Greenpeace: nuclear plant ad is ‘misleading’

In an advertising campaign sponsored by 13 labor unions and the Nuclear Energy Institute prior to the Vermont Senate’s "no" vote on the continued operation of Vermont Yankee, the sponsors contended the nuclear plant "provides 1/3 of the state’s electricity without producing any greenhouse gases or air pollution."

That’s a misleading statement, stated Greenpeace, in a letter to Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell. And it’s not the first time the nuclear industry has claimed that the production of electricity by nuclear power plants doesn’t create greenhouse gases, said Mark Floegel, Greenpeace’s senior investigator in Burlington.

Both the Vermont Attorney General in 2009 and the Federal Trade Commission in 1999 ruled that the claim was inaccurate. "Apparently (the industry has) learned nothing," said Floegel.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group filed a complaint with Sorrell last year contending Entergy’s claim that Yankee produced zero emissions was misleading.

Entergy, which owns and operates Yankee, retracted the claim after Sorrell said the nuclear industry needs to apply a life-cycle analysis, which should include carbon emissions produced during the mining, processing and transporting of nuclear fuel.

"You need an awful lot of energy to get the fuel out of the ground," said Floegel. In 1999, Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information Research Service complained to the FTC that an NEI advertisement stating nuclear power doesn’t pollute the air or the water was false and misleading. While the FTC agreed that the ad was inaccurate, it ruled that it was political, not commercial speech, and therefore protected.

Michael Mariotte, the executive director of NIRS, told the Reformer that the nuclear industry’s claims, which continue to this day, are not protected speech. "In our view, it’s a lie," he said.

Not only are nuclear power plants not carbon free, said Mariotte, they do pollute the water and air. Whether that’s thermal pollution from cooling water discharge or the gaseous radioactive particles that come out of a plant’s stack, they do pollute, he said.

Mariotte agreed with Sorrell’s conclusion that the nuclear industry does have an impact on the atmosphere during the "front end" of the fuel cycle. And then there is the construction of reactors, said Mariotte, which is another source of carbon emissions.

"We fully acknowledge that there are life-cycle emissions associated with nuclear power, just like there are with all energy technologies," said Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for NEI.

But, he said, "We’re speaking about electricity production. Under (Greenpeace’s) interpretation, one shouldn’t define renewable as renewable because of fossil-fuel requirements to develop materials and components used by wind turbines and solar cells."

As far as NEI’s claim that all renewables produce greenhouse gases, said Mariotte, there is "a kernel of truth" in that statement.

But he said a meta study conducted in 2009 concluded that even though nuclear produces much less carbon per kilowatt hour than coal, oil and natural gas, its emissions are worse than renewable and small scale distributed generators.

In the study, Benjamin Sovacool stated that nuclear power produces 66 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt hour, while natural gas produces 443, diesel and heavy oil produce 778 and coal produces between 960 and 1,050.

Wind power produces between nine and 10 grams, hydropower produces 13, solar thermal produces 13 and photovoltaics produce 32.

Sovacool also concluded that the studies he reviewed used a higher-than-realistic capacity factor to determine nuclear power’s carbon footprint.

While the studies reported capacity factors of 85 to 98 percent, he wrote, the world average is 81 percent. Kereksen maintained that the nuclear industry’s electric production has more than proven its value to the United States. "And, I dare say, to the people of Vermont," he said.

By Bob Audette,