Cheney Pursuing Nuclear Ambitions of His Own

By Jason Leopold, truthout|Report

Nov. 05, 2007 - While Dick Cheney has been talking tough over the years about Iran's
alleged nuclear activities, the vice president has been quietly pursuing
nuclear ambitions of his own.

For more than two years, Cheney and a relatively unknown administration
official, Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell, have been regularly visiting
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to ensure agency officials rewrite
regulatory policies and bypass public hearings in order to streamline the
licensing process for energy companies that have filed applications to build
new nuclear power reactors, as well as applications for new nuclear
facilities that are expected to be filed by other companies in the months
ahead, longtime NRC officials said.

Before being sworn in as deputy energy secretary in March 2005, Sell, a
lawyer whose roots extend to Bush's home state of Texas, was a White House
lobbyist working on energy issues. He had also participated in secret
meetings with Cheney's Energy Task Force.

In April, Sell and Cheney had both met with NRC officials to sign off on
the final regulatory policies related to new nuclear reactors. Following the
meeting, Sell had alerted a group of energy companies they could begin to
take advantage of the faster application process, NRC officials said.

NRC officials said that Cheney has expressed a desire to see
applications for nuclear reactor projects approved by the NRC when he and
Bush leave the White House in January 2009.

The energy corporations Cheney and Sell have been personally lobbying
the NRC on behalf of this year have advised the vice president and his staff
on energy policy in a way that would boost their companies' profit margins.
These corporations have also donated millions of dollars to President Bush's
and Cheney's past presidential campaigns.

One of the cornerstones of President Bush's National Energy Policy,
released in May 2001, but never wholly adopted, was "the expansion of
nuclear energy in the United States as a major component of our national
energy policy." Cheney said that reviving the nuclear power industry would
be long-term solution to the country's increasing thirst for electricity.

At a time when public awareness surrounding renewable energy resources,
the devastating effects of global warming and the importance of conservation
is at an all-time high, the Bush administration has steered tens of billions
in taxpayer dollars toward revamping the dormant nuclear power industry,
touting it as the only proven technology to combat climate change.

Behind the scenes, Cheney and Sell have worked in tandem with the
Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a powerful industry organization whose
members include some of the country's largest energy corporations, to get
the NRC to rewrite long-standing environmental review policies and limit
oversight of new nuclear projects, thereby simplifying the application
process, and significantly cutting down the time it takes to get new nuclear
projects off the ground, an NRC official said.

The Nuclear Energy Institute spent $680,000 during the first half of
2007 lobbying the White House, Congress, the Department of Energy, and other
federal agencies, according to a disclosure form posted online August 13 by
the Senate's public records office. Cheney's longtime friend, Tom Loeffler,
a former lobbyist and Republican congressman, represented the NEI.
Loeffler's former aide, Nancy Dorn, worked as a Congressional liaison for
Cheney, and later became a lobbyist for General Electric.

Cheney and Sell's behind-the-scenes efforts have been a boon for the
nuclear energy industry - and to Westinghouse Electric, a nuclear reactor
designer whose AP1000 reactor unit was certified by the Department of
Energy. The company stands to earn tens of billions of dollars in profit
through the sale of just a few of its nuclear reactor units. Cheney has said
publicly he wants to see dozens scattered across the US.

In September, Princeton-based NRG Energy Inc., having emerged from
bankruptcy proceedings, became the first company in 30 years to submit an
application to build two new General Electric-designed nuclear reactors at
its Bay City, Texas, nuclear power plant facility, a move that came as a
direct result of several private meetings NRG lobbyists and executives held
with Cheney and Sell, according to company officials. NRG's former
president, David Peterson, traveled to Washington on two occasions in 2001
to help Cheney's Energy Task Force shape the country's energy policy,
according to government records.

Prior to NRG's application, there had not been a filing for a new
nuclear power plant in the United States since before the Three Mile Island
nuclear reactor meltdown three decades ago.

NRG Chief Executive David Crane told investors recently that massive
federal tax incentives and federal loan guarantees included in the Energy
Policy Act of 2005 was the deciding factor in steering the company toward
the $6 billion nuclear project.

"The whole reason we started down this path was the benefits written
into the [Energy Policy Act] of 2005," Crane said.

That legislation calls for upwards of $125 million in annual tax credits
for a nuclear plant, in addition to loan guarantees that would cover about
80 percent of construction costs. Furthermore, the federal government
provided $2 billion in risk insurance for application costs, thereby
protecting energy companies in the event they would not be able to finance a
nuclear project due to regulatory obstacles.

The federal loan program automatically requires taxpayers to cover any
defaults on the loans. In a February report to Congress, the Government
Accountability Office said failure to properly account for default risks in
the loan program was one factor that "could result in substantial financial
costs to the taxpayer."

A 2003 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report said the risk of
utilities defaulting on loans for new nuclear plants is "very high - well
above 50 percent."

In October, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation's largest public
power provider, also filed an application with the NRC for a license to
construct and operate two new nuclear power reactors in northern Alabama
using General Electric's Westinghouse AP1000 reactor units. The application
was filed under the banner of NuStart Energy, LLC, a consortium of electric
utilities that joined together in 2004 to test the NRC's streamlined nuclear
reactor licensing program. The licensing costs were paid for by the federal
government under an Energy Department program called Nuclear Power 2010
(NP2010), to promote construction of new nuclear power plants.

According to the Department of Energy's web site, NP2010 was launched in
2002, and "is a joint government/industry cost-shared effort that can help
provide solutions to meet future base load energy demand and address climate
change. Specifically, NP2010 seeks to: demonstrate new, untested processes
for licensing reactors in the United States; identify sites for new nuclear
power plants, complete first-of-a-kind engineering of new reactor designs;
develop and bring to market advanced nuclear plant technologies, and
evaluate the business case for building new nuclear power plants."

Sell said TVA's application was a "a monumental step toward the rebirth
of nuclear power in the United States."

He also touted General Electric and Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor units
as cutting edge, which subsequently helped boost the stocks of both
companies. Sell said TVA's application lays the groundwork for dozens of
Westinghouse AP1000 reactors to be built in the United States. General
Electric had been one of the companies that advised Cheney on the National
Energy Policy.

Members of the NuStart consortium include: Constellation Energy, Duke
Energy, EDF International North America, the US subsidiary of the French
electric utility, Entergy Nuclear, Exelon Generation, Florida Power & Light
Company, Progress Energy, South Carolina Electric & Gas, Southern Company
and Tennessee Valley Authority, Knoxville, Tennessee.

With the exception of Progress Energy, South Carolina Electric Gas &
Light and EDF International, all of these companies participated in meetings
with Cheney's Energy Task Force and advised the vice president on energy
policy. Additionally, these corporations have said publicly they intend to
file applications for nuclear reactor licenses before the end of 2008, the
deadline to receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies and tax
credits. The NRC says it expects to receive as many as 21 applications to
build 32 new reactors before the end of 2008, with most, if not all,
expected to go online in 2015.

Since 2005, Sell has met with the corporate executives of the consortium
at least half-a-dozen times. He has relayed to top NRC officials the group's
concerns over the agency's decade-old regulatory policy related to the
lengthy review process of licensing nuclear power plants, and, with Cheney's
backing, urged the NRC to draft new rules that calls for granting a combined
construction and operating license, which will essentially result in a
decrease in oversight and public scrutiny, according to three senior
officials at the Energy Department.

In an October 30 news release, the DOE said it "selected NuStart to
demonstrate the NRC's untested process for licensing new reactors in the
United States, and for obtaining regulatory approval of new reactor

Meanwhile, the Energy Department has undertaken a massive public
relations effort, expected to continue until the end of 2008, to promote
nuclear energy as the new "green" energy.

In early October, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, in a speech at a
nuclear power conference held at the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy
at the University of Tennessee, described nuclear energy as "safe, clean and
reliable. And, for the foreseeable future, it is the only mature,
emissions-free technology that can supply the power America will need to
meet the projected increase in demand for electricity over the next 25
years. This is one of the reasons we have put so much emphasis on bringing
about a nuclear renaissance here in the United States."

In 2003, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study,
"The Future of Nuclear Power," that said even with volatile natural gas
prices and a wildly fluctuating market, the cost of producing electricity
from nuclear power plants is still 20 percent more expensive than
electricity produced from gas-fired power plants, and 60 percent more
expensive than electricity produced from a coal-fired power plant.

Earlier this year, Bodman, while promoting nuclear energy as an
alternative to fossil fuels, said the Bush administration would continue to
oppose mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases in the form of CO2 caps,
following a report released in January by the world's leading climate
scientists that said the emissions of greenhouse gases were to blame for
severe heat waves, floods and an increase in more intense hurricanes and
tropical storms. Bodman said mandatory caps could financially ruin some of
the energy companies responsible for polluting the air.

"There is a concern within this administration, which I support, that
the imposition of a carbon cap in this country would - may - lead to the
transfer of jobs and industry abroad (to nations) that do not have such a
carbon cap," Bodman said in February. "You would then have the US economy
damaged, on the one hand, and the same emissions ... potentially even worse

Before being tapped as Energy Secretary, Bodman ran a chemical company,
Cabot Corporation that spent years on the top five lists of the country's
worst polluters. In 1997 alone, Cabot was responsible for the 54,000 tons of
toxic emissions his company's refineries released into the atmosphere. Cabot
was identified as the fourth-largest source of toxic emissions in Texas.
Cabot is the world's largest producer of industrial carbon black, a
byproduct of the oil refinery process. Bodman is the wealthiest official in
the Bush administration. His net worth is estimated to be between $42
million and $164 million, the bulk of it in Cabot stock, deferred
compensation, and other benefits.

Perhaps the thorniest issue neither Cheney, Sell, Bodman nor the nuclear
energy industry has yet to address is how it plans to dispose of nuclear
waste. The Department of Energy, the agency largely responsible for
monitoring nuclear waste, plans on submitting an application to the NRC next
year to build a repository at Yucca Mountain, the site of a former nuclear
testing ground in Nevada, where the agency has proposed burying the waste
deep underground. The review process is expected to take at least three

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democrat from Nevada, is
opposed to the DOE's plan, and has vowed to continue to cut funding for the
Yucca Mountain project.

"In over 50 years of operating experience, the nuclear industry still
has not managed to solve the problems of safety, security, and disposal of
highly dangerous radioactive waste," said Jon Block, nuclear energy and
climate change project manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
"Until that happens, we're much better off investing in safer, cleaner
energy sources such as renewable wind, geothermal, tidal, and solar