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WILLIAM TUCKER: Let’s Have A Greenpeace for Nuclear

By William Tucker

Greenpeace is without a doubt the most successful public relations firm in the world.  Every time you turn around, they are in the news.  Whether it's scaling the cooling towers of coal plants or hanging banners off the House of Parliament, the organization is one long photo op.

They have learned the first lesson of marketing.  You don't get anywhere unless you grab the public's attention.  Once you've done that, deliver your message in simple graphic form that is easily digested and long remembered. Have you ever noticed how when a radio or TV show wants you to call a number, they repeat it thee times.  I said three times.  That's three times.  That's what it takes to get through to people's consciousness.  And that's the lesson Greenpeace constantly invokes – constant repetition of a simple message, with periodic variation for novelty.

Much of this, of course, is aimed against nuclear.  Two weeks ago a contingent of 70 Greenpeace activists invaded a Swedish reactor to prove, I suppose, how a terrorist commando team might do it.  Most of them were arrested immediately but a few managed to hide out on the roof for a night, proving – what?   That if they had been armed with armor-piercing cannons they might have been able to breach the containment?  Oh well, it made good TV, which is the whole point.  

At the same time, another Greenpeace contingent was arrested while trying to enter South Korea to hold a seminar on the dangers of nuclear energy.  Korea, as you know, has adopted nuclear as the national technology and doesn't cotton to having foreigners coming in to try to undermine their economic success.  But there's nothing like a couple of arrests to keep a protest movement going and so we'll probably be hearing more about that one as well.

Now I have no doubt that Greenpeace is sincere in its abhorrence of nuclear.  I once interviewed Jim Riccio and a couple of Greenpeace executives at their headquarters in Washington.  Somehow they got the idea that I wanted to hear their spiel on the horrors of nuclear – probably because they had never met a reporter who didn't.  So when I started out the interview by asking, "What's wrong with nuclear?" all three of them jumped out of their chairs in horror.  

"What's wrong with nuclear?" they screamed at me.  "Did you ever hear of nuclear bombs?  Don't you know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki?". As with all dedicated activists, they make no distinction between bombs and electricity, which makes you wonder why they aren't trying to crash the party in North Korea instead – except that might be playing a little too much with fire.  

So there's no doubt Greenpeace's has a flare for drama.  One good publicity stunt is worth a thousand position papers.  But why shouldn't there be a little room for drama in SUPPORT of nuclear as well?  

Probably the key factor in people's inordinate fear of nuclear, for instance, is the "no safe dose" hypothesis, which says that even the tiniest exposure to radiation can kill you. Everyone in the health physics field knows this is not true but is afraid to say so for fear of being branded a "tool of the nuclear industry.". So how about a little dramatization?  Here are  few suggestions:

As Ted Rockwell and others have pointed out, the levels of radiation in the evacuation zone around Fukushima are no higher than they are in parts of the world that have unusually high levels of background radiation, such as the Ramsar region of Iran.  So how about an international delegation of nuclear scientists trooping off to Japan and demanding to be allowed to spend a week camping out in the evacuation zone?  If they get blocked by the authorities or arrested in the process, well so much the better.  Nothing succeeds better in demonstrations than a mass arrest.

The most dramatic evidence to date of the hormetic effect of small radiation doses has been the Taiwan apartments where 1800 people were accidentally exposed to radioactive cobalt in structural steel over 20 years and turned out to have a 96 percent reduction in cancer rates.  How about a big publicity stunt at the apartment complex – hanging a "Cancer-Free Zone" banner on the side of the building for the press to photograph?  

There are reports that wildlife is flourished so much in the Chernobyl evacuation zone that some rare species have now turned up that had all but disappeared from Europe.  How about capturing a few of them and bringing them back to Berlin or New York and putting them on display as the "Chernobyl Zoo?". Invite scientists to check them out for signs of excessive genetic damage or cancer.

Denver and the Rocky Mountains have the highest rates of background radiation and the lowest rates of cancer in the country, while New Orleans and the Mississippi have the lowest background and the highest rates of cancer.  Without doing New Orleans any disservice, how about holding a national drawing with a "Cancer Reducing Vacation to the Highly Radioactive Rocky Mountains" as the prize.

And while we're on the subject, several converted uranium mines out west are still struggling to make a living as health spas – a tradition that goes back to the Romans and high-radiation sulfur springs.  I visited one a few years ago – the Free Enterprise Radon Mine in Boulder, Montana.  There I met a clientele that had been coming back for twenty years and swore it had improved their health – even though they've been absorbing 40 times the EPA's "level of concern" for radon gas.  Their once thriving business has been decimated by the EPA's ridiculous assertion that radon exposure in homes is causing 20 percent of lung cancers.  (Something as uninspiring as cigarette smoke has no interest for the EPA.). Those mines could use a little publicity themselves.

Finally, since Greenpeace is so fixated on the idea of terrorists could invade a commercial reactor and melt it down, let's do this.  Almost every reactor in the country has a simulator that exactly mirrors the operation of the reactor.  Let's invite Greenpeace into one of those simulators and give them 24 hours to show exactly how they would override all the safety mechanisms and push the reactor to go into a runaway mode.  Then they can spend all the time they want trying to convince people there's something inherently vulnerable about a nuclear reactor.

Now I realize that all these efforts would cost money.  Greenpeace International gets huge donations from rich people all around the world.  It has 1000 staff employees, 43 different offices around the world and an annual budget of $150 million – half again as large as the World Health Organization. This is no small-time operation.  Yet they've had the monopoly on publicity stunts for as long as anyone can remember.  It's time to try running the ball the other way.

One Response to “WILLIAM TUCKER: Let’s Have A Greenpeace for Nuclear”

  1. thomas ward Says:

    Dear William Tucker, the phobia of all things nuclear has paralyzed the uranium minining possiblities in Virginia where a potential 119M lb deposit has been held hostage by the state legislature for the past 30 years. The deposit is one of the largest commercial uranium ore deposits in the US. Nuclear phobia has been used consistently with great success to stop the commercial development of this deposit by both greenpeace and the seirra club. The National Academy of Sciences Nartional Research Council also weighed in recently with a lengthy caustionary and confusing but ultimately positive (yes go ahead) result with caveats. The facts: the deposit is 52.5M tons of ore with 59,500 tons of uranium in it (0.113% U). What is overlooked in all of the analysis to date is that Virginia is one of the leading coal producers in the US producing today about 20+M ton per year but on the average over the past 30 years about 34+M tpy. This coal is consumed in Virginia so there is 10% coal ash that is produced of which about 50% goes to local land fills or ash dumps. This land filled coal ash contains on the average about 13ppm of uranium and uranium decay products such as radium and Pb-210. Thirty years of coal ash accumulation is about 50+M tons deposited in local land fills and dumps containing about 500+ tons of uranium ore. This coal ash dump material is very toxic to the water supplies since it is very heavily contaiminated with heavy metals of the soluble type. So by reason, if one can dispose of 50+M tons of highly toxic coal ash with EPA approvals what is to prevent a modern commercial uranium processing facility processing 52M tons of ore and disposing of it in good EPA fashion. Nuclear Phobia