David Kraft, Director, Nuclear Energy Information Service

July 15, 2021

Nuclear bailouts represent the government’s way of turning people into utility ATM machines.  At the state level, that would be ratepayers.  At the federal level, that would be the U.S. taxpayers.  It’s always easier to spend somebody else’s money, especially when trying to score political points with voters and donors.

Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the states of Illinois and Ohio, characterized by not only outrageous nuclear bailouts imposed on ratepayers, but also horrendous amounts of political corruption essential and intrinsic to sealing the deals. Read more

Illinois Legislators should oppose Exelon’s current $700 million nuclear ransom demand.  You can’t build an energy future by bailing out the past.

Recent revelations [1] that Exelon’s business partner EDF is curbing its enthusiasm for the creation of Exelon’s spin-off company “SpinCo” should warn Illinois legislators about the danger of granting the recently proposed nuclear bailout [4].

Earlier this year Exelon announced it would be splitting off and segregating its money-losing, unprofitable nuclear reactors into a separate entity called “SpinCo.” Read more




Everything in its own time.  Or so the old saying goes.  The Illinois Legislature demonstrated that old maxim once again by failing to vote before the end of Spring session on a critical piece of energy legislation designed to create Illinois’ energy future.

The Planet has its own schedule, too.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) frantically warned in October 2018 that we humans have at best 10 years left – until 2028 – to totally revamp our energy and economic systems, or risk an irreversible climate crisis that could threaten the very functioning of civilization as we have come to know it.  In this regard it’s important to recall another old maxim:  Nature bats last.

Like the grasshoppers in Aesop’s Fable, we, the Governor, and the Legislature ignore this imminent peril, and instead, content ourselves to “Count the victories,” as House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, advised yesterday as the clock stroked midnight.  Well, looks like it will now be easier to get to-go cocktails.  Come 2029 and beyond, we will need them, and much more. Read more

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The last phase of Exelon’s “Nuclear Hostage Crisis” is playing out in the final legislative negotiations over a comprehensive state energy future.  Once again Exelon and its labor allies are the tail attempting to wag the dog by pushing for unrealistic nuclear bailouts as ransom for a clean energy future.

STOP Exelon’s “Nuclear Hostage Crisis”

Exelon’s 11th-hour intransigence comes after months of intense, painstaking negotiations among numerous interests to craft a comprehensive energy bill that sought to expand renewable energy, protect communities and workers adversely affected by plant closures, expand job and business equity and just-transitions, and address the climate crisis.

This last-minute impasse cause by Exelon and its labor allies threaten all of those goals. Read more

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.]


When he was 11, my stepson taught me one of the most valuable Life-lessons I’ve learned when he said, “You know Dave, man isn’t a “rational” animal.  He’s a “rationalizing” one!”

Truer words have never been spoken when examining the nonsense rationalizations being paraded around by execs of unprofitable electric utilities and their governmental handmaidens for bailing out unprofitable nuclear and coal plants that the market-based system utility lobbyists introduced years ago would otherwise see closed.

A “rationalization” is usually a specious excuse or explanation offered to cover up a serious flaw or failure.  In some cases – like state-mandated nuclear and coal plant bailouts — a legalized fig-leaf, if you will.

Virtually every bailout rationalization offered to date by the Exelons and Dynegys, Trumps and Perrys of the world fall flat on their face when analyzed in detail by the majority of professional agencies and staffs employed to make the crucial, day-to-day decisions that keep the electric grid functioning.  National security, grid resilience, onsite fuel reserves – all such claims have been handily debunked by the experts, historical evidence, or both.

Now Exelon informs the world that its Dresden and Byron reactors are now in “financial distress.”  How sad.  So are Illinois ratepayers after the last $2.4 billion bailout Governor Rauner and Speaker Michael Madigan awarded them in 2016.

Exelon claims “… the company will not at any point seek subsidies from Illinois ratepayers to keep Dresden and Byron open…”.  But that’s what Exelon management said in 2014 about the then five reactors they said were in “financial distress,” too.  This time, they instead are relying on the twisted illogic trying to pass as public policy they hope will come from a Trump Administration Soviet-style protectionist mandate; or twisty balloon-dog machinations they hope regional system operator PJM will invent to facilitate the next wealth transfer from ratepayers to shareholders.

In 2014 our organization brought two propositions to the bailout negotiations that went ignored, and are being ignored today:  1.) nowhere in the State Constitution is the Legislature obligated to guarantee the profitability of a private corporation; and 2.) it is the communities whose jobs and economies are threatened by reactor and coal plant closures that need the bailing out, not profitable private corporations.

We recommended institution of a “just transitions” negotiation among affected parties as an alternative to repeated nuclear hostage crises, to create an economic transition plan for closures before they become imminent crises.  We provided testimony to this effect to both the Senate and House energy committees; and spoke with over 40 state elected and appointed officials prior to the bailout.  We again proposed this concept in a State Journal Register op-ed published in December 2016 after Governor Rauner signed Exelon’s bailout into law.

It is long past time to institute this pro-active approach to protecting affected communities and ratepayers.  Economic blackmail is a poor way to conduct energy policy; and legalized extortion no valid substitute for real market-based solutions.

The utility bailout mania triggered by Exelon has swept the nation like some form of energy-HIV.  Empty, fig-leaf rationalizations created to provide some pretense of legality makes a mockery of the agencies and regulations already in place which seem to be doing the grid reliability job quite well, thank you.

Harsh economic realities will soon begin to force legislatures and Congress to embrace one obvious conclusion:  you cannot create an energy future by bailing out the past.



Who would have thought that the Nuclear Age would end, not with a bang (mercifully) or a whimper, but with the sucking sound of $9 billion being legally siphoned out of the wallets of South Carolinaratepayers with the announced closure of the VC Summer nuclear plant project? [1] A little further south in Georgia, estimates to complete the overbudget and 4-year late Vogtle nuclear reactor project have soared from the 2007 Georgia Power company estimateof $14 billion to a whopping $29 billion [2] Ratepayers are on the hook in advance for those construction costs too, whether the plant gets finished or not.

The ratepayers in Florida got off easy:  They only have to pay $1+ billion for the canceled Duke Power Levy reactors which will never give them any electricity.  The final cost estimate for these unneeded and uneconomic reactors exceeded $25 billion. [3]

And through all this the company slated to build many of these reactors – Westinghouse – went bankrupt, bringing down its parent company – Japanese giant Toshiba – in the process.  Apparently its state-of-the art AP1000 reactor design was a bit more complicated and expensive to build than expected.

Why relate these economic horror stories?  Because in spite of them, well-intentioned (or not) public officials are still going around the country advocating for the construction of new nuclear power plants and the bailout of old ones at a time when cheap natural gas and growing-ever-cheaper renewables are leading the way to a global energy transformation – a transformation which renders continued use of nuclear power as anachronistic as advocating for clipper ships and Conestoga wagons.

That humans are not rational creatures, but rather “rationalizing” ones is continuously validated by the excuses given by nuclear cheerleaders to continue the nuclear boondoggle.  Take for example those offered recently in an editorial [4] by Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R.-IL16; who also happens to have 8 operating reactors in district, and has received $87,982 in campaign contributions from Exelon Corporation since 2010). Nuclear:

  • “provide(s) …energy…without carbon emissions.” RESPONSE: so do wind and solar, and without producing nuclear wastes or threat of catastrophic accidents.
  • “provid(es) thousands of good paying jobs, and millions of dollars in property taxes…” RESPONSE: the Illinois renewable energy and efficiency sectors combined provide nearly 4-1/2 times as many direct jobs as do nuclear plants.  Those industries pay taxes, too.
  • “supplies close to 20% of [U.S.] electricity…” RESPONSE: according to the Energy Information Agency, renewables have produced more electricity than nuclear since the beginning of 2017; and are growing in capacity, while nuclear capacity is shrinking.
  • “reactors… are suffering economically because of…subsidies to wind power.” RESPONSE: A 2012 study done by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified over 30 forms of subsidy or economic advantage granted to nuclear power.  If we’re going to discontinue subsidizing energy sources and enhance true competition, let’s get rid of all of the subsidies for all of the energy sources .

Wisely, the Congressman did not refer to nuclear power as “clean,” as so many other nuclear cheerleaders glibly do.  Perhaps he realizes that an energy resource that has generated over 75,000 tons of high-level radioactive wastes – some of the most deadly substances ever produced by humankind – with no place to dispose of them responsibly is not really so “clean” after all.  Over $30 billion have been collected for HLRW disposal, and not a single gram has been disposed of yet.  The tens-of-millions of cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes should also be kept in mind – and out of the environment.

How is it that such nuclear economic follies are allowed to persist?  Robert Trigaux, the business writer for the Tampa Bay Times commenting on the V.C. Summer fiasco sums it up [3] succinctly:

“Billions upon billions spent for essentially nothing. [fill in your state] ratepayers likely to get stiffed for the flood of red ink. Regulators failing to be tough overseers. Captive state legislators too eager to bow to rich power companies…

 “None of these projects would have seen the light of day if state laws had not been enacted to shift the financial risk of grotesquely expensive nuclear plants from power company shareholders and dumped it all on hapless ratepayers.”

Given the $2.4 billion nuclear bailout that the Illinois Legislature and Governor Rauner recently lavished on Exelon Corporation to prop up 4 money-losing Illinois reactors, it seems like Trigaux’s message could have been written for Illinois, too.  Worse, Steve Cicala, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, predicts, “They’ll find themselves in the same situation all over again once the subsidies have expired.” [5]

To paraphrase former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Peter Bradford, just like we don’t fight world hunger with caviar, no matter how nutritious fish eggs might be, we won’t be meeting our future energy needs using exotic and over-expensive sources like nuclear power.  The Nuclear Age is over; the Age of Decommissioning is beginning.

In short, the fate of nuclear power has been decided; it’s now truly “blowin’ in the wind.”

[1]  “Billions lost in nuclear power projects, with more bills due,” Associated Press, Aug. 5, 2017.

 [2]  “Group says Georgia nuclear plant costs rise to $29 billion,” by Tom Hals, Reuters

Business News, June 15, 2017.

[3]  “Blind to runaway costs, nuclear power industry abandons another nuke plant,” Robert Trigaux, Tampa Bay Times Business Columnist, 08/02/17.

[4]  “Kinzinger: Why nuclear energy is the future in Illinois and globally, “ U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Chicago Sun-Times,  Aug. 5, 2017.

[5]   “U of Chicago professor: IL Zero Emissions Credit Exelon bailout ‘short-sighted,’ despite challenge dismissal,”  by Kacie Whaley,  Cook County Record,   Aug. 7, 2017.