trade
group), seeking $8.7 million. The proposal is stamped "confidential"
and is dated September, 1991. The proposal says, "The industry message
has been focused, influential Nevadans have been recruited to help
advance the industry's objectives and a working political alliance has
been established with the Department of Energy, natural allies, and key
decision makers. Aggressive coalition building is under way, an in-
house scientific response team has been recruited, an industry boiler
room operation is functioning in Nevada and a dialogue has been
developed with the media. A paid advertising campaign will begin this
month."

The proposal uses military language throughout, to describe what the
nuclear industry is planning to do to the citizens of Nevada. "A
political beachhead has been established in Nevada," the proposal says.
And: "The ongoing advertising campaign will reduce the number of
negative-leaning Nevadans and drive them into the undecided camp, where
they will be more receptive to factual information. By softening public
opposition, the campaign will provide 'air cover' for elected officials
who wish to discuss benefits." A "scientific truth squad and an
attack/response team of scientists" have been "trained" already to
convince Nevadans that Yucca Mountain is safe, the proposal says.

The media campaign began on schedule in September and is still running,
according to Grace Bukowski, director of military programs at Citizen
Alert, a Nevada citizens' group that just celebrated its 16th birthday.
"Our phones have been ringing off the hook since these ads began," Ms.
Bukowski told us. "The people who planned this advertising campaign
forgot that this is the above-ground testing state. People here learned
about the nuclear industry the hard way." We asked, might such an
advertising campaign succeed at all? Ms. Bukowski grew pleasantly
scornful. "People are simply not going to fall for that bullshit.
They're wasting their money. People are just not that stupid," she
said.

We are forced to conclude that the nuclear industry is beyond
desperation in its search for a credible solution to the problem of
radioactive waste. They have given up on science. They have abandoned
the democratic process and rational decision-making. They are now
resorting to secret campaigns of bribery, persuasion and deception to
convince Americans that black is white, evil is good, and danger is
safety. Happily, the industry's desperation is exceeded only by its
ineptitude.

--Peter Montague

=====

Descriptor terms: radioactive waste; pollution prevention; llw; nuclear
power; hlw; north carolina radioactive waste management siting
authority; chem nuclear systems; epley associates; nc; nc press
association; wake county, nc; safe energy communication council; yucca
mountain, nv; nv; citizen alert; doe;