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Greenpeace Meets Pinnochio

Greenpeace and Citizen Alert in April of 1991 attempted to premier a television ad called "Radioactive Nose". Produced by Jim Weisiger, a director at Bruce Dorn Films and his wife, Joyce, executive producer of the company, the ad utilized actor Martin Sheen to stereotype the scientists at Yucca Mountain as lying Pinocchio's. The Greenpeace spot featured an official telling a public hearing that a "dump site we are proposing is perfectly safe. Trust me."

As the ad continued, the nose of the official grows and glows green with radioactivity, tipping over a pitcher of water when the speaker turns his head. "As for our track record," the official says, "accidents will happen. Clean it up."

The fact that "Radioactive Nose" was devoid of technical information comes as little surprise because the purpose of Greenpeace and Citizen Alert was not to educate the public, but to attack the integrity and credibility of DOE and subcontractor scientists. Applied to an individual or a private concern, this type of character assassination might well have seen its day in court. "Radioactive Nose" was designed to destroy the credibility of the professional men and women working at Yucca Mountain who had little recourse to defend their reputations because of their positions as federal employees.

Of course, there is a fine line between hard-nosed political advocacy and political disinformation. However, the extraordinary amount of effort expended by NWPO, Mountain West, Nevada politicians, and national environmental groups to portray DOE as hopelessly untrustworthy must make us wonder whether the goal of this criticism was to improve DOE or to destroy it. While few would argue that DOE is without sin, the agency has made substantial efforts to improve its operations and its interface with the public, most recently under the Task Force on Radioactive Waste Management. While calls for DOE to improve its performance are constructive political advocacy, claiming the agency's staff are pathological liars and cheats seems to border on political theater.

Out-takes and commentary about Radioactive Nose were aired on the local news stations, but the ad itself was not viewed by the public. Advertising representatives of the American Nuclear Energy Council made it abundantly clear to the broadcast media that if Radioactive Nose were run for free as a public service announcement, as hoped by the Sierra Club and Citizen Alert, the industry would expect equal free time. This effectively killed the campaign.

Perhaps more remarkable than the ad was a Review Journal Response editorial written by Bill Walker and Jason Salzman of Greenpeace:

Last week, Greenpeace and Citizen Alert premiered "Radioactive Nose," a 30-second video combining humor and high-tech animation to argue that proponents of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump are, like Pinocchio, "stretching the truth. [Las Vegas Review Journal, Response, May 8, 1992]

Not everyone saw the humor in this ad.

The two environmentalists argued that local television stations should run the campaign as a free public service. "Here's why: The time belongs not to the broadcasters, but to the audience." Further, they complained that "What's really at stake is the role of a mass media in a democracy". Actually, Walker and Salzman were parroting the party line of the Safe Energy Communication Council with whom they are coalition members. The SECC was attempting to revive the Fairness Doctrine which would allow special interest political advocates such as themselves free air time.

If democracy were truly at stake, Walker and Salzman might have suggested free time for ads from the nuclear industry to make up for the sympathetic press advantage enjoyed by the environmental movement, but it is unlikely democracy was their true interest. If ANEC had followed the stylistic precedent set by Greenpeace and Citizen Alert in Radioactive Nose, the industry could have theoretically portrayed the environmentalists as drug-crazed burnt-out hippies on welfare, a caricature based on images of Test Site protestors and not without some humor itself. Yet it is unlikely Walker and Salzman would have supported an industry ad that (to mimic their words) 'combines humor and high-tech animation to argue that opponents of the Yucca Mountain repository are, like drug crazed hippies, protestors looking for free media gratification.'

Of course, neither visual images of green glowing radioactive noses nor of burnt-out hippies dancing in trances are rational arguments for or against Yucca Mountain. Instead, such emotional images pander to base psychological instincts irrelevant to the science being done at Yucca Mountain. As much as Greenpeace and Citizen Alert disliked the pro-dump ads produced by the American Nuclear Energy Council, those ads did at least attempt to address technical questions (Is the waste solid or gas?. How strong are the transportation casks?) and did not represent an attack on the integrity of the environmentalists in the same vein as "Radioactive Nose".

Walker and Salzman's editorial also contended that ". . . the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force found numerous examples of distorted or misleading "facts" in the (American Nuclear Energy Council's) ads." However, as we've seen, distorted and misleading facts in NWTF literature are themselves legion and NWTF director Judy Treichel is not a nuclear engineer. The links between Citizen Alert and NWTF (and by inference, the Sierra Club) have long been incestuous, making NWTF little more than a Citizen Alert front paid for by nuclear rate payers. Thus, Greenpeace in quoting NWTF as an independent agency was itself using distorted and misleading information.

The Response editorialists then claimed "Radioactive Nose simply -- and accurately -- points out that people pushing the dump are not telling the whole story." Greenpeace's psychological manipulation using imagery of green glowing noses is an appeal to mass nuclear paranoia which is neither simple nor accurate. Neither have Greenpeace nor Citizen Alert told Nevadans their whole story either in regard to their positions on the repository. Their literature makes it amply clear their purpose in opposing Yucca Mountain is not primarily to protect Nevadans from radiation, but to shut down all nuclear power in America, no matter what the effect might be on global warming or on our economic competitiveness.

Finally, Walker and Salzman claimed poverty as a reason for needing free public air-time: "For 1992, Greenpeace has about $157,000 to fund its work on all nuclear issues, nationwide." This didn't seem to hinder Greenpeace from producing the $400,000Radioactive Nose ad. Moreover, one of Greepeace's main interests is anti-nuclear protest. Greenpeace is not poor (According to a Forbes expose, Nov. 11, 1991, Greepeace U.S.A. raised $64 million dollars in 1990) and it receives generous free publicity from the press. Moreover, its membership in the SECC means Greenpeace's effective budget for opposing nuclear projects (in pool with numerous other environmental organizations) was anything but small.

If Greenpeace and its allies at Citizen Alert were serious about encouraging democratic discourse at Yucca Mountain, there are some steps they could themselves take:

1) Labeling the scientists at Yucca Mountain as liars resembles character assassination more than constructive criticism.

2) Radioactive Nose was devoid of scientific content. Concentrating on providing hard scientific evidence to back up claims of the dangers of radiation would would ad to the quality of the debate.

3) Revealing their ties with Citizen Alert, the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office, the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force and the national coalition of anti-nuclear environmental groups would help Greenpeace restore trust in their advocacy. Presenting themselves as an impoverished local grassroots organization hides the non-Nevada origins of this protest and ill represents local democracy.

Unfortunately, Greenpeace seems determined to fight dirty in its battle against Yucca Mountain. The year 1993 found them distributing a flier (see Figure 9) meant to affect the Nevada tourist industry by suggesting gamblers should be worried about the repository. Whether this should be viewed as constructive political advocacy conducted by environmental activists or a form economic terrorism is open to question.