Exelon (faux-)fun(d)raiser ‘total failure,’ groups say

CHICAGO–  An organization conducting an “alms for Exelon” street fun(d)raiser for the impoverished utility admits that the event was “a total failure.”

“To try to prevent Illinois ratepayers from having to fork over $580 million to bailout Exelon’s unprofitable reactors in Illinois, we had hoped to raise funds from individuals who ideologically support nuclear power,” says David Kraft, director of Nuclear Energy Information Service, referring to a Chicago City Club Luncheon featuring three pro-nuclear speakers from Exelon-funded front groups “Nuclear Matters” and the Nuclear Energy Institute.image (4)

“We were shocked that not a single pro-nuclear supporter was willing to donate $100,000 to Exelon, to support their beleaguered nuclear plants,” Kraft reports.  “I mean — what ever happened to ‘brand loyalty’?” Kraft wondered.

“It has to make one wonder – especially if you’re Governor Rauner or a legislator: if people staunchly in favor of continuing to operate unprofitable nuclear reactors won’t give a dime to the cause, why should millions of Illinois ratepayers be forced to do so?” asks Kraft.

The faux-fun(d)raiser consisted of six NEIS volunteers with collection buckets asking those attending the City Club Luncheon on the topic of “Illinois’ Energy Future” to kick in a minimum of $100,000 for Exelon.  Informational fliers were distributed in opposition to the possible Exelon bailout.

Plans for a nuclear bake sale and a radioactive waste auction are in formation.

A copy of the NEIS Press statement follows.  The photo is available for use with accreditation to Gail Snyder, NEIS.

 

PRESS STATEMENT

“CHUTZPAH” OR TRANSFORMATION?  ILLINOIS LEGISLATURE MUST SOON DECIDE

Dave Kraft, Director, Nuclear Energy Information Service

27 January, 2015

The “World’s Record” for chutzpah – an almost incomprehensible level of utter gall – has finally been shattered.  It used to be described as:  “A guy who murders his parents, and then falls on the mercy of the court at his sentencing because he is an orphan.”  After decades at the top, its reign has been toppled.

It has been eclipsed by the Exelon Corporation, which is in pursuit of almost a billion dollars-worth of ratepayer-financed bailouts for five money-losing nuclear reactors in Illinois, after ratepayers have paid for the reactors at least three times over; without opening its books for scrutiny to prove the need exists, and with no guarantee that it would keep the reactors open even if it got the money.  Oh yes, all orchestrated by a CEO who received a 69% pay raise in 2014 worth over $17 million.

It became clear to us at NEIS that audacious claims require audacious actions.  To that end, this day, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, NEIS embarks on a “Save our impoverished Exelon!” campaign.  Our goal is to protect Illinois ratepayers from Exelon’s “Submit to our requests for ‘enhanced financial appreciation’ – could Don Corleone have said this better? – or we’ll shoot this economy!” demands, by launching a campaign to help the struggling utility survive.

And what better place to begin this campaign than at a luncheon featuring a panel of pro-nuclear talking heads, all recruited by the Exelon-backed “Nuclear Matters,” and the Exelon-run Nuclear Energy Institute?  The “Nuclear Matters” pro-nuclear front group was launched in March of 2014, and is primarily bankrolled by Exelon.  The NEI’s CEO is also the CEO of Exelon – Christopher Crane; and historically the NEI has gotten up to a third of its operating budget from Exelon.

We expected a panel like this would attract largely pro-nuclear diners.  We reasoned:  What better crowd to ask to finance a struggling nuclear utility than ideologically committed pro-nuclear advocates?  If they won’t pony up a few hundred mill to back their pet energy source, why should ratepayers, 70+% of whom have now indicated they STRONGLY support renewable energy over nuclear power?

By our actions, we wish to send a message to the Illinois Legislature and the Governor:  PATIENCE!  Do not act rashly and thoughtlessly.  Let us first try to raise the funds from the people who back nuclear power.

NEIS will continue to stage a series of “faux-fun(d)raisers” in Exelon’s behalf, to reduce the amount of money they will need to legally extort from Illinois ratepayers.  Minimum “contributions” of $100,000 will be requested of those pro-nuclear people we encounter.  Cash, checks, Kruegerrands and bitcoin “accepted”  (sorry – no credit cards!).

And finally – we hope by these actions to send an additional message to the Governor, the Legislature and public about how absurd and impertinent Exelon’s undeserved demands are.  The decisions reached by the Legislature on his issue will either be a moment of energy transformation for Illinois, taking us wisely and competitively into the 21st Century.  Or, it will be one of the greatest political capitulations and giveaways state government has ever acquiesced to, an “energy pension crisis moment,” miring the economy and the environment in the failures of the 20th ,  while the rest of the World moves forward.

We are available to answer questions about the Exelon bailout, and the viable alternatives that exist to it.

“Polar-vortex resistant nuclear” not so “resistant” after all

CHICAGO—Nuclear proponents like Exelon Corporation are quick to claim that nuclear power was “reliable energy” during last year’s “polar vortex” days  compared to its fossil fuel rivals.

It seems that crowing may have been premature.

Pilgrim Station Unit 1 at Plymouth, Mass.

The Pilgrim-1 nuclear reactor near Plymouth, MA, was closed today by the heavy snow storm buffeting the Northeast.

The reactor had already been reduced to 20% output as a “precaution” prior to the storm’s arrival when transmission lines connecting the reactor to the power grid failed.  This caused the reactor automatically shut down to protect itself.  Pilgrim’s safety systems are now running on emergency diesel generators, which, industry-wide have a spotty reliability record.  The reactor is not likely to be back on line for several days, according to plant personnel.

“We already knew that nuclear reactors were particularly vulnerable to drought and extreme hot weather events,” notes David Kraft, director of the Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service, a safe-energy advocacy and nuclear power watchdog organization. (NOTE:  see, “It’s the Water, Stupid!” on the NEIS website)  “Pilgrim’s failure to be available during the snow emergency in New England proves nuclear power’s vulnerability during extreme winter weather as well.”

Pilgrim-1 is a 43 year-old 711 MWe GE boiling water reactor.  It has a Mark-I containment, the same as the containments at Fukushima I-IV which melted down and blew up in 2011.  Illinois has 4 such reactors:  Quad Cities 1 & 2 near Cordova, IL, on the Mississippi River, and Dresden 2 and 3, 50 miles SW of Chicago near Morris, IL.

“The fact that they had already reduced output by 80% as a precaution shows that even the nuclear operators see how vulnerable nuclear reactors can be in a winter storm emergency.  The fact that it will take several days to bring the reactor back on line shows that they won’t be available when needed.  How ‘reliable’ is that?“ Kraft asks.

Exelon Corporation is seeking a $580 million bailout from Illinois ratepayers via legislative action to make up for a profit shortfall at five of its unprofitable Illinois reactors.  In public statements and a report done by the Nuclear Energy Institute in October 2014, they pointed to the “reliability” of their nuclear reactors during last year’s polar vortex as alleged justification for the need to keep even unprofitable reactors operating, at ratepayer expense.

“Reality has a peculiar way of contradicting Exelon’s assertions with frightful regularity,” Kraft says.  “Their reactors are vulnerable to power interruptions in extreme hot weather, and as Pilgrim-1 demonstrated today, in extreme cold weather.  It’s a crap shoot filled with weather variables – not a healthy gamble to hitch an economy too for decades into the future – especially at ratepayer expense,” Kraft asserts.

“The Governor and the Legislature should not be conned into thinking they should open ratepayers wallets for $580 million simply on Exelon’s claims to reliability.  With nuclear, what can go wrong eventually does, it seems,” Kraft points out.

,

NEIS rebuts “Nuclear Matters” talking head

A number of us in Chicago were rolling our eyes and yelling at our radios listening to former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, now spokesperson for the Exelon sponsored “Nuclear Matters” interviewedyesterday on our local public radio station, WBEZ, on Monday January 26th.

Dave Kraft, Director of Nuclear Energy Information Service was able to counter her points in an interview the following day on the same radio station.

Carol Browner, Nuclear Matters Interview:

Dave Kraft, Nuclear Energy Information Service Interview:

NRC Nuclear agency rejects effort to close dangerous U.S. “Fukushima” reactors

As a courtesy to our friends and colleagues at Beyond Nuclear, we forward the attached press release.  It announces a decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal agency charged with protecting the public from the radiation threat from nuclear power plants, to ignore its staff advice and NOT install safety filters on reactors similar in design to those that blew up and melted down at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011.

A GE Mark-I reactor containament schematic
A GE Mark-I reactor containment schematic

Illinois has four such reactors (Dresden 2 & 3, 50 miles southwest of Chicago; and Quad Cities 1 & 2 near Cordova on the Mississippi River) of the same design, yet older than their Japanese counterparts.  Two other reactors (LaSalle 1 & 2, 65 miles southwest of Chicago near Starved Rock) are similar in design, but newer.  This anti-safety decision comes at a controversial time for Exelon’s Illinois nuclear reactors, five of which it claims are unprofitable.  Businesses usually try to regain profitability by reducing costs, which in the case of nuclear reactors, could have additional adverse safety implications.

NEIS was a co-petitioner to this NRC docket, and gave testimony twice in the proceeding.  As the release points out, the filter and vent system we advocated has been mandated for these GE reactors in Europe and in Japan, and the NRC staff recommended that their construction would be a cost-effective safety measure.  Yet, the now 4 person Commission rejected this professional advice, and listened to the profit driven arguments of the nuclear industry which opposed these safety installations.

This decision is emblematic of the NRC’s consistent pattern of deferring to the financial interests of the nuclear industry over the legitimate safety concerns of the public.  It has long been known that the NRC is a “captive agency” of the industry it is alleged to be regulating; this and many similar rulings reinforce the public’s perception that “NRC” stands for “not really concerned.”  Perhaps the only thing remarkable about this anti-safety decision is that the Agency stretched out its venal and disingenuous incompetence for four years before announcing its ruling.

Feel free to contact Beyond Nuclear directly for more information.

 

NEWS FROM BEYOND NUCLEAR

Nuclear agency rejects Beyond Nuclear and 10,000 co-petitioners’ effort to close dangerous U.S. “Fukushima” reactors

Friday, January 23, 2015
Contact: Paul Gunter
301.270.2209 (o)
301.523.0201 (cell)

TAKOMA PARK, MD — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected a Beyond Nuclear petition signed by 10,000 members of the U.S. public that called for the agency to suspend the operation of the country’s vulnerable “Fukushima” style nuclear reactors. The emergency enforcement petition asked the NRC to suspend operating licenses at the country’s now 22 remaining General Electric Mark I boiling water reactors identical to Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors units 1, 2 and 3 that exploded and melted down following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.The petition was originally filed on April 13, 2011. It took the agency four years of deliberations behind closed doors before issuing its decision, which is published in today’s Federal Register.“We strongly disagree with the NRC’s decision and its claim that it has met each one of the petitioners’ requests,” said PaulGunter, Director of Reactor Oversight at Beyond Nuclear and who initiated and submitted the petition. “The long recognized public health and safety hazards of these reactors, so vividly and tragically demonstrated by the events at Fukushima, are far from being resolved,” he said.

“We remain concerned that the NRC is not presently capable of effective oversight and enforcement,” Gunter continued. “Under existing NRC provisions, the public has no recourse to appeal the decision or to legally challenge the Mark I design vulnerability or its operational hazards.

“This denial of due process comes in spite of the fact that agency orders and industry corrective actions referenced in dismissing the petition are inadequate half measures that need not be fully implemented for years to come, if ever,” Gunteradded. “In critical safety areas for the Mark I containment vulnerability, the proposed corrective actions credited in the Director’s Decision are not even conceptually finalized or approved by the regulator. Moreover, there are significant agency staff non-concurrences on how to proceed with post-Fukushima action plans,” Gunter concluded.

The NRC’s emergency enforcement petition process itself is recognized by one of its own Administrative Law Judges, Alan S. Rosenthal, as rigged to reject out of hand legitimate public safety concerns. The Additional Opinion of Judge Rosenthal concluded that “at least where truly substantive relief is being sought (i.e., some affirmative administrative action taken with respect to the licensee or license), there should be no room for a belief on the requester’s part that the pursuit of such a course is either being encouraged by Commission officialdom or has a fair chance of success.”

Ironically, while the U.S. NRC seeks to fend off legitimate concerns to keep these 1960s vintage reactors running as industry cuts safety corners, Japan’s nuclear industry is closing two of its remaining four Mark I reactors while retrofitting others with high capacity radiation filters on a hardened vent system.

A majority vote of the U.S. NRC Commissioners rejected a senior level staff recommendation made by the Japan Lessons Learned Task Force that the Commission order all GE Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactor operators to promptly install hardened containment vents with the same engineered radiation filters as a “cost-benefited substantial safety enhancement.”

Beyond Nuclear and others have strongly recommended that the industry be required to afford this retrofit as a minimal safety stopgap while continuing to advocate for the license suspension of the entire Mark I and Mark II fleet.

For more information, see a detailed explanation on the Beyond Nuclear Freeze our Fukushimas web page

Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic. The Beyond Nuclear team works with diverse partners and allies to provide the public, government officials, and the media with the critical information necessary to move humanity toward a world beyond nuclear. Beyond Nuclear: 6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 400, Takoma Park, MD 20912. Info@beyondnuclear.org

Report Indicates Illinois Would Survive Closure of 5 Exelon Reactors

CHICAGO—Despite some notable flaws, a report assembled by 4 state agencies to study the effects of closing five uneconomic Exelon nuclear reactors in Illinois came to a reassuring conclusion:  Illinois will survive, and WITHOUT having to bail out Exelon’s reactors with $580 million.

The Report, “POTENTIAL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT CLOSINGS IN ILLINOIS: Impacts and Market-Based Solutions,” was mandated by HR1146 in May of 2014 to study the effects on the Illinois economy and electric power reliability should Exelon decide to close 5 unprofitable nuclear reactors it operates in Illinois.

Exelon's unprofitable Byron nuclear reactors, threatened with closure if the Illinois Legislature does not "appreciate" them more with a bailout.
Exelon’s unprofitable Byron nuclear reactors, threatened with closure if the Illinois Legislature does not “appreciate” them more with a bailout.

“This Report, flawed as it is, indicates that while there will be some serious, expected short term effects from Exelon closing its 5 uneconomic reactors, the Illinois economy will not be irreparably harmed, and the lights will stay on.  In short – there is NO crisis demanding quick action by the Legislature to grant Exelon a $580 million bailout of the 5 reactors,” concludes David Kraft, director of Nuclear Energy Information Service, a nuclear power watchdog organization based in Chicago.

The Report was presented as a compilation of analyses by the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Illinois Power Agency, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.  Each was given a specific task to analyze by the enabling Resolution, HR1146; and each conducted its own separate modeling and analysis.

The bottom-line, broad-brush stroke takeaways from the Report are:

There is no crisis.  Illinois WILL survive. Therefore, there is no need for the legislature to act rashly on the expected to be requested $580 million bailout, without detailed study, analysis and debate; and certainly not before Exelon provides much more information to the Legislature and the public.

  1. The conclusions of each individual agency virtually all support some version of FIXING THE RENEWABLE ENERGY PORTFOLIO STANDARD, and/or relying on energy efficiency and renewable energy (EE/RE) to both soften the economic hit, create new replacement jobs, and keep the electrons flowing, in some form or other.  Some Agency reports were more explicit about this than others (e.g., Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity).
  2. System reliability will NOT be impaired, and even under worst case scenarios, can be propped up sufficiently with appropriate use of demand-side management. (IL Power Agency)

“These are probably not the conclusions Exelon wanted the public or the Legislature to see,” notes Kraft.  “But, although incomplete, they are reassuring first analyses that demonstrate Illinois can make a transition to a renewable energy future less painful with proper planning and forethought.  More work is clearly needed.”

Indeed, the writers of the report themselves were cognizant of the “GIGO” nature of their work, cautioning that,

“…the Agencies believe that results from modeling and analyses cannot be fairly segregated from the assumptions, caveats, and explanations which accompany them. Guided by this logic, the Agencies’ have chosen not to provide an independent executive summary to this report, and strongly believe that impacts measured through modeling and analyses must be understood in the context of and with the caveats given in their presentation herein.”

“And some of those contexts and analyses seemed to be incomplete and inaccurate,” Kraft states.  “It’s good that the authors recognize this limitation, so that conclusions offered are not overly generalized.”

The authors also concluded that,

“There is an old adage: “a rising tide lifts all boats.”  Solutions adopted to prevent the premature closure of Illinois nuclear plants should be designed with the goal of raising the tide of the Illinois energy sector. When evaluating the solutions included in this report and any alternatives offered by stakeholders, holistic solutions aimed at solving fundamental market challenges are preferable. The right energy policy has the potential to minimize rate increases to families and businesses while positioning Illinois as a national leader in the development of clean energy.”

“It seems that the Agencies recognize that the situation is one greater than merely deciding whether Exelon reactors should be bailed out or not; but rather one of deciding on a future blueprint for Illinois energy that makes sense and is compatible with the 21st Century trends and technological advances,” Kraft observes.  “This is not an incremental decision about rate setting; it’s a transformation moment for deciding Illinois’ energy future.  The Legislature will be deciding if we move forward into the 21st Century of energy, or stay stuck in the 19th.”

Flaws in the Report

From its inception NEIS had been critical of the mandated Report.  The enabling Resolution:

  • Provided no dedicated funding to conduct deeper more meaningful study that would have produced more valid results;
  • Provided a far too narrow mandate for investigation, one which began with a pre-determined conclusion – that the effects would (all) be negative, without allowing for analysis of potential benefits of closing the 5 reactors;
  • Provided absolutely no opportunity for public participation or input into the Report.

“This tight political control of the process last May strongly suggested a self-fulfilling prophecy was to be created, not a study to legitimately investigate a serious issue,” Kraft points out.  “To the extent that the Agencies were largely able to avoid this built-in pitfall is much to their credit.”

The Report also contained some direct criticism and contradiction of Exelon’s claims leading up to the creation of the Report.  For example:

the DCEO explicitly criticized Exelon and claims and data from the Nuclear Energy Institute report from last October on negative effects of reactor closures, stating Exelon overplayed the likely damage to expect, and ignored possible means of mitigating the effects of closure (pp. 149-150);

  1. despite not being part of the original mandate, several agencies stated that EE/RE would be used in varying capacities to add both jobs and electrons, softening the expected short-term disruptions of premature reactor closures, a point Exelon public statements assiduously ignore;
  2. DCEO further noted that if you close reactors, they eventually have to be decommissioned, adding benefits to the local and Illinois economy in the longer-term; they then quoted from the website of Exelon’s current sub-contractor at Zion — Zion Solutions — as to how much positive economic opportunity that would provide (p. 150);
  3. Some specific scenarios analyzed in the Report reject the need for an Exelon bailout at all. One such example scenario investigated by the ICC concluded, “Higher energy market prices would also reduce the capacity market offer caps of remaining units and thus capacity prices, holding everything else equal.  The fact that energy market prices would increase does not support providing subsidies to these plants in order to forestall retirement. Any decision to retire the plants would be based on the basic economics of the plants.”  (emphasis ours, pp. 62-63)
  4. The Illinois Power Agency states, “This analysis contained in this report demonstrates that there is a potential for impacts on reliability and capacity from the premature closure of the at-risk nuclear plants. However, in many of the cases analyzed, reliability impacts remain below industry standard thresholds, and impacts appear to be more significant in other states than in Illinois. Taken alone, there may not be sufficient concern regarding reliability and capacity to warrant the institution of new Illinois specific market-based solutions to prevent premature closure of nuclear plants.” (emphasis ours, p. 73)

“Even though Exelon did their best to convince everyone that the sky is falling here in Illinois, even a poorly mandated, non-funded, public discounting and disenfranchising, abstract-model-heavy analysis could not reach that conclusion,” says Kraft.

“Given the guardedly incomplete conclusions of this Report, and the uncertainty about FERC awarding an additional $560 million in profits to Exelon, there is no legitimate reason for the Legislature to take immediate action on Exelon’s requests for a bailout, by any mechanism.”

According to Kraft, “The situation and the conclusions from this Report call for a number of things to happen first, before such consideration should even begin:

  1.  Exelon needs to open it books to the State and the public, on a plant by plant basis, to conclusively prove its need;
  2. The Legislature FIRST needs to fix the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard to guarantee that EE/RE WILL be available to soften any economic or reliability damage the closure of the 5 money-losing reactors would cause, as the Report suggests numerous times it could;
  3. No Legislative decision should be rendered prior to the FERC deciding on its potential $560 million award for Exelon. The Legislature should not set up an opportunity for a billion-dollar Exelon “double-dip.”
  4. Alternatives to the Exelon proposals, and to Exelon as an energy provider, should be investigated by the Legislature. Perhaps some of Exelon’s competitors would be willing to step up and fill some of the energy vacuum Exelon would create by closing the 5 reactors, and do so in a more economic, forward thinking manner —  as the Report suggests should be done.

“The energy future of Illinois and its effects on the Illinois economy for decades to come are at stake with the Legislature’s decision,” Kraft warns.  “Their job is to get it done RIGHT, not  QUICK.”