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Nuclear Industry Tends to Its Image in Washington

File Photo
Rep. Bobby Rush toured Exelon Corp.’s Dresden nuclear power plant in Illinois on Friday.

In Japan, the public is fleeing the sites of the damaged nuclear power plants. But in the United States, energy companies such as Exelon Corp. are urging lawmakers on break this week to pay a visit to their local nuclear power plant.

As the operator of the most nuclear power plants in the United States, Chicago-based Exelon has a tremendous stake in the effect of the disaster in Japan on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers already are calling for a re-examination of the expansion of nuclear power.

The company and others in the industry have launched an informational blitz aimed at reassuring Members that power plants here are safe and can withstand disasters. 

“Anytime there is an event like this, those who oppose the nuclear industry are reinvigorated,” said David Brown, senior vice president for federal government affairs and public policy at Exelon. “And that means that we need to educate folks on the issues at hand.”

Brown said that Exelon, which owns 17 reactors, representing one-fifth of the nuclear industry’s national power capacity, has always welcomed lawmaker visits to its plants. But he said that with current developments in Japan, there is “an urgency to getting them there.”

On Friday, Rep. Bobby Rush (Ill.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, toured Exelon’s Dresden nuclear power plant in Illinois. The General Electric-made reactors at Dresden are similar to ones in Japan.

Rush, who said he requested the tour, said he was assured there were a number of upgrades to the Illinois facility that made it safer than its Japanese counterparts, such as having back-up generators. “The regulatory regime in terms of oversight is more aggressive in the U.S” than in Japan, he said.

Rush also said he worried that there was “too much neighborliness and coziness” between the Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors and the industry.

The Congressman said he expected that his committee would be holding field hearings at a number of the nuclear plants in the coming months.

Critics interpret the lobbying flurry as a sign of how concerned the industry is about the effect of the Japanese disaster in Washington, D.C., and the states.

“Their actions indicate how afraid they are that the door will slam on the nuclear renaissance,” said David Hamilton, director of global warming and energy programs at the Sierra Club, which has long opposed nuclear power.

“To describe their actions as anything but frantic doesn’t do it justice,” Hamilton said. 

Last week, as the Japanese nuclear reactor story dominated the news, industry officials swung into action on Capitol Hill.

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