Consumer group charges Vermont Yankee with using deceptive advertising

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(Host) A consumer group says the owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant have used deceptive advertising in their campaign to operate the reactor for another 20 years.

The Vermont Public Interest Group has filed a consumer fraud complaint, and Attorney General Bill Sorrell says his office will look into the issue.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Entergy, the company that owns Vermont Yankee, is trying to win public support ahead of a legislative debate next year on whether the plant should operate after 2012.

Entergy has paid for full page advertisements in major newspapers. And it’s running radio ads like this one that notes Vermonters now enjoy the lowest electric rates in New England:

(Yankee Ad) "That’s because one-third of our electricity comes from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which has been providing reliable electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions for the last 35 years."

(Dillon) The Vermont Public Interest Group takes issue with the central claims of the ad. VPIRG Director Paul Burns says the plant does not produce zero emissions because the mining and processing of nuclear fuel releases greenhouse gases.

(Burns) "And with the track record of collapsing cooling towers and transformer fires and leaking pipes and unplanned shutdowns this facility cannot reasonably be called safe or reliable."

(Dillon) Burns acknowledged that advertisers are allowed some room for hype as they burnish their image.

(Burns) "But you don’t allow for misrepresentation of facts and you don’t allow for actual deceit and falsehood. And that’s why we have laws that protect consumers and frankly protect other businesses that may be in competition."

(Dillon) But Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says the ads are true, and that the plant’s record speaks for itself.

(Williams) "We operate this plant conservatively with safety as the top priority, and that has never changed, and that’s why this plant operates so reliably. In fact, as of today, we’ve been on line continuously, day and night, for 368 days. And that level of performance is routine, because of our focus here on safety."

(Dillon) As for the environmental claims, Williams says the plant operates with -quote – "virtually" zero emissions. But VPIRG’s Paul Burns says Yankee executives in the past have agreed that nuclear power does release some greenhouse gases. To claim otherwise now, Burns says, is false advertising.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell says his office will look into the complaint.

(Sorrell) “The issue of what can and should be said or not said as to nuclear energy and its impact on emissions is something that’s been on our screen for a bit.”

(Dillon) Sorrell said the questions about Yankee’s safety and reliability are part of a broader, statewide debate over the future of the nuclear power plant.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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