Indian Point on the Potomac: Entergy's New Safety Panel and PR Firm

Entergy's Indian Point nuclear power plantThere's no question that New York's Indian Point nuclear power plant could use some public relations help. But Entergy, Indian Point's owner, might have chosen their new PR firm a little more carefully.

Last year, the state of New York asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to deny the plant's license extension application, citing "a long and troubling history of problems." It was "the first time that a state had stepped forward to flatly oppose license renewals," according to the New York Times.

Then, in January, the NRC proposed a $650,000 fine against Indian Point, for having repeatedly missed deadlines to install a new emergency siren system. The fine is "10 times the normal size" of such sanctions, reported the Times.

To address such criticisms, Entergy has retained the Burson-Marsteller firm, funded the pro-nuclear "New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance" and brought Greenpeace activist-turned-PR consultant Patrick Moore to New York. Last month, Entergy made another effort to, in their own words, "provide public assurances about the operation and protection of New York's largest nuclear power facility." They announced the formation of an "Independent Safety Evaluation" panel to investigate Indian Point.

Given the crisis of confidence facing Indian Point, it's remarkable that Entergy hired Potomac Communications Group to promote its new panel. Four years ago, Potomac was outed as the PR firm behind what the Austin Chronicle called "Big Nuke's vast op-ed conspiracy: a decades-long, centrally orchestrated plan to defraud the nation's newspaper readers by misrepresenting the propaganda of one hired atomic gun as the learned musings of disparate academics and other nuclear-industry 'experts.'"

Entergy materials don't name the Potomac firm. But the press release announcing the Indian Point panel lists Matthew Simmons, a Potomac program manager (PDF), as the panel's contact person. The email address given for the Indian Point panel also maps back to Potomac's website, Simmons confirmed to the Center for Media and Democracy that he's with the Potomac Communications Group.

As the saying goes, Simmons has his work cut out for him.

The Indian Point safety panel quickly came under fire from plant opponents. New York state representative John Hall told the Times Herald-Record, "I am skeptical of the true independence of any panel set up, selected by, and paid for by [Entergy]." Environmentalist Lisa Rainwater said that her organization, Riverkeeper, "wants a state-mandated review of plant operations," similar to earlier committees that "included a citizens advisory panel." Even the NRC is "rather ho-hum" about the Indian Point panel, according to the New York Times.

In response, Simmons pointed out that Entergy only selected the co-chairs of the Indian Point panel, Drs. James Rhoades and Neil Todreas. The co-chairs then recruited the other ten panel members, based on their experience and professional and personal integrity, said Simmons. "No one [on the panel] has had significant interaction with Entergy in the past -- either Entergy as a company or Indian Point in particular," he added. The Indian Point panel will also hold a public meeting and is accepting input via email, at

It's unlikely that anything short of a publicly-funded review overseen by government agencies (which the NRC sees as redundant to its plant inspections) would mollify Indian Point critics. But what the safety panel is able to do and how it is perceived have repercussions beyond New York.

Entergy's Vermont Yankee plant is also up for its license renewal. Vermont's state legislature and Public Service Board are conducting their own reviews of the plant, but Entergy might convene a safety panel there, too. "There is value in having something like this if just to assure the public about safety," Entergy's Jim Steets told Vermont's Brattleboro Reformer.

Diane Farsetta is the Center for Media and Democracy's senior researcher.


SourceWatch editor Bob Burton pointed out to me that the selection process for Indian Point's safety panel is similar to how the chemical industry formed their community advisory panels. From a 1999 <i>[:prwissues/1999Q1/caps.html|PR Watch]</i> article by Bob: <blockquote>According to [Dow Chemical's Ben] Woodhouse, a critical step in developing a [community advisory panel] is selecting the "core members for your team." "Find three to four people from the community who want to work with you to make you successful," Woodhouse says. "Use that core of members to draft the terms of agreement and to recruit the members. . . . In every panel we put together we'd select the first three people and we'd let them tell us who the rest of the membership should be and then we said fine, go out and sell your idea and it became their panel, not our panel," he says.</blockquote>

There is a stubborn and unrepresentative cabal of perhaps 150 authors and journalists, each honchoing a small but substantial email mobilization list, muddying the waters in the issue of domestic use of self-warming minerals for electric generation. In a time when the entire society needs to choose green or gone, the careers of these few self-elected lobbyists loom as a disproportionate stumbling block to human survival, and the democratic process. Armed mainly with bias, but also marshalling deceit, exaggeration, fear mongering, mischaracterization, elitist posturing and celebrity toadying to their arsenal of yellow PR delinquencies, these preventors like to see themselves as watchdogs. But do they protect? Or do they only prevent? Facts are emerging now, despite their best efforts at suppression. Two polls, a year apart, by Richard Berman's Manhattanville pollsters (unpaid, unbiased, unconnected) show public sentiment spontaneously moving towards the use of self-heating minerals as a general public power source, 67% favoring the continued operation of Indian Point in 2007, and 70+% favoring it in 2008. (Another poll... the Bisconti poll.... gives 80%). Minus the microphone-hogging and celebrity posturing, such an indication of and by itself would ordinarily glare out as a mandate for public use of a non-polluting, 100% carbon-free solution, already in place, functioning, and actually improving year by year under new owner Entergy, however nobody owns the mediaways but the preventors, and there's the rub. Dis-connected demi-celebrity political hacks, such as Andrew Cuomo , floating in a sea of ambition, anger, and dearth of talent, find it all too easy to ride those email lists to a moment's vid-byte, opposing the obvious, castigating straw men, spouting fear, hate, and general vitriol as if it contained the seeds of some redemptive policy (it does not). If society needs more at this juncture, than concocted fear, intentionally instigated hate, and loathing of the very solutions society must now use, Cuomo-the-lesser and his ilk seem blissfully unconcerned, as they lemmingize their listeners, and urge the most expeditious possible herding, running, and dashing off the cliffs to the ocean. That Lemming run, looms up to Cuomo lesser, as his main chance, his destiny. And it may be. But it is not our destiny. The natural processes which placed warm minerals in the eternal scheme of physical reality, do not heed the Cuomos. It is there, and, if there, it needs to be used. People are dying now. More people will be dying soon. Not in fantastical and flamboyant industrial mishaps, but in mundane, proletarian everyday lacks.... no work in Pakistan... no fish in civil peace in Central affordability or sustainability in the USA. Vast numbers of ordinary, voiceless people who will be catastrophically impacted by the lack of this resource within our lifetimes, stand bound and gagged, by the microphone hounds, the smug media hoggers, and the svelte pompadoured political poseurs, bound and gagged as prelude to their mass annihilation, in the service of a few good careers. Such a crime will certainly not escape public notice. Word is already out, here on this page.