THE COUNTDOWN ON ILLINOIS’ ENERGY FUTURE CONTINUES!

PART 2: “NUCLEAR: IT ISN’T CLEAN, GREEN OR RENEWABLE”

CHICAGO- [NOTE: With the Illinois Legislative session scheduled to end May 31st, and the Legislature soon to vote on the future direction of Illinois energy services, NEIS is initiating a series of releases over the next few weeks designed to address some of the myths, misconceptions, and ignored aspects of the debate.]

Nuclear Illinois — Exelon’s 14 reactors circle Chicago

In a recent exchange in the Illinois Senate Energy Committee on Wednesday, May 13, Sen. Chris Nybo  attempted to get Sen. Don Harmon, sponsor of the Illinois Clean Jobs Act, to describe nuclear power as clean and renewable.  Sen Harmon steadfastly resisted this attempt to linguistically detoxify nuclear power.

“Nuclear power is NOT ‘clean,’ it is NOT ‘green,’ and it is NOT ‘renewable,’” Dave Kraft, director of the Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service states emphatically.

“Labeling something does not make it so,” Kraft continued.  “You can dress a pig in silk, marry it, and call it your spouse all you want.  But one morning, you will wake up in bed to the reality of your delusion.”

Using nuclear power to generate electricity may result in less carbon entering the atmosphere.  But, in the same process large amounts of radioactive materials are unnaturally concentrated, manufactured, and ultimately released into the environment by nuclear power plants, the fuel chain required to provide and manufacture the fuel, and ultimately the radioactive wastes produced.

“Radioactive wastes are NOT clean.  An energy source that produces hazardous high-level radioactive wastes which must be kept out of the environment for 225,000 years at great societal cost can hardly claim to call itself ‘clean,’” Kraft asserts.  “Trading more plutonium for less carbon is simply dumb energy policy, and totally unnecessary given the viable alternatives that already exist,” he concludes.

Nuclear power plants are also responsible for other kinds of radioactive pollution and contamination:

  • Exelon’s Illinois nuclear reactors have already generated nearly 10,000 tons of long-lived “high-level” radioactive spent-fuel wastes, the most of any state in the U.S., adding ~300 tons more each year;
  • Exelon’s 11 Illinois nuclear reactors generate over 98% of the radioactivity found in all of the “low-level” radioactive wastes generated in Illinois in any particular year;
  • Reactors are permitted by regulation to routinely discharge quantities of radioactive materials into the air and waters, provided they are below regulatory standards;
  • Radionuclides are “accidentally” released into the environment due to management, equipment and personnel failures. The largest “accidental” release of radioactive tritium (a radioactive form of hydrogen) in the U.S. was released by Exelon’s newest Braidwood reactors in the late 1990s.  Over 6 million gallons were released, some of which found its way offsite, an incident which resulted in Exelon having to provide a new drinking water supply for the adjacent community of Godley;
  • Uranium mining has created over 10,000 active and abandoned mines; and resulted in the creation of over 150 million tons of radioactive mill tailings, largely piled in open-air heaps at 51 sites, mostly on Native lands. The largest release of radiation in North America occurred at Church Rock, NM, on Diné lands in 1979, when a tailings pond dam burst into the Rio Puerco River, sending radioactive contaminants 25 miles downstream and into the area’s only major source of drinking and grazing water.

“For decades nuclear proponents have been disingenuously using the phrases “clean”, “non-polluting,” and “renewable” to describe nuclear power,” Kraft points out.  “Most recently this has occurred in Illinois with Exelon’s HB 3293 ‘Low-Carbon Portfolio Standard‘—an attempt to pitch its failed and money-losing reactors as essential ‘low-carbon’ sources to help the state meet the upcoming U.S. EPA Carbon Rule standards.  This opportunistic use of the EPA Rule to justify a $1.6 BILLION bailout is the latest attempt of Exelon to re-write reality for corporate profit,” Kraft says.

Exelon claims its reactors are not being valued enough for their contribution of not releasing carbon into the atmosphere as fossil fuel power plants do.  This re-writes history, according to Kraft:

“First, no Exelon reactor ever built in Illinois was built (and paid for by ratepayers) with the express purpose of removing carbon or fighting global warming,” Kraft points out  “They were built to make money for then-ComEd and now Exelon shareholders.  That they are ‘lower-carbon’ is an accidental, not intentional benefit.  Other truly renewable energy sources produce NO carbon emissions, and have no fuel costs or wastes associated with their generation of electricity,” Kraft points out.

No definition of “renewable energy” used in government includes nuclear power as a “renewable” source:

WIKIPEDIA (1):

“Renewable energy is generally defined as energy that comes from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat.”

U.S. DEPT. OF ENERGY  DEFINITION OF RENEWABLE ENERGY (2):

“Renewable Energy:  Energy derived from resources that are regenerative or for all practical purposes cannot be depleted. Types of renewable energy resources include moving water (hydro, tidal and wave power), thermal gradients in ocean water, biomass, geothermal energy, solar energy, and wind energy. Municipal solid waste (MSW) is also considered to be a renewable energy resource.”

“The Illinois Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard law also does not include nuclear power as a ‘renewable’ energy source,” Kraft points out, “and for good reason:  it’s not.”

For decades the nuclear industry and its promoters at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) have been trying to “prettify” nuclear energy as being “clean,” “non-polluting,” and “renewable.  In 1998 fifteen national environmental groups filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division in opposition to claims made by Nuclear Energy Institute ads stating at the time, “…nuclear energy generates electricity without polluting the air or water…” was “environmentally clean” and produces electricity “without polluting the environment.”

The BBB/NAD sided with the environmental groups against these overly broad nuclear industry claims, urging the nuclear industry and NEI specifically to stop the potentially deceptive ads:

“…NAD recommends that water and air pollution claims be carefully qualified to avoid any potential for consumer confusion and that broad, unqualified claims that nuclear energy is “Environmentally Clean” or produces electricity “without polluting the environment” be discontinued.” (3)

“In spite of this very specific public rebuke by the BBB/NAD, Exelon ads under its “Nuclear Matters” campaign (4) that appeared in the New York Times from April through October of 2014 refer to nuclear power as ‘clean’ and ‘carbon-free’ and ‘emit zero air pollution’ – all claims which were criticized by BBB/NAD as “inaccurate,” “overly broad,” and “misleading,”  and further noting that, “It is a fundamental principle of advertising law that a claim that is technically truthful can still be misleading.” (3, p. 20)

“It would behoove our legislators to engage in decidedly more critical thinking when evaluating the ‘technically truthful’ assertions of Exelon Corporation found in its Low-Carbon Portfolio Standard legislation,” warns Kraft. “In fact, given Exelon’s and the nuclear industry’s long and documented history of misleading people while being technically truthful about how ‘clean, green and renewable’ nuclear power is, the only rational course of action seems to be to completely reject Exelon’s bailout in the absence of proof,” he concludes.

(1) Wikipedia – definition of “renewable energy”

(2) U.S. Dept. of Energy website:  definition of renewable energy

(3) Opinion rendered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc., National Advertising Division, Dec. 3, 1998,  22 pages.

(4)  “Nuclear Matters” ads placed in New York Times, 4/3/14 and 10/1/14

 

THE 20-DAY COUNTDOWN ON ILLINOIS’ ENERGY FUTURE BEGINS!

PART 1: “IS IT REALLY THE JOBS, STUPID?”

CHICAGO-–  [NOTE:  With 20 days left for the Illinois Legislature to decide the future direction of Illinois energy services, NEIS is initiating a series of releases over the next three weeks designed to address some of the myths, misconceptions, and ignored aspects of the debate.]

The NEIS "Bake Sale against Exelon Bailouts! team. (l. to r.): Dave Kraft, Gail Snyder, Carol Kurz, Linda Lewison, Dennis Nelson. Jan Boudart photographer.
The NEIS “Bake Sale against Exelon Bailouts! team. (l. to r.): Dave Kraft, Gail Snyder, Carol Kurz, Linda Lewison, Dennis Nelson. Jan Boudart photographer.

Three separate and distinct pieces of legislation (three in each legislative chamber for a total of six) have been submitted.  Two have been submitted by industry giants Exelon (HB 3293; SB1585) and ComEd (HB 3328 Amendment 00; SB1879), and essentially recommend Illinois meet its 21st Century electric service needs with the status quo.  The third (HB2607; SB1485) submitted by a loose coalition of business, environmental, institutional and community organizations and supported by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls for a major push to advance the implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy resources.  The latter piece of legislation enjoys a substantial lead in legislative co-sponsor support.

The first of these issues needing more intense scrutiny deals with the notion that this is a “jobs’ issue.

“If this were really a jobs issue, this debate would have ended as soon as the Exelon bill appeared,” observes David Kraft, director of the Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service.  “Even for a math-challenged entity like the Illinois Legislature, which seems to display legendary incompetence in passing budgets and dealing with pension payments, the number 32,000 is still recognized as being larger than 2,300,” Kraft notes.

The Illinois Clean Jobs Act (HB2607) predicts the creation of up to 32,000 jobs annually in the energy efficiency and renewable energy (EE/RE) sectors.  The Exelon legislation threatens the loss of 2,300 jobs at the 5 reactors it claims are money-losers if Exelon does not get the $1.6 billion bailout passage of its legislation would give them through a mandatory rate hike.

“If jobs is really the issue, then it is clear which legislation is superior,” Kraft concludes.

Regarding the second issue Exelon and its supporters, and some in the media, have often used the figure of 8,000 total jobs lost in Illinois should they choose to close the 5 reactors, based on what they claim are the conclusions coming from a state agency report(1)  released in January.

“Not so fast here,” warns Kraft.  “While the HR1146 Report did use the number of 6,931 jobs potentially lost (p. 125), on the very same page (and at numerous other points in the 170-page document), the agencies concluded that as many as 9,600 NEW jobs would be created through 2019 in the energy sectors that would make up for the closure of the nuclear plants (also: p. 145),” Kraft corrects.  “DCEO in particular criticized Exelon for totally ignoring the economic benefits and job creation that would accrue to communities in the intermediate and longer term from the required decommissioning of the 5 reactors Exelon threatens to close (pp. 134, 150).  And it also said that the Exelon-supportive Nuclear Energy Institute overstated its negative impacts case by as much as 10% (pp.149-150),” Kraft points out.

The HR1146 Report was not without flaws and deserved criticism, either.  Mandated to provide a predetermined outcome, the State still has not evaluated the negative effects on the 21,000 direct and 97,000 total jobs in the Illinois EE/RE sectors(2) should Exelon get its $1.6 billion bailout, and some of the predictions about negative impacts on the Illinois EE/RE industries become realities.

“HR1146 was a ‘study to show,’ not a ‘study to know.’  The Legislature remains derelict in its duty by not also researching the negative impacts on the State economy and the EE/RE sectors specifically.  Therefore, any decision in favor of an Exelon bailout will be made in ignorance, and without regard to nine times as many jobs as Exelon threatens to terminate,” Kraft claims.

“In short Exelon – and its supporters in the press – have ‘cherry-picked’ the negative conclusions of the HR1146 Report to suit their own need to present the most dire conclusions, while totally ignoring copious amounts of material in the same Report that provides less dire conclusions and solutions to mitigating those economic impacts,” Kraft points out.

“Both legislators and even reporters close to this issue have been stunningly ignorant of these facts, and have failed to use and report them.  As a result a false and exaggerated mythology about job loss and economic chaos has been permitted to grow undeservedly,” Kraft states.

The final critical issue relating to jobs is being able to distinguish between what is a realistic potential outcome versus a disingenuous self-fulfilling prophecy.  Kraft points out:

“It is EXELON that is threatening to terminate 2,300 jobs if it does not get a bailout, not the State Legislature.  What has that company done proactively to minimize economic disruption to reactor communities which inevitably WILL face reactor closures? NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING!”

NEIS has pointed out to legislators that there are many ways to close a reactor (3); but, the important and operative principle is that reactors WILL close, because, unlike other large employers of company towns, they have finite operating licenses granted by federal regulators  that WILL expire someday, regardless of Exelon or legislative wishes.

“You don’t start planning to fight an economic crisis when your nose is being pushed up against the fan blades.  You plan in advance.  This is particularly true when you’ve had 40 years advance notice that the day of reckoning will inevitably come,” Kraft says, referring to

The Byron nuclear station
The Byron nuclear station

the period of the initial operating licenses of U.S. reactors.  Many have received 20 year extensions.  Oddly, Exelon has applied for such an extension at the Byron station at great cost, even while it threatens at the same time to close the reactors.

“Prudent, intelligent elected officials would have and now should be planning in advance for the eventual closure of ALL Illinois nuclear reactors, at some time, and for some reason, in the immediate future,” Kraft asserts.

NEIS has circulated ideas for the legislature to mandate a “just transition” program for all existing reactors (applicable to other large power plants, and other large employers), which would provide funds for job retraining, and tax base protection to prevent disruption of essential public services, as was caused by then-ComEd’s unilateral decision to close the Zion reactors in 1997.

“If you wait until the crisis is upon you to act, it’s too late, and you’re subject to manipulative pressures.  Like billion-dollar-plus rate hikes,” Kraft warns.

“In conclusion NEIS believes that Exelon has disingenuously used the very real and legitimate concerns over jobs loss to hold the Illinois Legislature and the affected reactor communities as ‘nuclear hostages,’ to legally extort its undeserved $1.6 billion bailout,” Kraft asserts.

“The Legislature should resist Exelon’s economic terrorism, and work for agreements that create more 21st Century jobs in the EE/RE sectors, while solving the built-in problems created by inevitable reactor closures,” he concludes.

(1) “POTENTIAL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT CLOSINGS IN ILLINOIS: Impacts and Market-Based Solutions,” 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.

(2) “CLEAN JOBS ILLINOIS™: An In-Depth Look at Clean Energy Employment in Illinois,” study commissioned by the Clean Energy Trust, March 2014; reported in Crain’s Chicago Business, March 20, 2014.

(3) Nuclear reactors can close for a variety of reasons.  Not all are within control of either Exelon, nor the local communities:

  • Unexpected major accident, resulting in immediate and presumably premature closure (think: Chornobyl, Fukushima)
  • NRC ordered shut down (for immanent health and safety concerns; or excessive safety violations)
  • Exelon’s unilateral decision to close a plant on economic or other grounds (as it did at Zion, resulting in an immediate loss of about 55% of Zion’s tax base, and as it is now doing with the five reactors in Illinois it threatens to close.  It IS their right to do this).
  • Devaluation through sale, as occurred at the Clinton reactor station, resulting in enormous loss of tax base
  • Eventual old-age, license expiration closure (the outcome most hoped for by the utility and community, but not guaranteed due to the above)

Additional facts worth considering:

  • In December 2014 the largest electric utility in Germany – E.ON Corporation – announced that it, “drop (spin off) fossil fuels and nuclear in order to focus on renewable energy, customer solutions, and distribution networks …will focus on renewables, distribution networks, and customer solutions and combine its conventional generation, global energy trading, and exploration and production businesses in a new, independent company.”  ON has 33 million customers (nearly 8 times the number Exelon has), and over 60,000 employees (more than 10 times the number employed at its Illinois nuclear facilities, yet, “The spinoff will not be accompanied by a job-cutting program.”

Perhaps Exelon should hire some Germans to see how to conduct an energy transition without job loss or threats to the central government of economic collapse.

  • Not all large utilities believe they are entitled to raid ratepayers wallets through Springfield when they experience losses:

“But Lee Davis (at right), president of NRG’s East region, which includes Illinois, says, “We don’t have an ‘ask.’ “

He says he understands the skepticism from many within the industry: “ ‘OK, they’re here, so they’re going to demand $500 million a year to prop up something they just bought.’ Well, we’re [NRG is] not going to do that.”

Mr. Davis says NRG will lobby against providing subsidies to competitors like Exelon, since it’s investing on its own in plants many thought would close in the face of low power prices and stricter environmental standards.  [SOURCE:  “The one utility not asking for help from Springfield,” Crain’s Chicago Business, Sept. 27, 2014.]

 

THE END OF NUCLEAR POWER?

TESLA REVOLUTIONARY NEW BATTERY SINKS EXELON’S BOGUS ARGUMENTS, FORCES LEGISLATURE TO CHOOSE THE FUTURE OVER THE PAST

CHICAGO-–  One Thursday April 30, Elon Musk of the TESLA Corporation announced the development of home and utility scale batteries that will revolutionize energy storage – and could effectively put an end to the specious argument nuclear industry promoters use to justify their product: “what are we going to do when the sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow?”

The answer – nothing.  The energy WILL be stored safely and effectively.

Arnie Gundersen speaking to an audience at Illinois Sierra Club, April 30, 2015
Arnie Gundersen speaking to an audience at Illinois Sierra Club, April 30, 2015

The announcement could also effectively mark the beginning of the end of nuclear power itself, said nuclear critic Arnie Gundersen at a debate on the future of nuclear power hosted at Northwestern University.

“We all know that the wind doesn’t blow consistently and the sun doesn’t shine every day,” he said, “but the nuclear industry would have you believe that humankind is smart enough to develop techniques to store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years, but at the same time human kind is so dumb we can’t figure out a way to store solar electricity overnight. To me that doesn’t make sense.”  Gundersen is principle at Fairewinds Energy Education based in Vermont.

The program, “The Future of Energy:  Is Nuclear Power the Solution?” was sponsored by  Fossil Free NU, and featured Gundersen and Dr. Jordi Roglans-Ribas, director of Nuclear Engineering Division at Argonne National Laboratory.

“This is a game-changer, both in the energy sector and politically,” states Dave Kraft, director of Nuclear Energy Information Service in Chicago.

“This TESLA breakthrough demolishes one of the scare tactics being used by Exelon Corporation in its attempt to panic peddle the Legislature into giving them a $1.5 billion bailout for five money-losing nuclear reactors in Illinois,” notes Kraft.

“Industry claims that ‘renewables aren’t ready,’ are ‘intermittent,’ or aren’t scalable’ just ended up on the trash heap of history.  The TESLA breakthrough means that renewables CAN power Illinois, even if Exelon decides to close those five reactors,” Kraft points out.

The TESLA Corporation announced the Powerwall battery system on Thursday evening.  Models are available for home installation; and can also be scaled up to meet utility-scale needs.  Remarkably, the home system at $3,500 comes in at a price three times lower that the nearest competitor on the market.  The systems are compact, and will be available for sale by year’s end.  A $5 billion production center is being built in Nevada to produce the systems.

“If the Legislators are worried about job loss from Exelon’s reactor closures, perhaps instead of giving Exelon a $1.6 billion bailout for nuclear reactors that currently can’t compete with wind power without battery storage, the legislature should give it to Elon Musk to build a Powerwall production facility in Illinois,” Kraft points out.  “At least Illinois ratepayers and the economy will get something of benefit back for the giveaway, unlike with the Exelon bailout.”

“This development is undoubtedly a game-changer for the debate in Springfield about the energy legislation,” Kraft asserts.

“For a year and a half NEIS has been alerting legislators to the notion that this is a transformational moment in energy, and that the business-as-usual mundane and myopic discussions and decision-making about jobs and compromises do not fit this moment.  The TESLA announcement proves we were right.”

“This announcement forces the Legislature to choose which century the Illinois economy and energy systems will end up in – the 19th with Exelon’s anachronistic “big-box utility” business model, or the 21st with TESLA and all the rest that goes with it..  Legislators can no longer hide behind the nuclear boogeymen arguments that they have to give Exelon ‘something,’ or we’ll all freeze in the dark when the wind doesn’t blow, and jobs will be lost.  There are plenty of good, high-paying jobs ahead – if the Legislature chooses the future over the past,” Kraft observes.

“And – the lights WILL MOST CERTAINLY stay on,” Kraft concludes.

NEIS was founded in 1981 to provide the public with credible information on nuclear power, waste, and radiation hazards; and information about the viable energy alternatives to nuclear power.  For more information visit the NEIS website at:  http://www.neis.org

 

SOURCES: 

1.) “Did Tesla Just Kill Nuclear Power?

2.)  “Experts debate the future of nuclear energy at Fossil Free NU event,”

3.)  POWERWALL TESLA Home Battery System

4.)  Elon Musk Debuts the Tesla PowerwallYouTube

5.)  Arnie Gundersen on Worldview, April 30, 2015