the possible exception of Big Tobacco, the nuclear energy industry has lived
through the greatest public relations nightmare since the beginning of the
Atomic Age in the 1950's. Disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl,
worldwide anti-nuclear protests and coalitions, the NIMBY effect, and even
such children's shows as Captain Planet, Toxic Avengers and The Simpsons,
have all routinely portrayed the industry in a bad light. No other
sector of the American economy needs a well-spoken, "devil's advocate" as
much as nuclear power, and the Nuclear Energy Institute fulfills that need.
Washington-based lobbying arm of the nuclear energy industry, the NEI states
its main mission is to "ensure the formation of policies that promote the
beneficial uses of nuclear energy and technologies in the United States and
around the world." These policies include helping to develop a national
energy policy that promotes a diverse and reliable energy supply by educating
the public and elected officials about the value of nuclear power, and rebuilding
public and governmental support for nuclear initiatives.
its founding in 1994, the NEI has developed over 260 corporate members from
15 countries in nuclear related businesses. Donald Hintz, the chairman
of the NEI, is also the president of Energy Corporation. Additionally,
over 4,000 industry professionals participate in NEI activities and programs
year round. These activities include acting as an industry voice by
providing information to the U.S. Congress, Executive Branch agencies, federal
regulators as well as international organizations and venues.
By and large, the NEI receives funding from corporations or via private donations
from individuals. In the 2003-2004 year, NEI received a $1,000 donation
from Peter Burg, the Chairman and CEO of First Energy Corp, and another $1,000
from Anthony Earley Jr, Chairman and CEO of DTE Energy. Still, the
Institute is relatively small, concentrating its resources on the campaigns
of those political candidates who look favorably upon the organization's
ideas. As of its last report on February 29, 2004, the NEI had donated
$48,320 to federal candidates, with 35% going to Democrats and 65% going
to Republicans. The NEI has given the lion's share of its donations
to Republicans over the years. In the 2002 election year cycle, 68%
of $147,527 went to Republicans, and 32% went to Democrats. In 2000,
Republicans took 71% of $160,391 while Democrats got a scant 29%. In 1998,
Democrats got slightly more, with 36% of $70,819, while the Republicans took
the NEI performs other functions besides distributing funds for worthy politicians.
Over the last ten years it has provided "accurate and timely information
on the nuclear industry to members, policymakers, the news media, and the
public." On its website, the NEI
even has a kid-friendly section called Science Club, where it explains the
intricacies of nuclear power in an entertaining fashion. The NEI also
publishes informative booklets in PDF format that are available on its website.
occasional appearances in the major news media, the NEI is no Greenpeace
or NRA. This is partially due to the fact that its resources are scarce,
and its members are few, consisting mainly of industry participants.
Also, because the topic of nuclear power is often overwhelmed by those who
cite fears over safety issues and the storage of nuclear waste (as seen with
the ongoing debate over Yucca Mountain in Nevada), the NEI prefers to quietly
deliver information to government officials mostly inside the Washington
beltway. The NEI does not report any kind of student organizing or widespread
public education, except for the information provided on its website. Nor
does it seek to become controversial in a haughty fashion (i.e. scaling Big
Ben to protest the Iraq war as Greenpeace members have).
fight to defend nuclear power, the NEI has performed well in keeping politicians
informed of the benefits of the split atom. Overall public and governmental
support for nuclear energy has begun to increase, especially after the East
Coast blackout in August of 2003. Says Democratic Senator Bob Graham
of Florida, "One of the reasons that I have been a supporter of nuclear power
is because we've had such a good experience in Florida, where we have three
nuclear farms and they contribute about 20 percent of our total energy supply."
the best trophy of success for the NEI, however, won't come until the construction
of a brand new nuclear power plant -- something that last happened in 1978.
In 2001 the Nuclear Energy Assembly, the NEI's annual meeting, announced
its Vision 2020 program, calling for the addition of 50,000 megawatts of
power to the U.S. power grid by that year. However, difficulties still
persist for companies who want to build power plants. The latest attempt
was by Illinois-based Exelon Generation Co. and Virginia-based Dominion Energy,
who submitted an early site permit to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in
September of 2003 for possible future nuclear plants in Clinton, Illinois
and North Anna, Virginia.
for the NEI to better promote nuclear power is to launch an aggressive media
campaign (i.e. television and radio commercials) in support of constructing
new plants. In an atmosphere of terrorism, it would certainly do no
harm for the NEI to remind the public that every new power plant built reduces
America's dependence on foreign oil. This is something both President
George W. Bush and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry have stressed
in their speeches concerning energy, homeland security, and the economy.
Kerry even wants to make the U.S. completely self-reliant for its energy
needs within ten years. Interestingly, energy (or the lack thereof)
touches nearly all aspects of life in the U.S. The country can no longer
afford to turn its back to what very well might bring a host of solutions.
Nuclear power means cheaper energy, more jobs, a safer, more reliable power
grid with less chance of allowing a cascading effect as seen in the August
‘03 blackout, a cleaner environment (nuclear power plants emit no carbon
dioxide), and ultimately, a freer, more independent America.
of the NEI should also visit as many universities as possible not only to
educate students about nuclear energy, but also to inform them of the growing
employment needs in the industry. In the aftermath of the 2003 blackout,
there is no better time for the NEI to inform the country what a cold, dark,
expensive future awaits its citizens in a world without adequate power.
Long the goat of the energy industry, it will not be long before nuclear
power becomes the lion.
M. Brooks is a junior at Loyola University Chicago majoring in political
science. He enjoys reading Ayn Rand, discussing current events, and
watching the Lakers.
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