Meet the Nuclear Power Lobby

The following article appeared in the June 2008 issue of The Progressive magazine.

nuclear power plantThe nuclear power industry is seeing its fortunes rise. "Seventeen entities developing license applications for up to thirty-one new [nuclear] reactors did not just happen," boasted Frank "Skip" Bowman. "It has been carefully planned."

Bowman heads the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the main lobbying group for the industry. His remarks (PDF), at a February gathering of more than 100 Wall Street analysts, were part of a presentation on "reasoned expectations for new nuclear plant construction."

Bowman knew it was important to impress his audience of wary potential investors. "We are where we are today because this industry started many years ago on a systematic program to identify what went wrong the last time," he said, "and develop ways to eliminate or manage those risks."

NEI has certainly won bragging rights. Thanks to its persistence, a growing number of commentators and policymakers see nuclear power as the solution to global warming. "Safe, secure, vital," is the mantra of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York -- the plant closest to a major U.S. population center, which was recently sanctioned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for repeatedly missing deadlines to install new emergency warning sirens.

Industry-funded groups with names like the "New Jersey Affordable, Clean, Reliable Energy Coalition" keep springing up near nuclear plants applying for license renewals.

Credulous reporters describe NEI consultant Patrick Moore as a "Greenpeace co-founder," even though he has a longer record of flacking for the logging, mining, biotech, and nuclear industries than his increasingly distant past as an environmental activist.

In what could be considered a double greenwash, General Electric counts its new nuclear reactor design among its "Ecomagination" line of environmentally friendly products.

Such public relations efforts address one thing that "went wrong the last time" -- widespread public opposition to nuclear power. But the so-called nuclear renaissance, which NEI estimates will bring four to eight new nuclear plants online by 2016, also requires generous government support.

Accordingly, NEI has ramped up its already-substantial lobbying operations. In addition to the sixteen NEI employees registered as federal lobbyists, the group currently retains fifteen outside lobbying firms and consultants. Last year, NEI lobbyists visited thirteen federal agencies, as well as both houses of Congress. NEI's lobbying disclosure forms show that the organization helped shape more than twenty bills in 2007, from the Nuclear Fuel Management and Disposal Act to the Tax Technical Corrections Act to the Energy Independence and Security Act. All in all, NEI spent nearly $45 million on industry coordination, policy development, communications, and "governmental affairs" in 2006, according to its most recent financial report.

That doesn't include lobbying by individual companies with a stake in the nuclear power business, such as Entergy, Exelon, or Duke Energy. "We now have a fewer number of companies operating most of the nuclear plants, and so nuclear power for those companies is a core business," NEI's Scott Peterson explained to the trade publication O'Dwyer's. "They have to be much more aggressive in communicating about nuclear energy."

NEI's numbers also don't include utility groups, an important part of the pro-nuclear lobby. On Yucca Mountain, the controversial proposed nuclear waste repository in Nevada, "utilities went to the mayors of the towns where nuclear waste was being stored," explains Anna Aurilio, the director of Environment America's Washington, D.C., office. "And even though it wasn't necessarily the best thing for those towns, the mayors were convinced by the utilities ... to support a bill that overrode a lot of protections for the environment and public health, when it comes to nuclear waste." And NEI's local lobbying got a substantial boost last year, when the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that brings together corporate lobbyists and state legislators, decided to promote state bills on new nuclear power plants and nuclear waste storage and reprocessing.

While nuclear industry lobbying is widespread and aggressive, its impact is not always readily apparent. Take, for example, the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill, which the Senate is expected to debate this summer. [Note: The Senate effectively killed the bill on June 6, when the vote to continue debate on it failed.] The bill -- also known as S.2191, or America's Climate Security Act -- does not mention the word "nuclear" once in its 200-plus pages. Yet an aide to Senator Joe Lieberman called the measure "the most historic incentive for nuclear in the history of the United States," according to Environment & Energy Daily.

One section of the Lieberman-Warner bill says that "25 percent of all the funds deposited into a new climate change worker training fund shall be reserved for zero and low-emitting carbon energy that has a rated capacity of at least 750 megawatts of power," notes Tyson Slocum, the director of Public Citizen's energy program. "That's a huge threshold, so that's going to exclude wind and solar right off the bat. ... The only thing that could possibly meet that target would be nuclear power." Similar language in another section of the bill effectively reserves another half a trillion dollars for the nuclear industry, according to Slocum.

The NEI is also steamrolling the approval process for new nuclear plants. The original process required companies to obtain separate permits to construct and operate new nuclear plants. "At each of those two stages, the public or anybody could intervene, if they met standing requirements and had a valid technical contention, not just some rooted opposition to nuclear power," explains Dave Lochbaum, the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists's nuclear safety program. NEI started pushing to change the new plant approval process in the 1980s.

The current process not only combines plant construction and operating permits, but also seems designed to stymie local opposition. Companies get permission to build a new nuclear plant at a particular site at any point over twenty years, while specific reactor designs are certified separately. "That process eliminates public participation, because the reactor design is being certified, but nobody knows where it will go. It's hard to fight a reactor that may or may not be built in your backyard," says Lochbaum. "The public can watch, but that's about it." Lochbaum adds that citizens have more rights to oppose a Wal-Mart in their neighborhood than they do a nuclear power plant.

As NEI's Skip Bowman assured his Wall Street audience, this is no mistake. Last year, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was finalizing the new plant approval process, NEI worked hard to ensure that it met industry standards. "We assembled several hundred industry personnel -- the top licensing lawyers and licensing engineers in the United States," Bowman recounted. "They sifted through the proposed rule section by section, sentence by sentence, identifying ambiguities and potential uncertainties, and developing techniques to eliminate them."

As is true for many high-powered interest groups, the revolving door has been kind to NEI. NEI's chief lobbyist, Alex Flint, started his career in the office of Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico. In 2000, Flint left Congress to work as a lobbyist. His clients included NEI, Exelon, and other nuclear companies. In 2003, Flint went back to work for Domenici as majority staff director for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Under Flint, the committee helped craft the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which contained $12 billion in subsidies for the nuclear power industry, according to Public Citizen. When Flint joined NEI in February 2006, his new boss, Skip Bowman, remarked, "Working daily with Senator Peter Domenici, Alex has played a vital role in developing a bold future for nuclear energy in America." One of NEI's current lobbying priorities is to expand the federal loan guarantees for new nuclear plants that were included in the 2005 bill.

Former NRC Commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield championed several measures to hustle the new plant approval process, including a proposal that originated with NEI to narrow the meaning of the word "construction." The new definition allows companies to build roads, start digging, and even erect cooling towers for new nuclear plants without triggering the permitting process. In July 2007, just twelve days after leaving the NRC, Merrifield joined the Shaw Group, a company that describes itself as "a leading force in nuclear new plant design and construction."

Ethics reform legislation may make nuclear industry lobbying slightly less flamboyant. As recently as 2006, NEI sponsored the House Energy and Commerce Committee's softball team, took part in Congressional caucus golf outings, and funded literally hundreds of Congressional "fact-finding" trips to Las Vegas that included tours of Yucca Mountain.

But the reforms haven't impacted NEI's non-stop lobbying, generous political donations, and high-powered policy forums.

"It's hard to imagine an industry that's more brazen in its quest for ever-larger federal subsidies," says Environment America's Anna Aurilio. "They already get their waste completely taken care of, they already get a guaranteed cap on liability in case of an accident. ... Any problem that could happen with the nuclear industry, the U.S. taxpayer is ultimately going to have to pick up. And yet, they keep coming back to Congress for more and more and more."

Diane Farsetta is the Center for Media and Democracy's senior researcher.


While I fully comprehend and respect the dangers associated with nuclear energy, I have a hard time understanding why so many environmentalists and progressives oppose its use. The use of nuclear energy, combined with solar and wind, could virtually eliminate our dependence on hydrocarbons, which have resulted in far more deaths than that attributable to nuclear energy. 80 percent of the waste generated by nuclear power can be eliminated by reprocessing. A new technology emerging right now at Lawrence Livermore Lab may create the possibility of reprocessing even that remaining 20 percent into usable fuel, which, when finally spent, will have half-lives which will only need to be contained for decades rather than centuries or millenia. Rather than demonizing the nuclear lobby, we should be assisting them! Of course they should be required to build state-of-the-art plants equipped with all the necessary safety systems. I do not suggest they be given carte blanche. However, when one weighs the danger of global warming against the dangers of plant meltdowns and nuclear waste, even the worst case scenarios fail to compare--nuclear is much safer than petroleum and coal. Period.

Absurd reasoning. If global warning represent a progressive danger to biodiversity, nuclear accidents can become its worst enemy in no time. While it's possible to counter global warming by replanting trees, it's not even possible to counter nuclear fallouts. The dangers of nuclear energy far exceeds that of coal burning. The more nuclear power plants are built, the higher the risks of more frequent accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. While humans can always engineer ways to survive the visible effects of global warming, how could anyone survive food chain contamination with radioactive isotopes, let alone the food and water shortage that would result from it? I live in Japan at the moment and I cannot buy any process food or go to restaurants anymore. I have to buy locally made veggies when available, spring water from southern Japan (in limited supply). My entire lifestyle has been affected and I don't even live anywhere near Fukishima, but way south. I had to stop eating fish and sea weeds, beef and dairy products such as cheese and milk, as they are mostly made in Northern Japan where radioactive fallouts are highest. If a complete change of lifestyle is not a concern to anyone, what about food and water shortage. Most people in Japan cannot buy more than 2 liters of water per day due to shortages. Also climate change is nothing new. Humanity has gone through warm periods and ice ages, and we have adapted pretty well even during the stone age. But will humans ever adapt to high doses of radioactivity? Unfortunately that's physically impossible. Our intelligence might allow us to adapt to progressive changes in the environment, but our body won't adapt to cell and DNA damaging ionizing particles in our environment. While the earth could survive through multiple ice ages and global warming, it cannot survive the ultimate life destroyer known as radioactivity. We have created a monster. Plutonium for instance did not exist on this planet and now there is enough of it, within reactors, reprocessing plants and nuclear dumps, to destroy life on this planet entirely and many times over, for 100 thousands of years. Accidents do happen. What will be next? A super volcano that effect other nuclear reactors? A huge solar storm as predicted for 2012 going through a hole in the magnetic shield of the earth and shutting down the power grid and again affecting multiple nuclear plants? We don't know what can happen... It could even be a comet or sabotage, a sophisticated and targeted computer virus like Stuxnet. Is the risk worth it? Answering this question is hard for those not affected by Fukushima at the moment. Most people could care less once their attention is diverted to something else by the mass media. However there is another question worth asking: In a democracy, can we expect workers to go die trying to shut down a troubled nuclear plant? Can we send in the military like did Gorbachev in the ex soviet union and plug the radioactive leaks in a matter of days or weeks? Apparently not... Japan hasn't been able to send its military as suggested by Michio Kaku as the ultimate solution. Whenever there is a radiation spike workers are evacuated. No one actually wants to go die in the plant, or sacrifice lives. No politician wants to take the risk of being held responsible for death due to intense radiation exposure. This is why Nakao Kan, the prime minister looks nothing like a commander in chief. But in the meantime, radioactive fallouts are not stopping and could very well get worse, pending more incidents in reactor 3 (MOX fuel), 5 and 6. At some point humans lives will need to be sacrificed to end this ongoing crisis. It may turned out to be unavoidable. At the moment, they (decision makers) are just trying to avoid the unavoidable, by doing very little, and hoping for the best case scenario or a miracle to unfold. Should they come to accept the need to bury these reactors quickly, lives will be sacrificed, lies will be manufactured, and the entire nuclear lobby will find it hard to justify the risks and the threat it poses to democracy and human lives. But in the meantime, while the bureaucrats ponder how to protect the nuclear industry, and stop the crisis, Fukushima is constantly spewing radioactive isotopes in the ocean and atmosphere. The cumulative affects could have far reaching consequences that might turn out to be as detrimental to the nuclear industry as sacrificing human lives to put an end to the crisis. This crisis has become a chess game for the bureaucrats. They are faced with 2 choices: 1) Contaminate the entire northern hemisphere and wage a powerful media disinformation campaign to save the nuclear industry 2) End the crisis quickly to stop contamination by implementing the Michio Kaku solution: Send the Japanese military and bury the reactors, then deal with the wave of leukemia, death, post traumatic syndromes in a way that doesn't affect governments and the nuclear industry. How could that be done? By glorifying the patriotism of those who saved the world while ignoring their real plight. The same has been done with the 911 first responders. Even though they are now suing the government and dying of leukemia and other weird syndromes (due to nano-particles, which according to independent scientist are the byproducts of highly sophisticated explosives ), their voice has been mostly unheard in the mainstream media. Should their voice be heard, it would open a debate about these nano-particles and in turn the inside job theory that threatens the establishment and our entire manufactured world view. Unfortunately the nuclear industry and its lobby might prove so powerful that whatever grave implications from Fukushima are revealed, dissent will be buried in a massive disinformation campaign that has already well started. Let's hope the citizen of this world are smart enough, starting with the Japanese (I highly doubt it), to realize all that is at stake now, and for future generations.

Peoples irrational fear of Nuclear Energy. It never ceases to amaze me. Almost all arguments against nuclear energy are based on lies, half truths, and blatant fear mongering. Instead of embracing the most dense form of energy on the planet available, they think that a couple of wind-mills will help us get off the disaster that is fossil-fuels. Thanks for the sharing / <a href=" target=_blank" rel="follow">Commercial Construction </a>

Anyone who believes that nuclear power is the answer to what ails them should read Dr. Helen Caldicott's book, "Nuclear Power is NOT the Answer." Dr. Caldicott, M.D. is an australian doctor who has been campaigning for rational discourse about, and responsible treatment of, nuclear power for decades, and her book points anyone who wants to know the health consequences to sources other than government of industry. The authoritative sources she cites reveal the very real dangers and the astronomical costs of boiling water with radioactive substances that are routinely released into our air and water. We do not possess the technology contain them, and we are not treating the threat with the care it deserves. She describes how and why radiation and radioactive contamination gives rise to disease, mutation, malformed babies and corruption of our future at the hands of those who seek short-term profit. We are perpetuating some of the most irresponsible behavior ever dreamt of by man when we allow the concentration of radioactive elements without the capacity to control their dispersal or protect the biosphere effects. If we could contain the radioactive materials we use, if we could protect each other from their use as weapons, if we could ensure the long-term best responsible use and security of future generations, then the use of nuclear power might be acceptable. But at the moment we do not possess the capacity to utilize Uranium, Plutonium, Thorium, Cesium or any of the more than 200 byproducts of fission-for-power in the hands of those who seek to minimize 'expenses' and maximize profits. Your health and that of the all future life should not be treated as an externalized cost-sink for the enrichment of corporate balance sheets. Even if you can't put the genie back in the bottle, you don't have let it twist your wishes into avoidable consequences.