How about a little truth in (nuclear) advertising?


Asheville Citizen-Times, December 8, 2006

If you thought the political ads ended on Election Day, I bear sad tidings. We may be spared the ersatz statesmen approving the mud they sling, but a new round of issue-oriented advertising has already begun.

In the past we’ve seen slick and misleading TV ad campaigns designed to use us to pressure Congress on behalf of the drug industry, telecom corporations, media giants, and social security reform. Though the appeals may be to freedom, progress, and brighter tomorrows, the bill or deregulation they support is usually aimed at strengthening corporate control of an economic sector.

We can expect more of these campaigns. The election caught too many corporate interest groups under-invested in Democrats. (Influencing the public may be more expensive and unwieldy than the K Street method of buying congressional favor. But hey, they’re playing catch up.)

Here’s hoping the news media will do for issue ads what it fitfully tried to do with the claims of political candidates. When I see an issue ad, I’ve got questions. Who are these guys? What’s their agenda, and what does it mean to me?

I’ll get the ball rolling with an overview of a current ad campaign by EnergySolutions. For weeks now, a nice-looking man named Steve Creamer has been telling us about the EnergySolutions commitment to the wonders of nuclear energy and cleaning up the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. (The Savannah River Site is a federal and commercial nuclear industrial complex across the river from the Masters Golf Tournament.) Mr. Creamer isn’t asking us to do anything, but he’s spending a bundle to get his name out there. Why?

EnergySolutions, Creamer’s privately held company, has an ambitious agenda. It intends to reprocess America’s 60,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel into new fuel. Princeton Professor Frank von Hippel estimates the cost of such a project at about $100 billion. Link Quite a project.

Creamer’ pursuit of the jackpot went into high gear late in 2005 when he purchased a nuclear dump company unpopular in his home state of Utah and the nuclear power plant decontamination and decommissioning arm of Scientech. Since then he’s added a nuclear waste hauling and incineration outfit, a radioactive metal machining firm based in Oak Ridge, and the American division of the British Nuclear Group, BNG. BNG reprocesses nuclear fuel in Great Britain.

It was President Bush who proposed that highly radioactive spent fuel be reprocessed—industry prefers the term recycled—into new fuel rather than burying it at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) plan Bush announced last January goes a step farther. He also wants to reprocess spent fuel from other countries. This would prevent those countries from trying it themselves and maybe turning the plutonium they extract into nuclear weapons as several governments have done, including North Korea.

The trouble is that the United States hasn’t attempted commercial reprocessing of spent fuel since the Carter administration. Reprocessing is not only horrendously expensive; it poses environmental risks as well.

The reprocessing technology EnergySolutions bought with its BNG-America acquisition is tried and tested. BNG’s Sellafield site on the northwest coast of Britain has been reprocessing spent fuel since 1952. UK press reports indicate that, by 2003, Sellafield had dumped half a ton of plutonium into the Irish Sea. (Plutonium is toxic to people in the same manner as the polonium used to poison the former Russian spy.) Some of Sellafield’s waste plutonium has apparently found its way into marine fish, the West Cumbrian countryside, and the teeth of local children. These allegations and briefings on other leaks, spills, and production failures at Sellafield are available at: Link

Creamer has promised the citizens of Utah that EnergySolutions will not build a reprocessing facility in Utah. Where then?

Some South Carolina business leaders and the Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance have teamed up with EnergySolutions to advocate for siting the GNEP reprocessing plant in South Carolina, probably near the Savannah River Site.

Because of the way the nation’s highways and rail lines run to Creamer’s South Carolina dream, a large percentage of the deadly spent fuel stored at Midwestern and Eastern nuclear power stations would have to be transported through Asheville, Charlotte, or Atlanta. And he looked like such a nice guy.

What’s in it for South Carolina? First, says the AP, is the possibility of landing a site study worth $5 million. Those winners are to be announced soon. The eventual grand prize is expected to bring in 10,000 construction jobs and 5,000 permanent jobs.  Oh, and maybe some glow-in-the-dark teeth to show off that winning smile.

—Michael Hopping
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