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Better Business Bureau Criticizes Nuclear Industry Advertising


For immediate release: Wednesday, December 9, 1998

For more information: David Kraft, (847)869-7650



  • With advent of electric utility de-regulation and the prospect of ratepayers being bombarded by conflicting claims about alleged benefits of certain energy resources, the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division (BBB/NAD) made strong recommendations to the nuclear power industry to halt "problematic," "premature," and "unqualified" claims about nuclear power's effects on the environment found in current ads promoting nuclear energy.

    The 22-page decision came as a result of a complaint lodged by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and fourteen environmental organizations, including Illinois' Nuclear Energy Information Service and the Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest.

    The NRDC complaint was directed at claims made in nuclear power advertisements taken out in 13 national print outlets in the May/June of 1998 by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the trade association for the nuclear industry. The ads alleged nuclear power to be able to produce electricity "without polluting the air and water," and to be and "environmentally clean."

    The BBB/NAD rejected NEI's defense of the ads on both jurisdictional and content grounds.

    "This is a tremendous victory for consumer," notes David A. Kraft, director of the Evanston- based Nuclear Energy Information Service, an Illinois nuclear power watchdog organization.

    "The BBB/NAD decision comes early in Illinois' de-regulation process to warn the nuclear industry and other electric utilities not to over-inflate their claims about environmental benefits with a public that does not yet understand all the comparative details about energy," Kraft says.

    Among the BBB/NAD findings of importance were:

    1. "[T]he characterization of electricity produced by nuclear energy as 'Environmentally Clean" is problematic....NAD determined that consumers can reasonably interpret the claim to mean that electricity generated by nuclear power is produced without any negative impact on the environment. The record, however, does not support this interpretation of the claim." p.20.
    2. "...unqualified claims that nuclear energy is "environmentally clean" or produced "without polluting the environment" are premature at best." p.20.
    3. In advertising law, "...a claim that is technically truthful can still be misleading....while it may be true that nuclear power produces fewer greenhouse gases and other air pollution emissions than other forms of electricity generation, NAD concluded that it is inaccurate to make an unqualified claim that nuclear electricity does not 'pollute the air.'" p.21.
    4. "NAD was not persuaded by NEIS's arguments that,...nuclear power plants can make an unqualified claim that 'nuclear energy generates electricity without polluting the water.'" p.21.
    5. "In this new 'free market' atmosphere [of electric utility de-regulation]...NAD recommends that water and air pollution claims be carefully qualified to avoid any potential for customer confusion, and that the broad, unqualified claims that nuclear energy is 'Environmentally Clean' or produces electricity 'without polluting the environment' be discontinued." p. 22.
    While the complaint by NRDC did not note any ads appearing in Illinois publications, recent op- eds done by NEI spokespeople and other pro-nuclear individuals have appeared recently in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, using virtually the same language. Because they are op-eds they do not qualify for examination under the same standards as those used by BBB/NAD.

    NEIS submitted letters of complaint and correction to both publications which were not published.

    "This issue of truthfulness on nuclear power issues, whether in advertising, or in individual opinions is critical in Illinois, the most nuclear-reliant state in the country with 14 nuclear reactors. As de-regulation gives people the power to choose alternative utilities and energy sources, anyone allowing misleading and factually incorrect information to stand without correction or qualification is doing a tremendous disservice to their community and readership. It will not go uncontested," asserts Kraft.

    "With some de-regulation imposed stranded cost estimates for Illinois' 14 nuclear reactors suggesting that they will cost every residential customer $1,300 and every commercial and small industrial customer $12,000, truth in nuclear power advertising and editorializing is critical for consumer choice," Kraft states.

    NEIS is sending the entire BBB/NAD report to the editorial boards of these and other Illinois newspapers and publications.

    A full copy of the 22 page BBB/NAD report is available from NEIS, or by contacting the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc., at (212)754-1320.

    Nuclear Energy Information Service is an Evanston-based, environmental, energy education organization founded in 1981 to provide the public with credible information on nuclear power and radiation hazards, and viable alternative energy choices to the continued use of nuclear power.

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