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Nevada Initiative

The nuclear industry realized by 1990 that their efforts to convince Nevadans to accept the nuclear waste repository were in danger of failing. Even though the study of Yucca Mountain was forging ahead, lack of public support could put the entire project at risk. At this time, Kent Oram and Ed Allison, long time Nevada political consultants and lobbyists, developed what came to be known as The Nevada Initiative which they presented to the American Nuclear Energy Council. The Initiative proposed a multi-level political and media campaign to move the sympathies of Nevadans towards acceptance of the site.

Because funding for the Initiative had to come from a number of utilities, not all of whom were dependent on nuclear power, it was perhaps inevitable that the Initiative was leaked to the press and became a political hot-button. Politicians played the media with Nevada Initiative to create fears of outside interests invading the state. Similarly, the staff of NWPO rarely failed to bring up the supposedly nefarious nature of the Initiative, which they liked to portray as the "Secret Plan". Of course, we have pointed out that the environmental movement also had numerous secret plans to shut down the nuclear industry (see Shutdown Strategies from Public Citizen, 1987), and the fact that ANEC and USCEA might finally be building a political counter attack should have come as little surprise to anyone.

Nevertheless, there is something less than forthright about the existence of any secret plans and the public deserves to know what went into the Nevada Initiative. Space limiting, we have included some of the pertinent sections, as published in the 1992 Report of the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects :

The Nevada Initiative

The Long Term Program

An Overview

Proposal by Kent Oram and Ed Allison

To The American Nuclear Energy Council, Washington D.C.

September 1991

CAMPAIGN BACKGROUND

The most critical priority at hand for the nuclear industry is ensuring that the process of characterizing the Yucca Mountain, Nevada site continues to move forward without further slippage in the deadline for locating a national high-level waste repository. Since 1986, the industry has seen the repository deadline slide 12 years - to the point where the very future of a national repository is in question and the siting process established by Congress is at risk.

However, as a result of a stepped up industry effort during the past year, tangible progress has been made to halt this erosion and keep the program on track. A political beachhead has been established in Nevada, and the campaign to bring pressure on the state to issue permits to allow scientific study at Yucca Mountain is making substantial inroads. 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 other 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. . . . . . . .

OVERALL CAMPAIGN OBJECTIVES

1. In the short term, create the necessary political and public climate to allow further site characterization of Yucca Mountain to proceed.

2. Within the next three years, build the framework for political, media and public awareness that will allow successful site characterization to be completed and accepted.

3. Secure a negative agreement with the states' political and elected leaders that provides for the states' cooperation in the site characterization process in exchange for specified benefits.

KEY GOALS

* To manage and meet the significant political challenges posed by Nevada's forthcoming three year state and federal election cycle.

* To successfully take the industry's message to the public to reduce concern over the transportation and storage of nuclear waste and elevate the merits of the repository.

* To lower public and political anxieties, thereby giving Nevada political officials "air cover" to negotiate.

* To finish laying the public and political framework over the next 18 months that will allow a negotiated settlement in 1993, a non-election year during which the Nevada legislature will face a projected state deficit.

* To win acceptance by the Nevada Resort Association, the states' most important source of tax revenues.

* To convince prominent business and union leaders who are quietly supportive, to publicly endorse the repository.

Whether one views the goals of the Nevada Initiative as sinister or not depends on whether one believes the industry is acting altruistically in its fight to continue with nuclear technology, or whether it is callously promoting a failed technology to save its own jobs. Thus portions of the Nevada Initiative take on different meaning depending on one's perspective. Perhaps one of the most controversial suggestions in the Nevada Initiative was for the creation of scientific truth squads:

SCIENTIFIC TRUTH RESPONSE TEAM

In recent months, a group of scientists has been trained by Kent Oram to function as an effective, expert in-house accuracy response team. This team serves both as a proponent of the repository and as a truth squad in responding to scientifically inaccurate, misleading or untrue allegations that are published or aired about nuclear issues or Yucca Mountain.

The use of DOE scientists to publicly address questions of safety about the repository became so controversial that Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary put pressure on the nuclear industry to cancel all involvement of DOE spokespeople in their media efforts. While involvement of these scientists in media releases designed by consultants of the Nevada Initiative certainly deserved scrutiny,without access to DOE scientists the end result was that no media information was available without resorting to second-tier scientists unattached to the Yucca Mountain project.

Other portions of the Nevada Initiative are similarly devoted to an aggressive, proactive campaign to convince Nevadans that Yucca Mountain, and nuclear energy in general, were safe and necessary. Viewed by some as a campaign to trick Nevadans into accepting the Yucca Mountain repository, proponents of the Nevada Initiative viewed their efforts as educational. The hoped for end results:

With positive movement in the polls and a more informed media that is less susceptible to hyperbole, the anti-repository movement will find fewer elected officials willing to even sanction their cause, much less give them credibility. Consequently, the opposition will dramatically lose numbers and effectiveness as the domino theory falls into place.

Perhaps the greatest political windfall gleaned by the state and opposition from the release of the Nevada Initiative was the figure of $8,600,000 budgeted over three years to run the ad campaign. In reality, reliable sources suggest only a much smaller sum materialized, around $5,000,000 spread over the three years. As a comparison, the Fletcher Jones car dealership spends about two million dollars per year on television advertising in Southern Nevada alone, and Richard Bryan's political warchest is about $3.5 million for the 1994 elections. Consequently, the actual funds spent on the Nevada Initiative are not grossly out of line with the local market.

In contrast, the effective public relations effort of anti-nuclear proponents may be gauged to have cost a million dollars plus per year. Adding in the donated time of members of organizations such as Citizen Alert, the Safe Energy Communications Council and other environmentalists and the fact that the media, public and political establishment were substantially biased against the project, the costs of the Nevada Initiative do not appear to be extreme. Debate over the ethics of the nuclear special interests in running the Nevada Initiative are somewhat mitigated by similar questions about the funding and motives of the environmental special interests who had also invaded Nevada. After all, Ralph Nader's Public Citizen Critical Mass Energy Project, the Safe Energy Communication Council, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Citizen Alert, Southwest Research, Nuclear Information Research Service, ad infinitum could not exist for free and represent an advocacy industry whose anonymous backers' motivations also remain obscure.

It is certainly true that the Nevada Initiative has been an attempt by an outside special interest, the nuclear industry, to sway Nevadans to a pro or neutral stance to the repository. Given that nuclear industry outsiders were attempting to mold public opinion in Nevada, it is unsurprising that the Initiative was viewed as manipulative and therefore failed to win great popular support However, two points make a final analysis of the ethics of the Nevada Initiative less negative than one might first suspect:

1) A main thrust of the campaign was the creation of "scientific truth squads". As much as the opposition hated to admit it, the credentials of the scientists chosen for these assignments were impeccable.

2) Perhaps the only people arguing for benefits for Nevada was Kent Oram, Ed Allison and those within the Nevada Initiative. The nuclear industry could easily have walked away from supporting negotiations and compensation given the recalcitrance of Nevada's politicians and the noisiness of the environmental lobby. Indeed, Bennett Johnston and his colleagues in the Senate and House did give up on the idea of compensating Nevada and were only persuaded to continue discussions with Nevada's politicians because of the efforts of those within the Nevada Initiative led by Kent Oram and Ed Allison.