When Marty Jezer got a letter and survey in the mail from "Citizens Against the Shutdown of Vermont Yankee," he guessed right away that the group was a front for his local nuclear power plant. "Vermont Yankee has always presented its side of the nuclear story with vigor," he says. "They have a public relations staff trained to do that job. So why the front group? Why the transparently ridiculous attempt to show grassroots support?"
Apparently it takes more than strong fences to protect nuclear power plants from terrorists -- it takes paramilitary squads with guns pointed straight at you. That's the take-home message from an advertisement which the Alexandria, Va.-based Smith & Harroff designed for the Nuclear Energy Institute. The ad, which ran in the January 26 National Journal, celebrates the "highly committed, highly trained ... expert marksmen" who stand ready to fend off any threat that might come their way. (Question: How many rifles would it take to shoot down an incoming jetliner?)
After the Taliban fled Kabul, BBC reporter John Simpson inspected an abandoned building where he claimed to find instructions for assembling a nuclear weapon. Actually, the document he filmed was a 1979 spoof from the Journal of Irreproducible Results, which publishes humorous parodies of scientific writing. If terrorists used this document to build a weapon, they're in worse trouble than they realize.
For decades opponents of nuclear energy have warned that each reactor and disposal site is a potential bomb capable of causing thousands of civilian deaths and billions of dollars in damage if struck by the type of terrorist attack witnessed September 11th. Such precautionary warnings were given little credence or dismissed as anti-nuclear fearmongering in the past. Now that the unthinkable has occurred, the terrorist threat to nuclear facilities is being generally acknowledged.
In Toxic Sludge Is Good For You we wrote about the "Nevada Initiative," a PR campaign that hired prominent Nevadans to endorse plans to store high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. Now former Nevada Gov. Robert List has been hired by the Nuclear Energy Institute, making him the highest ranking former official in the state to align with the nuclear power industry.
PR trade newsletter The Holmes Report credits good public relations as part of the nuclear industry's come back, noting that ongoing campaigns in Washington DC have been very successful in winning the support of opinion leaders. Companies have also been active on the "grassroots" front. The Exelon Corporation, which owns almost one-fifth of the nation's 103 nuclear facilities, points to its open houses and media roundtables for building industry credibility.
The Nevada State Legislature allocated $4 million for PR and legal fees to stop the creation of a nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain. PR Week quotes an unnamed Washington public affairs executive predicting that the PR contract would attract an unusual selection of bidders, because any company with nuclear interests would support the creation of the Yucca Mountain site, and most large PR agencies are likely to have clients that would be in direct or in indirect conflict with the state's campaign. "The pro-nuke side is much more lucrative," said the executive.
WASHINGTON -- Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, a national environmental voice who served on the commission that studied the Three Mile Island accident more than 20 years ago, on Tuesday endorsed Yucca Mountain in Nevada as "safe and appropriate" to bury nuclear waste.