The nuclear industry’s game plan to take your money and keep reactors operating

Exelon again threatens to close its aging, uneconomic, Fukushima-clone Quad Cities reactors--a threat that would be better as a promise.

Exelon again threatens to close its aging, uneconomic, Fukushima-clone Quad Cities reactors–a threat that would be better as a promise.

With the failure of last decade’s nuclear “renaissance” leading to dismal prospects for expansion, and rising operating costs–including modest and insufficient post-Fukushima improvements–making a large number of existing reactors uneconomic in the deregulated marketplace, the nuclear power industry over the past couple of years has focused on its sheer survival. This means bailouts in one form or another.

This isn’t a surprise to regular readers of GreenWorld, as we’ve chronicled the increasingly desperate efforts by utilities like Exelon and FirstEnergy to obtain taxpayer and/or ratepayer bailouts of aging, dangerous and uneconomic reactors like Quad Cities and Davis-Besse.

Typically, the utilities threaten to close reactors if they don’t get what they want, which could lead to job losses and drops in tax revenues. In reality, state legislators and regulators should look at these threats as opportunities. Rather than something to be feared, reactor shutdowns can and should lead to cleaner, cheaper renewable energy; less exposure to risks like nuclear meltdown and radioactive waste issues; and–with good planning–job training and assistance programs in the clean energy field that could lead to more, not less, employment and higher tax revenues in the long run.

But a lot of state legislators, probably the vast majority, are not well-versed in energy issues, and are susceptible to such threats–although that may be beginning to change. Exelon, for example, is back at it this week, looking for new bailouts from an increasingly skeptical Illinois legislature.

Exelon appears to be using the same approach that didn’t work for it last year, but you can be assured that if it doesn’t work this time, the company will be back with a different approach. And then another. And then another. Until it either gets what it wants or is forced to actually carry out its threats.

Because it turns out that there are a surprisingly large number of ways to bail out existing reactors (and to encourage construction of new reactors), and the people at the American Nuclear Society (ANS) have been working overtime to develop strategies and tactics and new ways to enable the industry to survive despite the overwhelming trends that say it’s time for it to go, one dangerous, uneconomic reactor after another.

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess at what the large number of these new strategies and tactics are, because the ANS has helpfully laid it out for all to see in Nuclear in the States Toolkit Version 1.0,  which consists of 40 pages of ways for nuclear utilities to take your money and keep nuclear reactors operating at any cost.

From using the Clean Power Plan to support existing reactors, to setting up “low-carbon” energy portfolios to override increasingly effective Renewable Energy Standards to encouraging utility mergers (Exelon/Pepco anyone?) to keep reactors operating, it’s all here. And the publication doesn’t just provide policy options, it includes brief case studies of how some are working now, or could be working, along with tactical advice to utilities about how to frame their messages to support the policies. Some of these are obvious and come as no big shock; others may well be surprising and indicate the depths of the industry’s desperation. Nuclear power is not only dirty energy, but the nuclear industry plays dirty too.

Here is just one sample of the Toolbox text, which remarkably suggests using the TARP bank bailout program as a precedent for a federal bailout of failing nuclear reactors:

*State entities could be formed (or used if already formed) to purchase or acquire an economically-threatened nuclear power plant. The New York Power Authority is an example.
*Federal entities could also be used for this. TVA and Bonneville Power Authority are existing entities.
*A buyer that is not a nuclear operator could retain an experienced operator (perhaps the current operator) under contract.
*A new federal entity could be formed specifically to own economically threatened merchant nuclear power plants that might retire early. TARP is an example.

In short, this is must reading for any activist working to close nuclear reactors, prevent rate and/or tax increases to prop up the nuclear industry, and encourage more renewable energy and energy efficiency. In other words, all of us working to build a clean energy future.

In the end, it’s all about money. The nuclear utilities increasingly can’t generate enough money from their electricity generation, so they want to find new ways to take your money. This is their handy guide for how to put their hands further into your pockets–and if that leads to less clean energy in the process, all the better for them.

Know your enemy. Be prepared. Read the ANS Toolkit.

Michael  Mariotte

March 17, 2016


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7 thoughts on “The nuclear industry’s game plan to take your money and keep reactors operating

  1. Don Richardson, M.D. (boards in Nuclear Medicine)

    Nuclear power in all its forms is DEAD. What remains is a pathetic effort by the industry to keep their cash cow making milk. Renewable energies are ALREADY taking hold; we may yet survive as a species.

  2. Turd Ferguson

    Me thinks antinuclear activists are squirming over the fact that new nuclear is inevitable. In the Carolinas, where Mariotte has retired, nuclear will grow primarily because the population is growing fastest. And where there is a lot of people, there is a lot of electricity demand. Antinukes think the Toolkit is a road map for nuclear. The road map is really the increased demand for electricity. Is Marriotte’s new house, bought and paid for by NIRS, totally off the grid or reliant on Duke Energy. Irony of ironies. The next generation of nuclear will take hold. That which doesn’t kill it makes it stronger. It is a clean energy source and a hope for a battered planet from 40 years of fossil burning. Count on it.

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      Actually, I live in Maryland, where my wife and I bought a house with our own money. And I’m not retired. The rest of your comment is as far removed from reality as your characterization of my life. Michael Mariotte

    2. Peter Sipp

      In reply to Turd Ferguson,

      As for N. Carolina, where I live, Duke is proposing a couple of gas fired powerhouses. Duke is wise enough to avoid the atomic types. In S. Carolina, the utility there is practically begging for help in funding their waaay expensive little nukies there.
      Re: ” The next generation of nuclear will take hold”, Umm, sounds like you are already captured by them.
      Re: “It is a clean energy source and a hope for a battered planet planet from 40 years of fossil fuel burning” This means that we started using fossil fuel in 1976???
      Nuclear energy starts with the removal of Uranium from rocks, This makes one H**L of a mess. During running a nuke makes Plutonium. A huge proliferation problem. Also the radiation makes tons of irradiated metals. Got a solution for this??? At the end is all the hazardous wastes made. Want some on your property?
      Count on reality taking hold.

  3. Pingback: The Astronomical Cost of New Subsidies for Old Reactors: $280 Billion. | GreenWorld

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