The nuclear industry has powerful backers and weak opponents in D.C.
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is the lobby association for the entire process chain of the nuclear industry in the U.S., from uranium mining to the manufacture of the reactors and the supply of nuclear fuel, all the way to nuclear power production. Its lobbyists are well-connected in the Obama administration and on Capitol Hill. In the last midterm and off-year election campaign cycle, politicians of both parties received approximately $4 million from the NEI. In order to boost public acceptance, shiny ad campaigns, such as those of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, filled the airwaves. This greenwashing by the NEI has repeatedly crossed the border of the permissible, and has been criticized by environmental and social organizations. The NEI PR staff even drafts opinion pieces which are sent to nuclear engineers across the country, to be signed and submitted to local newspapers.
In addition to the umbrella lobby, the major nuclear power plant operators and corporations to which they belong also play an important role. In the last election campaign, they, together with the NEI, spent sums for lobbying and campaign contributions that went into the double-digit millions. Chief beneficiaries of this largess were Congress members from the states where their corporate headquarters are located, as well as committee heads and members of the caucus leaderships. Contributions of up to $10,000 to each individual Congress member are legal. The most generous corporations were:
- Exelon — $515,000: This nuclear corporation operates 11 nuclear power plants in Illinois alone, and contributed to 14 of the state’s 19 representatives, as well as to the caucus leaderships of both parties.
- Duke Energy — $475,000: This utility, headquartered in North Carolina, helped fill the coffers of 12 of North Carolina’s 13 representatives and five of the six from South Carolina, as well as the caucus leaders of both parties. CEO Jim Rogers was one of the most prominent voices in the last two years lobbying for a comprehensive climate bill.
- Florida Power & Light (FPL) — $507,000: Twenty-six of Florida’s 27 Congress members received contributions from FPL. The corporation is headquartered in the state, but also operates nuclear reactors in New Hampshire and Illinois.
- Entergy — $400.000: All four representatives from Arkansas got a check from Entergy, as did 12 from New York and five from Michigan. Even Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), one of the strongest critics of the nuclear industry on Capitol Hill, received $3,500.
Much of this money was intended to help push through a climate bill, an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful. The nuclear industry hoped that a cap-and-trade system would give it a competitive advantage over coal-fired power plants. Since the industry is a powerful voice in the business community that calls for fighting climate change and tightening pollution standards for conventional power plants, it has reached a truce with large parts of the environmental movement.
The anti-nuke movement is as weak as the nuclear lobby is strong. In the weeks after Fukushima, it fought like a lion, but it is still too small and its resources too few. Experts from NGOs such as Beyond Nuclear, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Union of Concerned Scientists trot from one TV channel to the next and try to explain to puzzled moderators that nuclear power is not clean energy, that it is much more expensive than generally assumed. Their attempts at an explanation are good, but they don’t strike home. All this leaves us a long way from any basic change in direction for America’s energy policy. The U.S. is still the land of nuclear power madness. The nuclear revival in the United States won’t come to an end because of any fear of a meltdown, but simply because of financial necessity.