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That latter purchase, made shortly after the September 11 terror attacks, likely won't endear Graham to Democrats in Iowa or anywhere else. Nor will his investments in Duke Energy, a company involved in the California energy crisis. But what really makes his stock trading intriguing is that he's a veteran member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who crafts and votes on legislation that directly affected the companies on which he was betting.
On March 18, 2001, a Sunday front-page special report ran in the Washington Times headlined "Energy needs spur rebirth of nuclear power." It told of the industry's imminent revival and newfound political support among a handful of Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Among the converts was Florida's Graham, who was quoted as saying, "Nuclear power is not a magic bullet, but it should also not be a poison pill.
"The technology exists to make nuclear power -- already one of our cleanest energy sources -- also one of our safest, most reliable, and least expensive."
The Washington Times also reported that Chicago-based Exelon Corp., the nation's top nuclear energy producer, was developing new nuclear technology in South Africa that it planned to bring to the United States.
In the same month, Graham co-sponsored the Nuclear Energy Electricity Assurance Act, an industry-backed bill designed to encourage expansion of nuclear power after 20 years of stasis. The measure, which included large incentives and subsidies to nuclear companies like Exelon, had been introduced in the Senate to the chagrin of environmental groups, one of which complained that Congress was "slopping the nuclear power hogs yet again."
Three days after the story was published, Graham's wife bought between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of Exelon stock, according to his financial disclosure form. (Amounts are listed in broad financial ranges on the forms, and Graham's camp refuses to release the actual numbers.)
That wasn't all: On November 5 of the same year, he bought $15,001 to $50,000 in Duke Energy, a North Carolina-based company that owns two nuclear reactors. And he already owned $1,001 to $15,000 in a Texas-based energy company with nuclear interests, TXU, since at least the early 1990s.
The stock buys weren't the senator's only financial connection with nuclear power players. From 1998 to 2002, he received $46,287 in PAC contributions from nuclear companies. During his 1998 campaign, when he really needed the money, Graham ranked sixth in the Senate in contributions from nuclear industry PACs, raking in $28,787 during that year's election cycle, according to the Washington, D.C.-based consumer lobby group Public Citizen.
The single largest nuclear industry contributor to Graham's campaign was Exelon, which has provided him with $19,000 since 1998. Exelon, in fact, is a particularly generous donor, giving a total of $588,044 to members of Congress in 2002 alone. That makes it the kindest nuclear company to politicians, according to a Public Citizen report issued this past May 20 titled "Hot Waste, Cold Cash." Duke was ranked seventh, with $376,000, and TXU was sixth, with $394,828.
In total, nuclear companies contributed some $5.8 million to members of Congress during the 2002 election cycle, Public Citizen reported.
One of the industry's chief goals -- and a key reason it lavished so much money on politicians -- was to persuade Congress to designate Yucca Mountain, located in the Nevada desert 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, as the nation's chief repository for nuclear waste.
Environmental and consumer groups fought the proposal, noting that dangerous, potentially catastrophic radioactive sludge would be transported to the mountain from points around the country, including Florida, raising the possibility of a "mobile Chernobyl."
Industry backers like Graham countered that nuclear energy was relatively cheap and clean-burning, which he says could help stem the tide of global warming. Graham has even taken to playing Chicken Little (though not quite a screaming-banshee one) on the issue, warning that global warming will cause catastrophic floods in Florida if the country doesn't produce more nuclear power.
The Yucca Mountain bill was paramount to the industry; only with a yes vote could the industry grow. Most Senate Democrats fell on the anti-nuclear side. Graham, who had backed the idea of a centralized national nuclear waste dump for years, was one of 15 who sided with Republicans in a 60-39 vote to pass the bill. On July 9, 2002, Graham issued a press release explaining his choice: "The nation needs a permanent disposal site for nuclear waste. Currently, we are accumulating spent fuel on site at our nuclear reactors and other facilities. In Florida, that means we have radioactive waste sitting in our backyards at three clusters of facilities -- Crystal River, Turkey Point, and St. Lucie."
Yet Florida will still have to store more than 1,000 metric tons of nuclear waste even after thousands of tons are shipped to Yucca. By the Energy Department's own estimates, there will be just as much nuclear waste, even with Yucca Mountain in use, at sites around the country in 2036 as there is today.
"A repository for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain will not solve the problem in Florida," says Lisa Gue, a policy analyst for Public Citizen, which was founded by activist and former left-wing presidential candidate Ralph Nader. "Sen. Graham's commitment to the nuclear industry is no doubt enhanced by the companies' generous contributions to his election campaign. His vote on Yucca Mountain was a big disappointment but not necessarily a surprise."