Following seven public complaints from around the country, including one from Cumbria where the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield is sited, the Advertising Standards Authority has ordered the environmental campaign group to withdraw the offending advertisement and not repeat any of its claims.
The advertisement, which appeared in several national publications including the Independent, raised around pounds 70,000 in donations and featured a photograph of a baby with an enlarged head labelled 'Kazakhstan nuclear test victim'.
It claimed that '2,000 people will die because of the radioactive discharges from Sellafield over the next 10 years', and attacked the nuclear industry for being 'intent on spreading radiation and the means of mass destruction around the globe'.
After seeking expert advice, the authority did not accept that the child's condition, hydrocephalus, was caused by radiation. Questioning whether the child was a test victim at all, it ruled 'the use of the image to attract attention was inappropriate and in poor taste'.
Greenpeace's assertion that Sellafield would cause 2,000 deaths was 'a gross over-simplification', and had not been substantiated. The authority also described claims that the industry intended to spread radiation and mass destruction around the globe as 'unfounded and therefore capable of causing offence'.
An ASA spokeswoman said if Greenpeace repeats the allegations in future advertising, it could face an injunction.
Roger Hayes, director general of the British Nuclear Industry Forum, the industry's trade body, welcomed the ASA ruling. 'Nobody could have been unmoved by a picture of this child, but there was no truth in the claim that the child was a victim of radiation,' he said. 'Normally we work on a level playing field with our opponents in that we normally deal in facts. In democracies, people have the right to put their views across, but in this case they have used blatant lies.'
Adam Woolf, of Greenpeace, said the group was surprised by the ASA's reaction: 'We stand by our ad. There was an affidavit from the photographer stating that the doctor had said that the child's condition was due to nuclear testing in Kazakhstan.' He said the expert opinion the ASA canvassed was 'difficult to answer. Fifty years ago there were many experts who would be lined up and swear there was no link between smoking and bad health. Just because experts believe there is no proof does not mean it is not true.'
Last year the ASA rejected complaints about an anti- Sellafield Greenpeace poster which featured a pile of fluorescent excrement.
But in May, Greenpeace was forced to pay pounds 29,000 in costs to ICI after dropping a private prosecution against the company. The group had claimed that ICI's Wilton works on Teeside was the biggest polluter of the North Sea, but withdrew after accepting its analysis would not meet the standards required for a successful prosecution.