ASHINGTON, March 23 — In Chapter 5 of Vice President Dick
Cheney's national energy report, executives of the once-moribund nuclear
power industry were probably thrilled to read that the White House
supported "the expansion of nuclear power in the United States as a major
component of our national energy policy."
The energy report had embraced a wide array of proposals that the
executives advanced in private meetings with Mr. Cheney and documents
submitted to members of the task force that formulated a national energy
One such proposal was the development of a new nuclear reactor designed
to produce electricity — a gas-cooled reactor built on tennis-ball-size
graphite spheres — that the report said "has inherent safety
"The industry has an interest in this," the report said, "and other
advanced reactor designs."
But only one company, the Exelon Corporation of Chicago, which provided hundreds of thousands of dollars
to Republican campaigns in recent years, has an interest in promoting the
so-called pebble-bed reactor.
Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear energy company, is the only
American corporation developing a design for the pebble-bed reactor, which
it says will lead to a new generation of cheaper, smaller and more
efficient nuclear reactors. The company says the pebble-bed reactor will
be safer, too, though environmentalists in the United States and in other
countries have sharply disputed this, calling the pebble-bed reactor a
failed system vulnerable to terrorist attack.
The May 2001 national energy report is filled with dozens of positive
assessments of proposed new technologies, including nuclear designs and
wind-generated power. Most of those assessments favor sectors of various
industries, and some undoubtedly favor individual corporations.
But it is impossible to know how and why the task force endorsed most
of those proposals, and which corporations they help, because Mr. Cheney
has steadfastly refused to release the names of industry executives who
advised the energy task force as it was researching and compiling its
Next week, more than 14,000 pages of documents related to the task
force will be released by the Energy Department, which was ordered by a
federal judge to make the material public under the Freedom of Information
Act. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmentalist group, had
sued for the information.
The General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, has
sued Mr. Cheney for a list of industry executives who advised the task
The administration's endorsement of Exelon's technology was learned
through interviews and documents provided to The New York Times by the
Although Exelon's name is not mentioned in the energy report, its
executives lobbied the task force on the benefits of the pebble-bed
The task force's endorsement of the reactor was contained in a single
paragraph. But a paragraph in a national energy report, like a sentence in
a State of the Union Message or a line in a legislative bill, can be a
huge boon to a corporation.
Don Kirchoffner, a spokesman for Exelon, said campaign contributions
had nothing to do with the pebble-bed reactor's mention in the report. "We
didn't influence anybody," Mr. Kirchoffner said.
Using the initials of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, he added: "I
don't think that it's correct to connect dots between contributions the
company made and the fact something on P.B.M.R. appeared in the national
energy policy. The P.B.M.R. is just an example of the advanced nuclear
technology that everybody says we need."
For Exelon, the paragraph was seen as "a good thing," Mr. Kirchoffner
said, but he insisted that the mention of the reactor's design did not
necessarily represent a boon for the corporation.
"A good thing for the industry and the country was the fact that the
administration came out with a recommendation for new forms of nuclear
power, and our pebble-bed modular reactor is a byproduct of that," Mr.
Kirchoffner said. "We just happened to have it. They took a look at what
we gave them and they said this kind of makes sense."
Exelon owns and operates about 20 percent of the nation's nuclear
capacity. Its co-chief executives, John W. Rowe and Corbin A. McNeill Jr.,
who has since retired, were among a group of about 75 energy executives
who met with Mr. Cheney in March 2001. Along with other participants of
the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's trade group, Mr. McNeill also
met that month with Karl Rove, President Bush's chief strategist, and
Lawrence B. Lindsey, the president's top economic adviser.
That information was revealed by Exelon officials, not the White
Critics of the task force have noted that many companies represented at
its meetings gave financial support to the Bush campaign or the Republican
Party in the 2000 election. Exelon was no exception.
Exelon, its executives and its political action committee, gave the
Republican Party a total of $564,661 in the two years before the 2000
election. Last year, Exelon increased its donations to the Republican
Party, giving it a total of $347,514, according to Federal Election
Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, a frequent critic of the
administration's energy policies, said: "The more we learn about the
Cheney task force, the easier it is to understand why the White House is
fighting so hard to keep everything secret. The biggest donors didn't just
have the best access — it now appears they were allowed to write specific
sections of the administration's energy plan."
Anne Womack, a spokesman for the White House, disputed the notion that
campaign contributions were responsible for the endorsement of Exelon's
"Advanced reactor technology would increase our energy supply and do it
in a way that is safe and clean," Ms. Womack said. "That benefits not only
the industry but the American people."
Ms. Womack also said that the task force had consulted "a broad variety
of groups, including industry, unions, environmental groups and consumer
"They all had input, and the product of all the input is in the
report," Ms. Womack said.'
More than 400 corporations and groups sought meetings with the energy
task force last spring. About half that number were granted access, a
group that included 158 energy companies and corporate trade associations,
22 labor unions, 13 environmental groups and a consumer organization, task
force staff members have said.
Some environmental groups and Congressional Democrats have complained
that industry executives — and, in particular, executives from
corporations that supported the Republican Party — received far more time
and had greater influence than environmental groups.
On Friday, Mr. Waxman released a study that identified 65 provisions in
the energy report that he said benefit donors to the Republican Party who
had met with task force members or Mr. Cheney last year.
The pebble-bed reactor has attracted sharp criticism from
environmentalists as being unsafe and vulnerable to terrorist attack.
"There are many safety problems with this reactor," said Carl Pope, the
executive director of the Sierra Club. "It's not safe, and it's certainly
not clean. It has already failed once, in Germany.
"And this pebble-bed facility is not going to have a containment shell.
It will be a terrorist target just sitting out there waiting for someone.
This is just not sensible."
Exelon lobbied the task force on the safety and economic benefits of
its design, according to interviews and several documents turned over to
the task force.
Exelon provided The New York Times with two documents that the company
submitted to the task force that had not been made public by Mr. Cheney: a
pamphlet describing the pebble-bed reactor and a one-page description of
the reactor's benefits.
The document begins, "Exelon Corporation believes that we have found a
technology that possesses the characteristics necessary to successfully
compete in a deregulated environment in the P.B.M.R., a design under
development in South Africa."
The document argues that the reactor is "safe, economic and clean."
"We provided it to them," Mr. Kirchoffner said of the single-page
document. "I can't tell you what they did with it."
The pebble-bed reactor would be cooled by helium, in contrast to the
water-cooled reactors now used in the United States. The plant has fewer
moving parts and requires a smaller crew, making its operations less prone
to problems, the company said.
Exelon has a 12.5 percent interest in the project with Eskom, the
state-owned utility in South Africa, the Industrial Development
Corporation of South Africa, a state-owned investment firm, and B.N.F.L.,
the former British Nuclear Fuels Limited. The partnership is studying the
feasibility of the pebble-bed reactor, company officials said.
In its papers submitted to the task force, Exelon wrote that the
technology "is an evolutionary improvement of a proven design previously
utilized in Germany." But several environmentalists said that the Germany
"When you build a design on a proven failure, you are likely to get
another failure," Mr. Pope said.
Mr. Kirchoffner said company executives were somewhat less enthusiastic
about the pebble-bed reactor today than they were a year ago.
"As a result of the decrease in natural gas prices, and the economy and
the less than favorable weather, things have changed since then," he said.
"We are being very disciplined now in our approach to looking at P.B.M.R.,
which may be a lot farther off than it was a year ago."
But the pebble-bed design is still scheduled to be reviewed by the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission soon. This month, the commission announced
that the design was submitted for its approval by Eskom, the South Africa