U.S. Nuclear Industry Fires Up Public Relations Campaign
By J.R. Pegg
WASHINGTON, DC, April 24, 2006 (ENS) – The nuclear industry launched a new campaign on Monday to generate support for increased nuclear power, spearheaded by Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.
Nuclear power advocates are hoping that Moore and Whitman can sell the American public on the benefits of nuclear power and help spark the resurgence of an industry that has not constructed a new plant in some 30 years.
“Scientific evidence shows that nuclear power is an environmentally sound and safe energy choice,” said Moore, who along with Whitman will cochair the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy).
NEI represents the owners and operators of the nation’s 103 commercial nuclear reactors – these facilities currently produce 20 percent of U.S. electricity.
With Whitman delayed because of a late flight, Moore took center stage at Monday’s event announcing the new initiative.
A founding member of Greenpeace and a past president of the Canadian chapter of the environmental advocacy group, Moore has emerged as a controversial figure in the environmental community – often taking positions at odds with the organization he helped launch.
Moore was a crewmember on the first Greenpeace protest vessel. It sailed from Vancouver, British Columbia in September 1971 to the U.S. nuclear weapons test zone on Amchitka Island, Alaska to demonstrate opposition to nuclear weapons. He was president of Greenpeace Canada between 1977 and 1986 and a director of Greenpeace International for seven of those years.
He told reporters today that he left Greenpeace in 1986 because it had become too extremist and “developed a tendency to use sensation instead of information.”
At the news conference today, Moore defended his paid role with the nuclear industry-funded coalition, but declined to detail how much he is being paid for his services.
“We deserve to be paid because we are putting a lot of effort into this,” he said.
Moore said his support for nuclear power reflects that “times have changed and I have changed with them.”
“Climate change is now at the top of the world’s agenda,” he said. “I am not an alarmist on climate change, but I am not a skeptic either. It would be wise, it would be cautious, to slow down greenhouse gas emissions.”
The only realistic solution for the United States to shift away from fossil fuels is a combination of renewable energy and nuclear power, Moore said, and the renewable energy sources touted by many environmental groups are not ready to drive that change.
Whitman told reporters at the Washington, DC press briefing, that the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition will work to reverse the “fear and misinformation” that have stunted the growth of the U.S. nuclear industry,
Whitman, who was administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003 and is a former governor of New Jersey, said the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania scared the public away from nuclear power even though the core meltdown at the plant was contained.
“TMI was the nuclear industry working,” Whitman said. “I am convinced that as people learn more about nuclear power, they will come to share my certainty that increasing America’s supply of nuclear energy makes sense from an environmental and economic standpoint.”
Critics contend it is not just fear that has halted the expansion of nuclear energy - it is concerns about cost, safety, waste disposal and nuclear weapons proliferation that have caused investors and the public to balk at new nuclear plants.
When asked about the disposal of radioactive nuclear waste, Moore replied that the material at issue “is not waste” because much of it can be safely stored and eventually recycled and reused.
Moore called nuclear weapons proliferation “the most serious economic, social and human issue around nuclear energy.” But he said that changing technologies are making it more difficult – and less likely – that individuals or nations seeking nuclear weapons will opt to exploit commercial nuclear reactors to get them.
Jim Riccio, a nuclear power analyst with Greenpeace USA, said Moore has been “living off his reputation with Greenpeace for some time now and lacks credibility.”
To call nuclear power clean and safe is “the height of hypocrisy, especially as we are ready to commemorate Chernobyl,” Riccio told ENS.
Wednesday is the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine – the world’s worst nuclear power accident.
Although U.S. plants are much safer than the doomed Chernobyl facility, critics remain unconvinced that the nation's regulatory agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or the nuclear industry, in fact focus on safety.
A report released Monday by Greenpeace finds that the industry has had some 200 “near misses” to nuclear meltdowns since 1986.
The study shows that nuclear power plants are a “clear and present danger,” Riccio said, and packaging nuclear power as a solution to global warming is “dead wrong.”
The primary driver of increasing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is the transportation sector, he said, and nuclear power will do nothing to address the nation’s thirst for oil.