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Better Business Bureau: Nuclear Industry Ads “Inaccurate”

Dec. 9, 1998

Better Business Bureau: Nuclear Industry Ads “Inaccurate”

Ads Example of Industry “Greenwashing”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Better Business Bureau today said a Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) advertising campaign, which touts nuclear energy as “environmentally clean,” is inaccurate and it recommended that the industry trade group refrain from making such claims.

The ruling comes on a complaint filed by a coalition of groups, including Public Citizen, which challenged the truthfulness and accuracy of the industry?s print advertising.

“This decision, while non-binding, sets an important precedent,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “It means that ?greenwashing? by electric utilities and the nuclear industry won?t be tolerated. Consumers often don?t have all the information they need to see through the industry?s manipulation of the facts.”

The decision came from the National Advertising Division (NAD), a part of the Better Business Bureau that examines complaints about deceptive advertising. The bureau is a private non-profit, self-regulatory organization supported by business and professional groups.

Claybrook said that if the NEI does not pull the deceptive ads, or modify them to remove the misleading claims, then Public Citizen will file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, which has the authority to order removal of the ads.

The NEI?s advertisements, which have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other major newspapers and magazines, make the claim that “Nuclear energy generates electricity without polluting the air and water” and that it is “environmentally clean.”

The NAD, however, concluded that nuclear plants do cause thermal water pollution and that the processes needed to produce the uranium-enriched fuel for nuclear plants cause air pollution. “NAD recommends that water and air pollution claims be carefully qualified to avoid any potential for consumer confusion and that broad, unqualified claims that nuclear energy is ?Environmentally Clean? or produces electricity ?without polluting the environment? be discontinued.”

Moreover, the NAD said that the “environmentally clean” claim is “premature at best,” because as yet there is no permanent disposal system for highly radioactive waste created by nuclear plants. “Given the potential health and safety problems associated with exposure to radioactive materials, until the questions regarding a permanent repository for radioactive waste are resolved, NAD recommends that the advertiser refrain from using overly broad claims that nuclear energy is ?Environmentally Clean? or produces electricity ?without polluting the environment.? “

Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy Project, said the ruling comes at a critical time for consumers, because electric utilities across America are arguing that they no longer need regulation. And consumers will in many states have to choose a supplier for electricity. “Many electricity suppliers in deregulated markets are trying to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers, and often these claims are distorted, misleading or even totally inaccurate,” Hauter said. “Consumer protection agencies need to police false green marketing claims.”

Critical Mass Energy Project