Hiroshima Remembrance Event

August 6, 2020

[NOTE: Due to COVID, event could not be held at the University of Chicago Campus ‘Nuclear Energy’ Statue so it was held online via Zoom conference.]

Good Evening, Thank you all for your concern and time regarding this issue and thank you to Charles Strain for organizing this event as well as to Roberta Siegel, Jack Lawler and Brad Little for all the work on past events.

I am Gail Snyder and serve as President of the Board of Nuclear Energy Information Service a 39 year old non-profit organization based in Chicago. We are focused primarily on bringing an end to the use of nuclear energy locally here in Illinois as well as the nation and the world.

By now most of you have seen the footage of the explosion in Beirut Lebanon linked to the storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate on the edge of a harbor in a city of over one million people. Estimates are that over 130 have died and over 5,000 were wounded. 300,000 people are homeless as a result and the damages are estimated to be upwards of $15 billion dollars.

The pictures and videos of the devastation and impact to people as they went about their daily lives there are heart breaking.

Now I want you to think about what if they had been warned. What if someone told them there is something dangerous stored in your community that can do so much damage that if you live through it your community may not recover? Would people demand the danger be removed? Would they protest? Would they accept the risk and keep living there?

Four Hiroshima Day alums — Bradford Lyttle and friend, Roberta and Howard Siegel — show up anyway at the Henry Moore Sculpture, Univ. of Chicago, Aug. 6, 2020.

Our organization and others are sending out a warning that we have something dangerous in our communities and it is nuclear energy and the nuclear waste it produces. If it was a nuclear power plant that melted down in Beirut the damage would have been widespread and long lasting. There would be no rebuilding and returning to live there because the area would be a permanent exclusion zone like those created when the nuclear energy power plants melted down in Chernobyl in the Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan. Everything would be abandoned. There would be no returning to get your household items or your car, no community to return to. Radiation levels could be so high that rescue efforts might not be attempted. If you can imagine if the white part of that explosion you see on the video in Beirut was radioactive thousands of people would be exposed to radiation depending on which way the wind was blowing. The difference being that in a nuclear meltdown no huge explosion and shockwave would occur and no visible warning that radiation was coming toward you or was all around you be obvious to you. It is invisible and deadly.

The explosion in Beirut was small by comparison to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and miniscule by comparison to the modern nuclear weapons countries have today which if dropped on Beirut could easily kill 150,000 to 400,000 people instantly.  By comparison almost 160,000 people have died in the U.S. from Covid-19 but that took several months.

The connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons is clear. Nuclear reactors at nuclear energy facilities create the fuel for nuclear weapons. Recently countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have advanced their nuclear energy programs. We would argue those countries don’t need nuclear power for energy. The expansion of nuclear power brings with it the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation. If we want to say “never again” in regards to Hiroshima and Nagasaki we must address the dangers of existing and expanding nuclear energy.

The recent Illinois lobbying corruption scandal involving Exelon Corporation, its subsidiary Commonwealth Edison and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan demonstrate the extent to which nuclear “power” is about more than electrons. While the FBI arrests of the Ohio House Speaker and 5 others in a $60 million bribery/corruption scheme, the $10 billion Exelon nuclear bailout in New York, the questionable circumstances surrounding Exelon’s 2016 PepCo merger, and the South Carolina $9 billion SCANA fraud case suggest that this may be a national pandemic (summarized nicely in this New York Times piece , “When Utility Money Talks,” 8/2/20), the situation in Illinois with Exelon and its subsidiary ComEd has been long standing and particularly egregious.

For decades Exelon’s stranglehold on Illinois energy legislation in cooperation with the currently investigated Speaker Michael Madigan has not only given Illinois more reactors (14) and high-level radioactive waste (>11,000 tons) than any other state. It has severely stifled expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and hampered the Illinois’ energy transformation needed to deal with the worsening climate crisis.

For decades the Illinois environmental community has seen renewables expansion thwarted by the recognition that no significant renewable energy buildout could occur without concessions to either Exelon or ComEd, and Speaker Madigan’s approval. The most recent instance was the 2016 $2.35 billion bailout of three uncompetitive Exelon reactors.

This “nuclear blackmail” politics has forced enviros wanting to pass new legislation to expand renewables into a reluctant and grudging alliance with Exelon – at Exelon’s price of capacity market “reform” that would reward both renewables and ten of Exelon’s operating reactors. If passed in its presently proposed form, this provides yet another nuclear bailout under the disguise of “market-based reform.”

To ratchet up the pressure to enact this nuclear prop-up even more, Exelon CEO Chris Crane in Exelon’s 2Q quarterly earnings call with analysts once again dangles the prospect of closing up to 6 reactors if this market-based-bailout is not granted in 2021.

Under the current ongoing FBI corruption investigation, this reluctant alliance of necessity has turned disastrous, given the political toxicity of any current association with either ComEd or Exelon.

It is just and reasonable that ComEd (and the so-called “bad apples” who “retired” already) should be penalized and prosecuted for their misdeeds, even if they are reportedly “cooperative.” However, a $200 million “settlement” penalty for a $34 billion corporation that for decades has gouged billions from Illinois ratepayers through admittedly corrupt illegal practices is a slap on the wrist.

Further, the $200 million penalty agreement provides no restitution for the decades-long societal damage done via nuclear pay-for-play. Illinois rate payers deserve restitution from these and any predatory, corrupt companies that would engage in such activities. This may require explicit legislation. How can one logically or ethically assert that ill-gotten gains (e.g., the 2016 $2.35 billion nuclear bailout) are still “good for the public” when bribery and corruption were used to get them?

Last Fall, a spokesperson for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker stated, “The governor’s priority is to work with principled stakeholders on clean energy legislation that is above reproach.” Gov. Pritzker – your moment of truth has arrived.

We urge the Governor and the legislature to begin the restitution process by repealing the $2.3 billion 2016 nuclear bailout. Further, and as others like Crain’s Joe Cahill have suggested, Christopher Crane must step down completely from all functions at Exelon.

The legislature should also enact explicit utility ethics legislation with transparent oversight of utility contracting and philanthropic giving activities to insure that this kind of corrupt behavior is not repeated. And if Chris Crane’s threat of imminent reactor closure is true, then community just-transitions legislation to protect those negatively impacted communities should be a priority of the legislature. As NEIS has maintained and advocated since 2014 – it’s the reactor communities (and equally adversely affected coal mining and power plant communities) that need state support and bailouts when plants are threatened with closure, not profitable private corporations like Exelon.

Finally, we support the FBI’s continued investigation into the activities of Speaker Madigan, associates, and other legislators if necessary to ferret out the remaining political corruption that has abetted this corporate larceny. This is the only way to send a significant and lasting message that nuclear pay-for-play in Illinois is over.

[NOTE: If you are interested in using the above cartoon, please contact NEIS for conditions of use. Thanks in advance.]