The disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant hasn't stopped some U.S. legislators from insisting U.S. nuclear power plants are completely safe, but that support may be based less on facts than on financial influence. Between 1998 and 2010, the nuclear industry invested over $46 million in lobbying, about $18 million of which came from the industry's trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). In addition to simply giving money to legislators who deal with energy legislation, the NEI has also employed congressional staffers and bestowed awards upon members of Congress. Senate Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), still supports nuclear energy, saying Japan's nuclear plant disaster hasn't altered opinions much on Capitol Hill -- but Bingaman has taken generous donations from people and institutions with vested interests in nuclear power. Over his career, Bingaman has accepted over $49,000 from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the place where the atomic bomb was invented. The country's largest owner and operator of nuclear power plants, the Exelon Corporation, has given Bingaman over $38,000, and in 2006 the Nuclear Energy Institute gave him a leadership award. Similarly, House Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) has taken over $31,000 in donations from the Nuclear Energy Institute, and was graced with the same award from the NEI. Barton, who recently toured the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant located about 80 miles southwest of Dallas, insisted to the Dallas Morning News that American nuclear plants are 100 percent safe.
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