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OIZ Advertising

Oram, Ingram and Zurawski Advertising (OIZ) has at times become more the focus of the debate over Yucca Mountain than the technical issues themselves. Long known in Nevada for its efficiency as a political consulting firm, in 1991 the American Nuclear Energy Council joined with OIZ and lobbysist Ed Allison to create a public relations campaign in Nevada known as the Nevada Initiative.

For better or worse, OIZ's handling of the ANEC advertising campaign profoundly influenced the perception of the nuclear industry in Nevada. The major problem that OIZ confronted was its image as a "hired gun" of the American Nuclear Energy Council. Kent Oram, the principle partner in OIZ, had originally opposed Yucca Mountain and had even been instrumental in creating a city ordinance stating Las Vegas' opposition to the site. All of a sudden, he'd switched sides.

Naturally, Kent Oram was considered a traitor of the worst kind when he took on the ANEC account. After all, OIZ had helped in the campaigns of many of the state's politicians whose careers now depended on defeat of the Yucca Mountain; Governor Miller being the most prominent. Nevada's politicians rightly feared Oram because they knew he had the savvy to hurt them politically if they tried to muscle him too hard. It was bad enough that Oram had sold out the repository opposition in favor of the nuclear industry, but even more threatening was that he was powerful enough to inflict political damage by expose the hypocrisy of anti-Yucca Mountain politicians.

But what were OIZ's true feelings about Yucca Mountain? Had they "sold out" as most pundits and state politicians charged? The problem with that viewpoint, pushed to the extreme by Oram's new-found political enemies, was that it is nearly impossible to fight hard for a cause you don't believe in. However, instead of just picking up their paycheck, OIZ threw themselves into their work with a vengeance. Researching the nuclear issue to its core, interviewing key researchers and visiting nuclear facilities, the staff became convinced that nuclear energy was indeed a valuable and necessary technology, dependent on the building of the Yucca Mountain repository to complete the nuclear fuel cycle.

DRAWING THE BATTLE LINES

If at first OIZ thought its job was simply to run an innocuous nuclear information campaign supporting the repository, those thoughts were soon put to rest. The political situation surrounding Yucca Mountain was by 1991 so overgrown with political posturing that even minor press releases and nuances in the OIZ ad campaign became bloody slugfests. For example, a hailstorm of criticism erupted over an ad that featured a simulated spent fuel pellet being held by announcer Ron Vitto. The critics claimed this was an attempt to show the pellets were so safe you could hold them in your hand. Actually, the ad had had the modest goal of demonstrating that the pellets were solid, because polls by the survey firm Penn Shoen of New York indicated the public thought the waste could be in liquid or gaseous form. Liquid and gaseous radioactive materials are much harder to safely transport and store, so the whole point was to show the pellets are solid ceramics and not to imply they were safe to hold. Focus groups did not pinpoint any perception that viewers thought Vitto was speaking to the safety of holding pellets themselves.

The fallout from the pellet ad came in the form of vicious attacks on the integrity of on-air spokesman Ron Vitto. Mayor Jones opined that it was all part of a disinformation campaign meant to trick Nevadans. Johnson and Toftee, the KKLZ disk jockey, sang biting ditty's calling Ron Vitto a sellout. Citizen Alert drew cartoons of Vitto dissolving into a skeleton. Loux and the NWPO staff attacked the ads The fact of the matter was that the pellets would have taken a number of hours to give a lethal dose, but this was of course a red herring. Even five year old children are indoctrinated with the idea that the Ninja Turtles were created by radioactive ooze, so it is unlikely anyone would knowingly touch a radioactive pellet, even if given the chance. The idea that Ron Vitto would suggest that holding a nuclear waste pellet in one's hand is safe is ludicrous, but this was a war of innuendo, not logic.

Another set of OIZ advertisements which came under attack were those which used file footage to show the robustness of transportation casks subjected to crashes with locomotives, flames and other hazards. Lindsay Audin and Marvin Resnikoff, co-authors of The Next Nuclear Gamble written in 1983, spearheaded the state's attack on the integrity of these ads, claiming the films had been rigged. Of course, Resnikoff is the professional anti-nuclear scientist who started the Sierra Club Radioactive Waste Campaign and with Audin had claimed rigged testing before in England. Consequently, the attacks on OIZ's transportation ads had been preceded by similar campaigns and it is unsurprising that the commercials took a shellacking in the press aided by professional anti-nuclear provocateurs.

Would OIZ purposefully have lied on the pellet ad, the cask testing ads, or for that matter on any other spot they produced, as the state and media accused them of doing? This seems extremely unlikely given Kent Oram's understanding of the dynamics of political warfare. In his words:

"If you do a political hit, your information has to be a hundred and ten percent correct. If there is even the slightest misinformation in an advertisement, the opposition is going to use it to nail you to the wall!" [Personal communication May 92]

The attacks against what had been thought to be non-controversial informational ads soon led OIZ to conclude that they weren't confronting disorganized grass roots protestors. Instead they had stirred up a hornet's nest of well-organized professional political opposition complete with its own propaganda mills. OIZ's natural response would have been to go to political war mode and crush the resistance. The OIZ staff had built a sizeable collection of information about NWPO and the anti-nuclear environmental movement and certainly had the ammunition to carry out such a war. Indeed, OIZ had been chosen by ANEC in part because they were the big political guns in Nevada and had a proven ability to fight down-and-dirty political battles. Unfortunately, the industry lacked the courage to pull the trigger.

THE WAR THAT WAS NEVER FOUGHT

As originally outlined in the Nevada Initiative, the war for Nevada's heart and soul was to be a three year, $10 million blitz which not only took the high road of educating Nevadans about the Yucca Mountain repository, but also vigorously countered any misinformation distributed by anti-nuclear forces. Behind the scenes lobbying would also help bring on board the help of prominent citizens.

What actually happened was that the nuclear industry came up with about $2.5 million spread over various stop and start strategies that piddled away their advantage. After the first series of ads run in 1991, a new less-controversial series was to begin in mid 1992 during the election cycle. This was supposed to be a strictly informational advertising campaign in which Nevadans were introduced to both the many ways they benefited from nuclear technology and to the true physics of Yucca Mountain in regard to rising groundwater, volcanos, etc. Ron Vitto, the announcer for the first series, was to be sidelined because he was viewed as a magnet for criticism.

Hindering OIZ was the micromanagement of ANEC officials who had to approve nearly every step of the ad production process and sit in on what became directionless meetings. Because some of the money supporting the Nevada Initiative was coming from utilities that utilize coal fired plants, it wasn't possible to develop ads that contrasted the belching smokestacks of coal-fired utilities to the clean and pastoral surrounds of nuclear plants. A number of these ads were written and some even produced, but the campaign was halted by a reluctant industry as the 1992 presidential campaign came to a close.

With the election of Bill Clinton, the nuclear industry thought they were about to be destroyed by a Clinton nomination of environmentalist former senator Timothy Wirth to be Secretary of Energy. Industry officials were so relieved at the choice of pro-nuclear lawyer Hazel O'Leary that they felt they could not risk rocking the boat even the slightest with the new Secretary.

OIZ in the meantime developed a new informational campaign inviting Nevadans to the Yucca Mountain site on the well received tours conducted by Science Applications International Corp. Visitor responses to the tours had been highly favorable, with even those opposing the site coming back with an enhanced trust that characterization was being conducted in a careful manner. After extensive filming of a tour group at Yucca Mountain and after equally extensive focus sessions, OIZ thought they had produced about as non-controversial a campaign as could be imagined. However, Secretary O'Leary, also wary of bad publicity and on edge in the Democratic administration, decided Department of Energy scientists could not be seen being interviewed or even in background footage of an industry sponsored ad campaign. This stopped the early 1993 campaign in its tracks because it was impossible to create a convincing commercials without showing testimony from DOE scientists.

Trying to salvage something from this disastrous course, the industry decided to attempt to push a resolution through the 1993 legislature that expressed interest in at least looking at what benefits might be possible from the Yucca Mountain study. The industry pursued this tactic despite advice by both Kent Oram and Ed Allison that the groundwork hadn't been prepared through public relations efforts in the preceding months. Although a last minute ad series was run alongside intense lobbying, the Senate resolution was defeated as one of the last acts of the 1993 Nevada legislature.

NATIONAL POLITICAL INFLUENCE

An aspect of OIZ's work hidden from most of Nevada was Kent Oram's lobbying influence at both the state and national level. For example, although the ad campaign was going nowhere, Oram was in the background shaping the energy bill of 1992 and its provisions for nuclear energy. Despite public denials, Oram also was in close contact with Governor Miller and the governor's aid, Scott Craigie. In the course of deal making, Oram gained contact with Bennett Johnston of Louisiana and John Dingell from Michigan.

Senator Bryan had done his best to infuriate the powerful Bennett Johnston in the Senate and John Dingell in the House and with Oram the three held a common distrust of Bryan's motives. Bryan's CAFE fuel emissions bill sent Dingell to the moon because of its potential disastrous effects on the automobile industry in his native Michigan. Bennett Johnston was made livid by Bryan's refusal to negotiate on the Yucca Mountain issue, no matter what pains were taken to insure the welfare of Nevada. Oram was so incensed with what he considers political opportunism by Richard Bryan on the Yucca Mountain issue, that a plane trip which inadvertently placed Bryan and Oram one row apart nearly led to a nasty confrontation.

"I talked the entire flight about how sleazy the anti-repository operation was in the State of Nevada, loud enough so Bryan could hear me. He never once acknowledged my presence. When we got off the plane, I called Bryan a wimp, but he wouldn't even turn around." [personal communication, June, 1993]

Obviously, Oram had become personally involved in the nuclear issue and overreacted by goading Bryan. On the other hand, Bryan had never been shy about baiting the pro-nuclear factions in his many press releases, calling his opposition liars. It's hard to tell who had spoken the first fighting words.

NUKE LITE 1994

A final attempt to run a professional political campaign was proposed to ANEC in November of 1993. The $1.3 million dollar campaign was to act as a counterweight to Senator Bryan and Governor Miller in the 1994 elections. By preproducing ads and buying air time far in advance, this would give the nuclear industry the option of either running high-road informational ads if Bryan and Miller were nice, or attacking down-and-dirty in the middle of the elections. Although the campaign was developed and ready to go, it was first delayed by the restructuring of ANEC, USCEA and the other nuclear trade groups into the Nuclear Energy Institute in early 1994. Later, to avoid a political war during the 1994 elections, some agreement was made between the nuclear industry and either Senator Bryan or Governor Miller to not touch the Yucca Mountain issue. Ted Garrish, ANEC's legal representative, referred to this campaign as "Nuke Lite".

Kent Oram's motives for involving OIZ Advertising in what he knew would be a bitter fight-to-the-death over nuclear energy in Nevada are more complex than portrayed in the media. While money played some part, Oram was not exactly poor or hard pressed for accounts. In fact, he and his entire staff became convinced on a personal level that the nuclear cause was worth fighting for, more so than perhaps even the industry executives they worked for. Although Oram thought that the Yucca Mountain account was a challenge, he also thought it a battle that could be won and he had visions of taking the campaign nationally to reinvigorate the building of new nuclear reactors.

Unfortunately, what hindered OIZ's campaign most was not NWPO or the various environmental organizations, but the indecision of pro-nuclear organizations. Nearly every advertising move was nit-picked by industry representatives until commercials became stale and too old to air. The industry was capable of making a principaled fight in Nevada, but chose backroom Beltway politics instead and hamstrung any efforts by OIZ to run timely and hard hitting counterattacks in Nevada. Thus, evaluating OIZ's effectiveness in swaying public opinion towards accepting the Yucca Mountain repository is almost impossible. The nuclear industry had never implemented the Nevada Initiative as outlined by OIZ, replacing an aggressive political campaign with dithering and indecision.