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Nuclear Industry Spends $5 Million to Woo Senators

May 13, 2002

Nuclear Industry Spends $5 Million to Woo Senators

Senate Gears up for Vote on Shipping Nuclear Waste Across America

WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Senators and senatorial candidates have taken more than $5 million from the nuclear power industry in political action committee contributions since 1997, a new report from Public Citizen shows.

PACs of corporations belonging to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the industrys powerful Washington lobby, have contributed $1.3 million to Senate campaigns from Jan. 1, 2001, through Feb. 28, 2002, alone. The cash has been distributed in advance of a vote that will be critical to the future of the industry whether to establish a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

“Politicians bristle at the suggestion that their votes can be purchased by campaign contributions, but the money has an effect or the industry wouldnt be handing out so much,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The nuclear power industry, on the other hand, candidly boasts that campaign cash influences public policy, and the industry funnels money to candidates because the system operates this way. “

Public Citizens report, Hot Waste, Cold Cash: Nuclear Industry PAC Contributions and the Senators Who Love Them, is based primarily on PAC filings with the Federal Election Commission compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Transporting nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain would entail tens of thousands of shipments on roads, rails and waterways in 44 states and the District of Columbia. The transportation casks that will be used have never been tested, and even the U.S. Department of Energy acknowledges that there will be traffic accidents involving nuclear waste. An accident involving just one of these shipments could be catastrophic. Local emergency response and public health infrastructures do not have the capacity to respond to a nuclear disaster.

Further, the Yucca Mountain site itself is unsuitable. It sits atop an aquifer and in an earthquake zone, and the site selection process has been rife with conflicts of interest and industry influence.

Public Citizen found that U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Ala.), ranking minority member of the Senate Energy Committee, is the indisputable “Nuclear PAC Man.” The $143,582 Murkowski took from the nuclear PACs since 1997 is more than any other senator.

Among the reports other findings:

  • Of the Senates 20 leading recipients of nuclear PAC money, eight serve on the Senate Energy Committee, and six sit on the Environment and Public Works Committee. Both are key committees for legislation related to nuclear power. The top 20 also includes Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.
  • All but seven current U.S. senators have accepted nuclear PAC money.
  • Thus far in the 2002 campaign cycle, U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is seeking a vacant Senate seat from South Carolina, has received $62,500, more PAC money than any other candidate for Senate, including senators who are seeking re-election. Another Senate non-incumbent, Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman, former St. Paul mayor, ranks fourth in nuclear PAC money so far in the 2002 cycle, with $43,250.
  • Republican senators and Senate candidates receive about twice as much money from the nuclear PACs as Democrats. Of the 20 sitting senators who have accepted the most money from the nuclear PACs since 1997, 14 are Republicans, including the top four and eight of the top 10. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, is the Democrats top Senate recipient of nuclear PAC money.
  • While nuclear power utilities feature prominently on the list of corporations that contributed most heavily to senators and Senate candidates, the largest total contributions by an NEI member came from General Electric, which designs and services nuclear power plants. Other leading PAC contributors among NEIs membership include Deloitte & Touche, which provides auditing services to some of the countrys largest energy and utility corporations, and Enron, whose subsidiary, Portland General Electric, has stockpiled nuclear waste at the defunct Trojan plant in Oregon.

“Yucca Mountain presents a wonderful opportunity for members of the United States Senate to reject the industrys cynical assertion that policy is for sale,” Claybrook said. “The Senate should put public health and safety ahead of special interest influence, vote to uphold Nevadas veto of the Yucca Mountain project and get the nation started toward finding a truly sound method of dealing with nuclear waste, a method based on science, not politics.”

To view the full report, click here.

Scroll down to view a chart listing the top Senate recipients of NEI PAC money from 1997 to 2002.


Money from NEI member PACs


Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska



Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania



Conrad Burns, R-Montana



Robert Smith, R-New Hampshire



Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico



Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska



Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana



George Voinovich, R-Ohio



Christopher Bond, R-Missouri



Mark Crapo, R-Idaho



Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania



Ernest Hollings, D-South Carolina



Trent Lott, R-Mississippi



Larry Craig, R-Idaho


15 (Tie)

Don Nickles, R-Oklahoma


15 (Tie)

Gordon Smith, R-Oregon



John Breaux. D-Louisiana



Blanche Lincoln, D-Arkansas



James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma



Charles Schumer, D-New York


Source: Public Citizen analysis of data compiled by Center for Responsive Politics and, for 2002, monthly and quarterly PAC filings with Federal Elections Commission.