In preparation for taking on the reactionary Trump environmental agenda, Greenpeace hosted a two day training on non-violent direct action (NVDA) in Chicago, Saturday and Sunday, July 1-2 – just in time for Independence Day. Many REAL patriots attended this event, including NEIS Board members Stephanie Bilenko and Kathleen Rude.

NEIS will engage in whatever activity it takes to create a carbon-free, nuclear-free world in opposition to the destructive and planet-threatening energy agenda of the Trump Administration.

To quote Julia Ward Howe: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.” You better believe that!

Pictured: NEIS Board member Kathleen Rude briefing attendees of Greenpeace NVDA training in Chicago, July 2.

ACTION ALERT!

If you believe in safe energy and a less-nuclear world, we ask you to take immediate action on two urgent issues described below.

Actions in Springfield  threaten to take away some of the hard-won renewable energy gains of the last year, as the proposed Gov. Rauner budget calls for “sweeping” dedicated renewable energy funds as part of his proposed budget balancing fix.

In Washington D.C. Rep. John Shimkus’ (R. IL-15) again proposes re-starting the flawed Yucca Mt. site in Nevada for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste (HLRW); and promote unnecessary private “centralized interim storage” (CIS) radwaste facilities in west Texas and southeastern New Mexico – over strong local objection.  While it’s tempting to want to get HLRW out of communities like Zion ASAP, prematurely sending it to flawed or unnecessary facilities like these is both dangerous and uneconomic; and increases the risks from transportation accidents in communities that have nothing to do with nuclear power and waste currently, while senselessly contaminating additional new sites around the nation that will ultimately have to be cleaned up.  This is simply dumb energy policy, designed to “unconstipate” the dying nuclear power industry at ratepayer and taxpayer expense.

 Please take these action steps listed below to oppose these dangerous and RE/EE-threatening plans.  You can find the “active links” for this Alert posted on the NEIS website homepage at www.neis.org

STOP THE RAUNER SWEEPS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY FUNDS:

This in from our friends and colleagues at the Illinois Environmental Council:

Governor Rauner has called state legislators into special session from June 21 to June 30 to address the state’s budget crisis.  The Governor has endorsed the Senate Republican budget plan that would “sweep” hundreds of millions of dollars from clean energy and conservation funds.

We need to oppose this newly introduced budget for several important reasons:

Clean Energy Programs Would Be Devastated.

Last December, legislators with the Governor’s support passed the Future Energy Jobs Act.  A critical piece of this law was the designation of approximately $185 million remaining in the state’s Renewable Energy Resources Fund (RERF) to be used for the Illinois Solar for All Program.  Legislators committed that the RERF dollars would be used to ensure that new solar development would occur in economically disadvantaged communities and a training pipeline would be set up to provide solar  jobs in these areas.  The Senate GOP proposal (SB 2217) would sweep every dollar from this program.  Incredibly, less than a year after creating the Illinois Solar for All Program, the legislature would take the RERF funds and end the program.

IEC and the organizations we represent understand that Illinois is facing a serious budget crisis and the legislature must move decisively to solve this problem.  However, a budget solution should be sustainable. Relying on one-time fund transfers is not sustainable and sets the state up for another year of deficit spending.  By using fund sweeps, the state would be “robbing Peter to pay Paul” – funding some programs by devastating others.

Take action here to ask legislators to pass a budget the protects the Future Energy Jobs Act and leaves special funds alone! ( to get the contact info for your state legislators, go to

http://www.elections.il.gov/districtlocator/addressfinder.aspx ).

STOP THE SHIMKUS HIGH-LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE CON-JOB

Contact your U.S. Representative ASAP! Oppose the Mobile Chernobyl U.S. House bill before the full House Energy & Commerce Committee

Last week, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), succeeded in rushing his “Screw Nevada” Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump legislation through the Environment and Economy Subcommittee he chairs.  Now the bill moves on to the full U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. Full committee markup is currently expected to take place Wed., June 28th.

If passed there, it would then move on to the full House floor for consideration. If ultimately passed into law, H.R.3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, would launch unprecedented thousands of truck, train, and/or barge shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel, through 45 states, bound for Nevada. These shipments would pass through the heart of many major cities. They would pass through 370 of the 435 congressional districts in the U.S.!

Each shipment represents a potential Mobile Chernobyl, Floating Fukushima, or Dirty Bomb on Wheels risk, whether due to severe accident or intentional attack. Even “routine” or “incident-free” shipments have been called “Mobile X-ray machines that can’t be turned off,” given the hazardous gamma radiation they would emit, and expose persons to, who get too close (as by living along the shipping route, getting stuck next to a shipment in traffic, etc.).

Please take action and contact your U.S. Representative via the Capitol Switchboard, (202) 225-3121, or look up your U.S. Representative’s direct office phone number, fax number, web form/email, and/or snail mail (enter your ZIP and click <GO> in upper right corner, then follow the links to your Representative’s website, and contact info. posted there). Urge your U.S. Representative to block this dangerous legislation, by voting against it and urging their U.S. House colleagues to do the same.

The bill would also expedite the opening of centralized interim storage sites for radioactive waste in Texas and/or New Mexico, multiplying Mobile Chernobyl risks. And Energy Secretary Rick Perry just dropped a bombshell proposal this week, at a U.S. House hearing, to also do interim storage at the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site, before ultimately burying the wastes at Yucca, all against the state’s will, without its consent. For more background information and actions, see our Yucca Mountain website section.

NEIS Director Dave Kraft (l.) receives award from Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps at ANA Days in Washington.

CHICAGO– Local nuclear expert David A. Kraft, Director of Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS) headquartered in Chicago, received a national award from the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) and Beyond Nuclear on May 23, 2017 on Capitol Hill. The ANA hosted a reception to honor leaders in the movement to stop unnecessary nuclear weapons research and production, clean up radioactive wastes and address the needs of those contaminated by nuclear facilities.

Kraft was awarded the Judith Johnsrud Unsung Hero Award “for nearly four decades of diligent dedication in the belly of the beast, and his good humored, visionary work for a nuclear-free world, demonstrating tireless determination despite daunting odds.”

Kraft co-founded Nuclear Energy Information Service in 1981, to provide the public with reliable information about nuclear power and radiation hazards, and energy alternatives to these risks. He has long served as director of Illinois’ nuclear power watchdog, in the state with more atomic reactors and commercial high-level radioactive waste, than any other.

The Unsung Hero award was named after Dr. Judith H. Johnsrud, a geographer who dedicated more than 50 years of her life to the opposition of nuclear power in all its phases and forms. Johnsrud, a founding board member of Beyond Nuclear, passed away in 2014.

Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear presented the Unsung Hero Award. “Dave’s sense of humor often shines through, as with Alms for Exelon street theater, complete with collection buckets,” said Kamps in his remarks. “NEIS worked long and hard to expose, and oppose, the largest U.S. nuclear utility, robbing its own ratepayers, gouging households and businesses for $2.35 billion on their electric bills, to keep several dangerously old, financially failing reactors operating another decade.

“Dave’s bridge building with the climate and environmental justice movements is an example to follow, as is his outreach to youth and diverse communities.”

The Unsung Hero Award highlights the vital role that Dave Kraft and NEIS continue to play in the arena of nuclear power and nuclear waste in the state, the region and the nation. NEIS is taking the lead on several keys issues facing Illinois and other states with nuclear power plants: proper decommissioning of aging power plants, fighting the bailouts of money-losing nuclear plants, just transitions for reactor communities that will be impacted by plant closures, and best practices for storage of spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive wastes that are being stored in reactor communities.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability is a network of three dozen groups working on issues of nuclear weapons production and radioactive waste cleanup. Scores of ANA activists traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in over 100 meetings with Trump Administration and Congressional leaders as part of the 29th annual “DC Days,” May 22 to 24, 2017.  Beyond Nuclear is a national nuclear industry watchdog group.

View the Award Presentation Video

 

It’s not nearly as much ironic as it is emphatic that on the same day Exelon Corporation announced that it might close the economically unviable Three Mile Island 1 reactor in Pennsylvania, SCANA is reported to have suggested that it might only complete one of two “next-generation” reactors it had proposed for South Carolina.  Add to that the recent Westinghouse (and by extension, Toshiba) bankruptcy and the message is clear: nuclear of the past can’t compete in the present, and apparently has no future either.  In short – the Nuclear Age is over.

But old bad habits die hard, especially when they are funded by somebody else’s pocketbooks, like, say, powerless ratepayers who have no choice.  And Exelon is not about to give up on its nuclear jones when there are plenty of ratepayers left to fleece.

Exelon is playing the same ‘nuclear hostage crisis’ game of, “Give us a bailout, or we’ll kill your local economy!” in Pennsylvania that they played in Illinois – and which they ironically opposed in Ohio when utility bailouts competed against Exelon’s corporate interests.  This nuclear extortion – dare we say ‘terrorism’? – game was successfully used in New York as well, and threatens to spread like some form of radioactive ebola to other states and their legislatures.

The threat of job and tax base loss to the reactor communities inspires local political leaders dependent on that largesse to lobby like crazy in state legislatures for nuclear bailouts – especially in election years, as we learned in Illinois.  And while these are legitimate concerns needing to be addressed, nuclear bailouts are not the answer.  There are other, more practical and economic ways to soften the blow of losing a “company town” employer and preserving a tax base that can support essential public services like schools and police/fire departments until local economies can rebound from the loss of an Exelon-sized employer.

One way is to establish “just transitions” funds for reactor (and we would suggest, coal) communities PRIOR to closures, threatened or real.  These would be escrowed funds set up that would become available only upon termination of a reactor operating license, to be used to preserve essential public services, and mitigate economic impacts through job re-training and attracting and establishing replacement business and industry.  The funding mechanisms are negotiable, and numerous; and would involve the utility, the community, and possibly the state.

The point is – the utility would no longer be in a position to put the economic gun to the puppy’s head to force the state legislatures to grant an unwise bailout.

But if bailouts are the “answer” (and if they are, what on earth was the question?), then be sure to bailout the right party.  It is the affected communities that need the bailout, not for-profit private corporations.  No state constitution requires the legislature to insure the profitability of private corporations; that’s why corporations have boards of directors.  The legislatures supposedly are to represent the interests of the people – like the ~4 million ratepayers in Illinois who are now forced to pay Exelon Corporation $230 million per year, for the next ten years, and get nothing back in return for this coerced ‘investment.’

In Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said he supported the Exelon bailout because, “closing the plants would have “devastated the two communities.” If he really and truly believed that, then he should have worked to bail out the potentially devastated communities, not the hugely profitable Exelon corporation.

In Illinois NEIS made this suggestion public in our testimony before the legislative energy committees, suggesting that Gov. Rauner provide funding for the Clinton and Quad Cities communities affected by Exelon’s closure plans, not profitable Exelon.  Instead Governor Rauner decided to increase the Exelon bailout period from the original six years to ten!

If one were to amortize the $2.35 billion Illinois electric rate hike bailout over the 1,500 direct jobs Exelon claims would be lost if it had closed the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear stations, Governor Rauner and Exelon are now forcing Illinois ratepayers to pay $1.57 million per job “saved.”  We could have bought these workers out cheaper, closed the reactors, and prevented the production of ~900 tons of high-level radioactive wastes over the next 10 years those uneconomic reactors will operate.

It is time to end the Exelon ‘nuclear hostage crisis.’  There are now plenty of blueprints available illustrating the folly of nuclear bailouts, and ways to avoid them.  Given the End of the Nuclear Age, one can only hope that Pennsylvania legislators will realize by now that it’s stupid energy policy to mortgage your energy future by bailing out the past.

“Carbon-Free/Nuclear-Free by 2040!” – or, we’re toast.

NEIS was honored to march with the national Veterans for Peace as part of their national conference in Chicago, Aug. 13th. The VFP theme was: “Education! NOT Militarization!” as VFP decried in insidious infiltration of all grade levels of U.S. schools by military recruiters and ROTC programs, while funding for basic education goes unmet.

NEIS Director Dave Kraft was asked to address the VFP crowd at the site of Chicago Vietnam Memorial.  He spoke on the connections between nuclear weapons and nuclear power, both historic and present, and called for the end of the Nuclear Age, a call which was enthusiastically received by the VFP marchers.  In a parting shot to the pro-nuclear Trump Administration (Trump Tower Chicago is right across the Chicago River from the Vietnam Memorial), Kraft energized the crowd by invoking the legendary fictional TV announcer Howard Beale, getting the crowd to its feet and shout towards Trump Tower, “We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take this anymore!”

 

Two absolutely brilliant statements about the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan are captured by Chicago media treasure CAN-TV on the 6th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. Ten NEIS supporters staged an event outside of the Japanese Consul Office in Chicago on March 11th. NEIS President Gail Snyder, and Professor Emeritus Dr. Norman Field gave impassioned statements urging greater efforts to stem the ongoing radioactive pollution of the Pacific Ocean. The safe-energy advocates collected postcards to be sent to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, urging that he and the Japanese government seek international help to stop the ongoing pollution.

Today’s Chicagoland press accounts of the arrest of two alleged ISIS supporters — Yusuf Abdulhaqq and Schimento – aka Abdul Wali – show the pair holding the ISIS flag while standing in front of the “Welcome” sign for Illinois Beach State Park in Zion.

What is perhaps most disturbing is what is NOT being reported about this incident:  that those dramatic photos were taken a ten minute walk south of the 1000+ tons of high-level radioactive wastes (HLRW) being stored at Exelon’s Zion Nuclear Power Station, currently undergoing decommissioning.  [See:  Google Maps]

These wastes are the accumulation of the entire lifetime output from the now-closed reactors.  They are currently being stored in what are called “dry-cask” canisters, and are extremely hazardous should they be released into the environment by “accident”, or terrorist intent.

Because the federal government  long ago reneged on its pledge to permanently dispose of these high-level radioactive wastes  in a deep geological disposal facility back in 1998, currently all such HLRW from every reactor in the nation is being stored onsite at those reactor sites, with no place to safely go.  This transforms communities with closed reactors into de facto high-level radioactive waste storage dumps.

Since 2002 the safe-energy and environmental community has advocated that these “orphaned” wastes be stored in much safer configurations, employing what is known as “hardened onsite storage” (HOSS).  This method would utilize the currently used “dry-cask” canisters, but in a much more robust configuration to minimize conceivable hazards.  Both the nuclear industry and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have repeatedly rejected this proposal as “too expensive.”  Our organization suggested this method be utilized at the decommissioned Zion reactor site; but again, this was rejected by Exelon and its contractor

Given that these wastes sit only a few hundred yards from the drinking water supply for 16 million people known as Lake Michigan, one can rightly ask – how much is the Lake worth, by comparison?

While it is tempting to urge for quickly moving such wastes out of Zion, the reality is that 1.) there is no place for the wastes to go; and 2.) placing 1,000 tons of high-level radioactive wastes on our crumbling roads and rails, and possibly our fresh waterways without first preparing and greatly improving that infrastructure would be more dangerous and irresponsible.  If these wastes represent a hazard sitting still at Zion, they represent an even greater hazard at 40-60 mph on our roads and rails, as the recent March 15th derailment of rail cars carrying molten sulfur in Lake Forest amply demonstrate.

NOTE: a March 9, 2017 report by The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Illinois  “D” and “D-“ rating for its roads and transit lines, respectively – and that’s higher than the national average!

Federal proposals to create “centralized interim storage” (CIS) sites around the country to take these orphaned wastes are equally problematic, since they would first require presently hazardous transportation of the wastes, and because they would create even more radioactively contaminated sites requiring clean-up at a future date when the federal government opens a final disposal facility.  At that point the wastes would have to be transported a second time to the disposal facility.  It is also not widely known that a June 2012 study from Oak Ridge National Lab indicates that Illinois would be the optimal location for the first of such CIS facilities.  The first such site would not likely be ready to accept wastes for the next 8 to 10 years; and given the demonstrated pace at which the federal government moves, might itself become a de facto permanent storage site indefinitely.

NOTE:  One estimate done for the Zion wastes alone at a CIS over a 40-year period shows it would cost between $153-$289 million.

So – what should be done now?  NEIS again recommends that,

1.) since the radioactive wastes represent a clear hazard, and

2.) there is no place to responsibly send the HLRW to, that

3.) local communities that have become de facto HLRW dumps are given maximum protection in the meantime by storing the HLRW in “hardened onsite storage” facilities onsite at the reactor sites, and

4.) that these communities receive compensation for the economic damage that being an unwilling de facto HLRW dump has done to their communities.  From there we can resurrect a responsible and science-based investigation to identify an appropriate final disposal facility.

Water IS Life: Stop Polluting the Pacific Ocean!

Today, we observe the 6th anniversary of the ongoing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan.  Six years after what is arguably the world’s worst nuclear disaster, one which was avoidable even under the extraordinary conditions of the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, Japan’s destroyed reactors continue to dump between 300-400 tons of water contaminated with radionuclides daily into the Pacific Ocean.  These radioactive discharges not only represent an immediate health threat to the local bio-systems, they have now been detected with certainty as far away as the U.S. Pacific West Coast.

After 6 years we have seen:

  • the failure of the ice wall containment to keep radioactive run-off water out of the Pacific Ocean;
  • the ever growing contaminated water tank farms;
  • confirmation of three complete core melts, with no idea how to clean them up;
  • government imposition of radiation standards on the general population of Japan, especially young school children most vulnerable to the effects of radiation, many times greater than those allowed for nuclear plant workers in Europe and North America;
  • accusations taken to the United Nations of human rights violations perpetrated against children and women in Japan from the contaminated areas;
  • corruption complaints against the numerous private contractors conducting the so-called cleanup efforts;
  • and finally, the daily flow of 400 tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean – the WORLD’S largest body of surface water.

In spite of Japan’s best efforts, it is clear that no substantive progress has been made, and no solution is in sight.  Fukushima is now a  WORLD catastrophe.  It requires a WORLD intervention.

In essence Japan’s inability to contain the ongoing Fukushima disaster constitutes a crime against humanity, one that will last far into the future.  It also demonstrates Japan’s inability to get the situation under control on its own, a situation which therefore calls for international intervention – voluntarily accepted or not; and/or sanctions from the world community whose health and future the continued contamination jeopardizes.

As we learned this past year at Oceti Sakowin (Standing Rock), “Water is Life;” and the Pacific Ocean is the WORLD’S water.  Japan must consider internationalization of the continued efforts to stop the Fukushima catastrophe.  We feel there is no choice remaining but to petition the United Nations to create an international intervention team to stop the ongoing contamination of the Pacific Ocean, and of Japan.

EVENING PROGRAM

Short films and discussion about the Fukushima disaster will take place at the NEIS Office in the evening of march 10th: 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.,  3411 W. Diversey, Ste. 13, Chicago IL  60647.  This is in Logan Square, Chicago, at Kimball, Milwaukee and Diversey Aves., at the Logan Square Blue Line “L” stop.  Open to the public.  Admission free.

 

Read more

Letter to the Editors     

The “nuclear hostage crisis” is finally over.  Governor Rauner and the Illinois Legislature has ordered all Illinois ratepayers to pay the $2.35 billion ransom to Exelon Corporation over the next ten years, ostensibly to save the ~1,500 jobs at the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear reactors.  That amounts to $1.57 million for each job “saved.”  Heckuva job, Raunie!

But this threat of job loss has only been postponed not eliminated.  Every operating reactor has an inevitable ending hanging over it known as its operating license termination date – the date beyond which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says, “Game over, lights out!”  That date is publicly available, and was known in advance for Clinton and Quad, and for all other Illinois reactors – meaning that every reactor community in Illinois will at some point be going through the same psychodrama that unfolded around Clinton and Quad Cities recently.

Make no mistake – the impact of Exelon’s closure threats were real, needed to be taken seriously, and would have been hugely painful to those communities.  Loss of jobs, reduced tax base and reduction of public services are all very real effects experienced by the Zion community when ComEd closed those reactors in 1998, effects from which it still has not recovered, according to Mayor Al Hill.

Responsible governance calls for this never happening again.  Responsible governance calls for pro-active plans to insure that workers are protected, and local tax bases are not decimated overnight by legally allowed corporate caprice.  Illinois needs a “reactor exit strategy” in place BEFORE the next nuclear hostage crisis occurs.

Gov. Rauner said he supported the Exelon bailout because, “closing the plants would have “devastated the two communities.”  If he really and truly believes that, then he should have worked to bail out the potentially devastated communities, not the hugely profitable Exelon corporation.

For over 2 years our organization argued that the State must insist that a “just transitions” program be instituted to protect reactor (and perhaps coal) communities from the withdrawal of “company town” utilities like Exelon.  Absent such a proactive plan, this “bailout tango” will be repeated in the future when Byron, LaSalle, Dresden and Braidwood start to become “unprofitable” for Exelon.

We spelled out potential funding mechanisms, which are eminently negotiable. We left copies of this plan at the offices of over 40 legislators and state officials, including Governor Rauner’s office, Rep. Madigan’s office, Sen. Cullerton’s office, the AG’s office, and numerous individual legislators including Sen. Radogno, the Clean Jobs Bill sponsors, and others.  We personally gave copies to Sen. Chapin Rose who represents the Clinton community, and representatives from the Quad Cities chamber of commerce and City Administrator of Clinton.  We made it part of our testimony before the House and Senate Energy Committees.  We urged that it become a topic of discussion and negotiation in the recently enacted legislation.

No luck.

Evidently. legislators love 6-hour public hearings, and annual bailout proceedings.  It’s much easier to pass the bills along to disempowered ratepayers than to engage in responsible governance.

Already, Exelon has announced to Bloomberg Press that it’s possible that the Byron nuclear station could become economically challenged as early as 2017.  We asked legislators during the House Energy Committee hearing on the Exelon bailout if they will convene more six hour hearings to debate more bailouts when Dresden becomes challenged, or Braidwood, or LaSalle.  Then, they can start with the coal communities.  Or alternately, they can plan ahead for the inevitable.

Now that Exelon has received its pound of flesh, the public needs protection.  The Spring legislative session would not be too soon to enact a “just transitions” provision that protects both communities affected by powerplant closures, and Illinois ratepayers now forced to pay ransom to delay them.

But then, that would require governance.  And this is Illinois.

 

Published Version

NOTE: A version of this letter appeared in the State Journal Register, Dec. 13, 2016

Star Journal Register

 

An old Mark Twain adage states that a falsehood gets half-way around the world before Truth gets its boots on.  Its wisdom and accuracy is thoroughly proven – by the fact that Mark Twain was probably not the one who said this.

The wisdom of the adage has again been amply demonstrated by recent articles written by pro-nuclear advocates calling for the bailout of money-losing nuclear plants based on the dubious contention that they are needed to combat climate change. 

While this contention is flat out wrong, it does prove yet another adage:  “Never send in an engineer when you need an economist.”

The recent guest letter in the Cleveland.com/Cleveland Plain Dealer by Henry Spitz, a professor in nuclear and radiological engineering at the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science [1] has made claims that are contestable at best, flat out wrong at worst concerning both the need to bail out failing nuclear plants to combat climate change, and that recent events in Illinois and New York demonstrate that environmentalists and legislatures are somehow endorsing this position. Upton Sinclair warnings aside, his interpretation of events is quite erroneous.

In the case of the Illinois example he cites, he claims, “Illinois recognized the value of nuclear power to meeting its clean energy goals by adopting a zero emission standard.” [1]  This glib pronouncement totally ignores the complex and often irrational political process that created that outcome.

Exelon Corporation originally created a “nuclear hostage” crisis in Illinois by using the threat of job loss to try to get the legislature to pass a multi-billion dollar nuclear bailout during election years; and the fig-leaf, after the fact “benefit” that nuclear plants were necessary to meet the state’s anticipated EPA carbon footprint reduction goals.  Over several years the Company’s political strategy rationales for the nuclear bailout changed in substance and frequency as much as did the explanations for why we invaded Iraq back in 2003.  In the end Exelon’s final motive was reported in Crain’s Chicago Business on Nov. 11, 2016 [2]:

“Exelon now has dubbed the legislation, which still hasn’t been introduced officially, as the Future Energy Jobs Bill. That underscores the company’s emphasis on preserving and creating jobs rather than the environmental benefits of keeping nuclear plants open.

The bill “was not driven by the Clean Power Plan, although it had meeting those goals as an added benefit,” Exelon said in a statement. “This bill is about economics—both for Illinois consumers and for the state’s future prospects for economic development.” [2]

This telling statement was made after Exelon attempted to make alliances with downstate coal companies to get the votes needed for passage of the nuclear bailout bill, which would have resulted in some coal plants getting bailouts as well.  This gambit failed when environmental groups withdrew their support for the Exelon legislation.  So much for nuclear utility Exelon’s fig-leaf commitment to abating climate change through nuclear power.

Professor Spitz continues saying, “The Illinois measure also strengthened and expanded the state’s renewable portfolio standard, requiring greater use of solar power and wind turbines, and it expanded energy efficiency programs.” [1]

What Prof. Spitz either ignores or is unaware of is that the “strengthen[ing] and expand[ing of] the state’s renewable portfolio standard” had been held hostage for several years, and its passage was not some energy alleluia moment; but rather a political trade-off predicated on the passage of some form of nuclear bailout first.  This was the only way Exelon lobbyists would permit fixing Illinois’ broken renewable portfolio standard. Legislative leadership ordered the competing parties – Exelon, environmental groups, utility ComEd — to negotiate among themselves, and come back with legislative sausage where everybody got something, whether or not deserved or sound energy policy.

In plain English – environmental groups would get no such renewables expansion unless they first agreed to a nuclear bailout.  There are legal terms that define such conditions.  None are particularly flattering.

Prof. Spitz and others go further in their efforts to rationalize the continued existence of uneconomic nuclear reactors by claiming – quite falsely – that “environmentalists” are backing such plans.  Professor Spitz asserts,

“What’s so striking about the Illinois action is that environmentalists joined labor and business leaders in backing it. Among the environmental groups that signed on were the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund. Something like that would have been unimaginable five years ago but it suggests that the environmental community now recognizes that nuclear power must play a role in the battle against climate change.” [1]

As a self-described scientist, Professor Spitz should understand that, just as correlation does not imply causality, coincidence does not necessarily equal agreement.

Many instances of this blatant distortion of reality have occurred over the past year, most notably involving an attempt by the Wall Street Journal  to push that angle back in late June, 2016 [3].  This assertion was quickly rebutted by clarifying statements from Sierra Club director Michael Brune and others, and in a spectacularly devastating article by Miranda Spencer of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting [4] at the time:

“Sierra Club remains opposed to dangerous nuclear power, and our efforts to make sure these plants shut down continue. Our successful work to stop and retire coal, oil, and gas operations has not precluded this important work, nor will it in the future. It’s imperative that we move toward an economy powered by 100% clean, renewable energy like wind and solar right away.” [5]  — Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, June 17, 2016

But, let’s see what “the environmentalists” in Illinois said about the nuclear bailout legislation Professor Spitz gushes over.  Was it really a recognition that nuclear has a role to play in battling climate change?  Illinois Sierra Club director Jack Darin apparently did not think so – and neither did many other environmental groups — at the bill-signing on December 7, 2016:

“These are huge leaps forward for clean energy, but the Future Energy Jobs Bill was also a compromise that includes ratepayer support for two nuclear power plants. To be clear, the Sierra Club remains opposed to nuclear power, and we do not consider nuclear to be clean energy.  While we fought for our clean energy priorities, we strongly opposed Exelon’s proposed “Low Carbon Portfolio Standard,” which would have subsidized all of Exelon’s six nuclear reactors, to the exclusion of renewable power. We defeated that proposal, and championed the Illinois Clean Jobs bill as a much better alternative. However, after nearly two years, legislative leaders and the Governor convened all stakeholders with the directive to agree on a single, comprehensive energy proposal. We fought and won to make renewable energy and energy efficiency the cornerstones of the compromise legislation, and of Illinois’ energy future.” [6] – Jack Darin, Director, Illinois Sierra Club, Dec. 7, 2016

This is hardly the ringing endorsement of nuclear’s roles in combating climate change that Prof. Spitz and others assert.

When you buy into nuclear power, it really is a lot like buying a burrito – you have to take everything they stuff inside it, and can’t cherry pick the contents after the fact.  You have to take the radioactive wastes, the Fukushima’s and Chornobyl’s, the perpetual cost overruns, the counterfeit and substandard parts, and above all – the multi-billion dollar bailouts of economically failing reactors, along with the, um, oh yeah, less-carbon intensive electricity.  But that’s not how nuclear is sold by its supporters, which tend to glibly gloss over, distort, or ignore these downsides, and more often than not seem to possess the Alfred E. Newman attitude of, “What – me worry?”

These nuclear wealth-transfer schemes (from public ratepayer wallets to private company shareholder portfolios) mortgage our energy future by bailing out the past.  Ask any blacksmith or clipper ship sail manufacturer you meet how far that will get you.

If nuclear proponents can so egregiously misinterpret an outcome, whether by ignorance of readily available and necessary facts or by deliberately cherry-picking the data to arrive at a self-aggrandizing outcome, then perhaps the public’s mistrust of nuclear power has not been so misplaced after all.  If that’s how they do their science and engineering, we’re all in big trouble.

 

SOURCES:
[1]  “Save Ohio’s two nuclear plants and continue their contributions to clean energy: Henry Spitz (Opinion),“ Cleveland.com and Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jan 16, 2017.  http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/01/save_nuclear_power_in_ohio_and.html

[2] “Trump election takes some air out of Exelon’s Illinois energy bill,” Crain’s Chicago Business, November 11, 2016

[3] “Environmental Groups Change Tune on Nuclear Power,” Amy Harder, Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2016.

[4]  “WSJ Fakes a Green Shift Toward Nuclear Power,” Miranda Spencer, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), June 24, 2016.

[5] Sierra Club Statement on Nuclear Power Plants, June 17, 2016,  http://content.sierraclub.org/press-releases/2016/06/sierra-club-statement-nuclear-power-plants

[6] Illinois Sierra Club press statement, Dec. 7, 2016, http://content.sierraclub.org/press-releases/2016/12/sierra-club-statement-signing-future-energy-jobs-bill