By John LaForge
You have to hand it to the nuclear industry. Only military contractors are better at socializing costs and privatizing profits.
Last year, lobbyists for dirty reactor operators won massive public subsidies or bailouts in New York State and in Illinois that will keep decrepit, retirement-age reactors from shutting down. The 35-plus year old units are leaking Instead of turning off the rattle traps, and making money on reactor decommissioning — and investing public funds in renewable energy jobs — taxpayer and electric rate-payer handouts in just the two states will total $10 billion over 12 years. Remember Reagan’s “welfare queens buying steak with food stamps”? These guys are welfare demigods, buying whole state legislatures with the padding in your monthly electric bill.
In New York, the FitzPatrick reactor — owned by Entergy Corp. — and Nine Mile Point — owned by Exelon — join the Gena reactor in raking in rate-payer bill increases that will keep the failed units spewing routine “allowable” radioactive emissions to the air and water for the indefinite future.
Tim Knauss, reporting for the Syracuse Post-Standard March 3 wrote, “The once money-losing nuclear plants are now expected to add millions to the profits of parent company Exelon Corp. Exelon owns Nine Mile Point and Ginna, and expects to complete the purchase of FitzPatrick from Entergy Corp. this spring.”
In Illinois, the Clinton and Quad Cities reactors will be saved from the axe by a December 2016 copy-cat bailout engineered by Exelon Corp. Like clockwork, Exelon told investors in February that its “cash flow and profit outlook have improved thanks to the New York nuclear subsidies and a similar program adopted in Illinois,” Knaus reported.
With monthly electric bills for Jane and John Doe going up $1 to $3, the individual bite seems small. But the windfall for the dividend-earning class is considerable. A single large power reactor can draw $1 million every month in profit for the shareholders.
It gets worse. Reuters reported that the nuclear “industry hopes that if New York succeeds, it could pressure other states to adopt similar subsides” for the reactor-owning class. The Reuters headline was: “New York could show the way to rescue US nuclear plants.” The industry has its sights set on the Trump administration and wants to take the subsidies nationwide, according to Tim Judson, Director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), a nonprofit nuclear watchdog group in Maryland.
NIRS published a report last November projecting the bailouts’ national implications, and Judson reported April 4 that “The costs could be huge. If nuclear subsidies go nationwide, it could cost $130-$280 billion by 2030.” Legislation is now pending: in Connecticut, for Millstone reactors 2 & 3; in New Jersey, for reactors Salem 1 & 2, and Hope Creek; in Texas, for South Texas 1 & 2, and Comanche Peak 1 & 2; in Maryland, for Calvert Cliffs 1 & 2; in Ohio, for the Perry reactor and Davis Besse; and in Pennsylvania, for nine reactors including Beaver Valley 1 & 2, Three Mile Island 1, Susquehanna 1 & 2, Limerick 1 & 2, and Peach Bottom 2 & 3.
Buddy Can You Spare a Billion Dollars?
On the other end of the nuclear reactor biz, construction delays and cost overruns have bankrupted Westinghouse Electric, a firm the New York Times called “a once-proud name that in years past symbolized America’s supremacy in nuclear power.” David Shipley, writing for Bloomberg News said April 4, “Last week’s bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric Co. is yet more evidence, if anyone needed any, that the economics of nuclear power are not good… nuclear energy can’t compete against cheap natural gas and ever-cheaper renewables.”
Someone should have told Toshiba (Westinghouse’s owner) which has lost something like $6 billion trying to build two new reactors in Waynesboro, Georgia, and two more in South Carolina. The Vogtle reactors in Georgia were peddled to state regulators and the public with the claim that they would cost $14 billion; no bargain at all, considering the plummeting cost of solar, wind and the “negawatts” freed up with conservation and efficiency. Now, with Vogtle three years off schedule, and Westinghouse flattened under a mountain of law suits, one utility expert testified the actual total will be over $21 billion. “Too cheap to meter” has become “Too pricey to fathom.” On March 30, Toshima said Westinghouse had total debt of $9.8 billion.
“Vogtle is a colossal boondoggle,” Arnold Gundersen, Chief Nuclear Engineer with Fairewinds Energy Education, told the Atlanta Progressive News. “Georgia Power is using a brand new design for the reactors [the so-called AP1000] raising questions about the company’s claims that this design is expected to work flawlessly for 60 years,” the APN reported. “No reactor has ever lasted more than 48 years,” Gundersen told APN.
Judson at NIRS says, “It’s imperative that environmental, consumer, and clean energy advocates get active — both to stop these bailouts from coming to more states and to make sure [Trump] doesn’t rubber-stamp a massive national reactor bailout, like utility commissions did in the 1990s. … We cannot afford to let that happen again.”