Category Archives: Inside Washington

Michael Mariotte: Counterweight to Nuclear Energy (1952 – 2016)

Let us be clear: without Michael Mariotte’s decision in the mid 1980’s to devote his talents to stopping the nuclear industry, many things would be very different today. Michael could not do what he did without Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), and the many thousands of people who work with NIRS could not have produced the results they did without Michael at the helm. This is one telling of this story.

Dispassionate passion: The smartest one in almost any room… but never resting on his own analysis; always digging, asking the next question, checking the facts. Michael Mariotte was a journalist and an organizer and at bottom it was these talents that made his leadership of the civilian end of the US anti-nuclear community so deft. Michael’s dispassion was sometimes misunderstood as indifference, but he was standing back, watching as the pieces of a puzzle would come together. Michael’s ability to zero-in with the precision of a hawk on the pressure point that could lead to change, and then write the words that would mobilize thousands onto a path of action created much of the passion in our community that has resulted in so many victories over the last thirty years. (See Victories below.)

Michael’s dedication to evidence and documentation provided credible, reliable information and analysis from routine reporting to hardcore litigation. He fully supported and sometimes led nonviolent direct action.

Writing: Michael’s 31+ year tenure at NIRS is characterized by dedicated writing. He joined NIRS in February 1985 to write and edit Groundswell, NIRS publication for the Grassroots Anti-Nuclear Movement which provided in-depth reporting and analysis. In it Mariotte wrote articles so classic (including Nuclear Is Not the Solution the Greenhouse Problem) that many, if reprinted today, would hardly need update. NIRS had already established itself as the Go-To source for information on reactor operations and capacity factors, which were calculated weekly by staff and published twice a month in The Nuclear Monitor. Prior to the internet, this publication was the only readily available source of good facts on nuclear energy performance, and lack thereof, for the financial and policy worlds. He did not pursue a desire to go into the field of socially responsible investing rather stayed with NIRS to inform that realm of the financial and other dangers of nuclear power and its fuel chain. Michael kept The Nuclear Monitor alive and expanded it when publication of Groundswell ended (circa 1989). By 2000 with a staff of seven, he was far too busy with other aspects of NIRS work to write as he had before. Indeed hand-off of the publication of The Nuclear Monitor was a key element in NIRS’s affiliation with the World Information Service on Energy (WISE) that year. WISE continues regular production of the Nuclear Monitor in conjunction with NIRS.

Michael’s commitment to reporting shown through again on his daily log of events as the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns unfolded in 2011. The NIRS website often “broke” news that was only reported by others days and weeks later. Michael gave equal voice to the post-Chernobyl era when he visited Pripyat in 1996, organizing delegations of experts and activists. He visited Germany in 1997 and 1998 during the massive demonstrations and blockades against nuclear waste transport to a centralized nuclear waste site. In these travels Michael helped establish the NIRS / WISE network, a global chain of grassroots “relays” spanning the globe. The European portion of this network, with Michael and Tanya Murza (to later become his wife), hosted a major conference on Chernobyl in Kiev, 2006, the 20th anniversary of that nuclear horror.

GreenWorld, Michael’s blog is the “bookend” bringing Michael back to his first love: clear, insightful and often acerbic reporting on the state of the nuclear escapade. He started it in 2013 when he handed the NIRS Executive Director position to Timothy Judson, who had been a young activist at the Action Camps years before. As he moved into his role of NIRS President, GreenWorld became his primary platform for the last two-plus years. Michael’s last post May 2, 2016 was only two weeks before his death.

Legislative Action: Choose your battles. Do what you can to maximize your odds. Walk away when you can’t win, but be sure to reveal the tilt in the table as you go. Michael and NIRS lost some legislative battles in the 30 years that Michael led NIRS, but we won a lot more and a very key reason for that was that Michael knew how to “count votes.” Better than almost anyone. He retained a universe of small bits of information that he gathered in numerous dimensions that added up to a very keen sense of who we “had” on our side in Congress; who was hopeless; and how to swing the others. NIRS lost when Congress reversed what had been an enormous NIRS legal victory on reactor licensing, passing legislation allowing streamlined “one-step” licensing of new nuclear reactors… but the silver lining in the same energy bill, was NIRS’ equally historic reversal of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)’s policy called “Below Regulatory Concern” that would have deregulated about 1/4 of nuclear power’s so-called “low-level” radioactive waste and permitted it to be disposed into regular trash and commercial recycling streams. Michael was not a fundamentalist, he was a realist. At the same time he believed firmly that people have the real power.

In 1995, in the face of industry and government efforts to make the technically, morally, legally flawed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada on Western Shoshone land the nuclear power high-level waste dump, Michael designed the Stop Mobile Chernobyl Campaign. This national effort successfully stopped industry efforts to revise the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to allow shipment of the intensely radioactive nuclear fuel to the Yucca Mountain Site prior to approval of that site as a permanent repository. Enlisting the populations along the nuclear transport routes expanded our community greatly and the Stop Mobile Chernobyl campaign became a signature for building NIRS’s base at the very time that email and on-line organizing was being invented.

In the Bush-Cheney years, and on into the Obama administration, Michael and NIRS had a coordinating role in a large coalition of national groups opposing taxpayer funded nuclear “loan guarantees” that would underwrite new reactor development, and other subsidies to the nuclear industry. The coalition stopped expansion of this program time after time and created much more scrutiny for the loan-guarantee program overall. Michael did the grassroots outreach and action alerts that resulted in hundreds of thousands of electronic “hits” to congress over that period.

Electronic Organizing: NIRS had a computerized database of its supporters in the early 1990s thanks to Michael. As soon as “dial-up” existed, he created the very first electronic bulletin board that anti-nuclear people could post to… back before WINDOWS or “Websites.” When the NIRS website was set up, Michael became its librarian, personally posting thousands of relevant documents in a public space where people can download any of them ( Michael created email distribution lists as soon as there was email, long before the advent of on-line email list services like “Democracy in Action.” When these major on-line list utilities became available, Michael helped NIRS supporters to swell into the tens of thousands.

Legal Action: Michael supported a great many grassroots actions to challenge nuclear licenses. This included research, recruiting experts, referrals to attorneys, bird dogging any Congressional and NRC actions on the cases and providing coverage in NIRS publications. He himself stepped into the ring (pro se) in 2008 as part of the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition, filing a challenge to the proposed 3rd nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs on the Chesapeake Bay near Washington, D.C. The Coalition won, stopping the new reactor because of “foreign ownership,” thanks largely to Michael’s unwavering prosecution of the US utility Constellation and its French Partner, Electricité de France. NRC’s denial of a license for the construction of Calvert Cliffs Unit 3 was the first time the public had defeated a reactor operating license application, and is one of the crowning accomplishments of Michael’s long work to stop nuclear energy. This had the effect of also preventing the 9-Mile Point 3 nuclear reactor proposed in New York State on Lake Ontario by the same foreign ownership partnership.

NIRS, with local New Jersey organizations, challenged the license extension of the Oyster Creek nuclear reactor, the first time a full hearing was held and a contention accepted by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board. The historic contention was against continued operation of this Fukushima-Mark 1-style reactor with a severely corroded dry-well containment, pitted to half the thickness of the wall in many places at the bottom.

Michael pursued and publicized tips NIRS received that the fire barriers in many nuclear reactors were actually made out of combustible, flammable material (Thermolag). This resulted in major legal actions within the industry against the fraudulent company.

He supported NIRS staff, along with Union of Concerned Scientists, expert watch-dogging of the Davis-Besse reactor pressure vessel corrosion (“hole in the head”) and demand for investigation into NRC’s mishandling of the near disaster. This might have saved the world from a nuclear tragedy near Toledo in 2002, time-wise mid-way between Chernobyl and Fukushima.

NIRS was part of the successful court challenge to inadequate radiological standards for proposed high level radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

In 1999 Michael backed a creative scheme to ask the NRC to require renewable energy back-up power on all reactor sites in time for the 1999 “Y2K” computer roll-over.

Grassroots: All of the work NIRS has done has been possible because of the engagement with local people in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and other countries. Whether shining a spotlight on a bad federal regulation, pushing on Congress to do the right thing, or raising funds to pay expert witnesses, it is only possible with the hundreds and often thousands of NIRS supporters and allies taking action. Michael believed in this: we, together, have the power. He several times worked to mobilize people in a bigger way. He was part of the MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) at Madison Square Garden and outside the Capitol in DC (1979) and its revival in 2011 in Mountain View in the wake of Fukushima meltdowns. Michael instigated six Action Camps to train grassroots activists from 1998-2001 and supported two “climate convergences” in 2007 and 2008, all to teach nuclear issues and non-violent direct action. Michael also knew that NIRS and our community must lead on climate. He mobilized our community to be a key hub of the People’s Climate March in 2014 and the Paris Climate Summit activism in 2015. Michael knew how to move a movement. Michael also had absolutely no interest in the kind of drama that haunts some long-term leadership roles. This was a tremendous asset: NIRS staff were cut lose to WORK, to research, educate, organize, coordinate with the safe energy advocates across the country and around the world.

VICTORIES: None of these belong to Michael any more than the grassroots leaders, funders, and hundreds to tens of thousands of people who take action… but Michael put his War Horse stamina and courage of conviction into all of these and more…:

Nuclear Reactors Shutdown:

Since Michael took the helm at NIRS these operating reactors shutdown:
Big Rock Point
Crystal River 3
Connecticut Yankee
Yankee Rowe
Maine Yankee
Millstone 1
San Onofre 1, 2, 3
Zion 1, 2
Rancho Seco
Fort St. Vrain
Vermont Yankee

Reactor License Challenge:

Every single new US Construction / Operating License (COL) was challenged by NIRS or the grassroots network which NIRS supports.

Fuel Chain Front-End:

Michael’s support for, strategy and advocacy on behalf of an impoverished African American community in Homer, Louisiana were instrumental in stopping a uranium enrichment facility proposed a by major US European consortium. The NRC decision denying the license was an early environmental justice victory which is cited in law school text books. After Tennesseans kicked it out of their state, NIRS legally challenged it again in New Mexico.

Energy Economics:

Michael helped to ensure that the budding socially-responsible investment community was fully informed about the tremendous financial debacle of the first-build of reactors, which included 99 cancelations, many after significant investments by teacher’s retirement funds and others. He worked with international allies to prevent investments in reactors and nuclear fuel chain facilities.

So-Called “Low-Level” Waste:

The 1985 Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act triggered scores of industry and government attempts to site new dumps. NIRS, with Michael’s strong support, assisted challenges in 20 states against new unlined, soil trench burial of so-called “low-level” waste (some hotter than nuclear weapons high level waste), weakening regulations and shifting liability for commercial nuclear power waste to states. NIRS continues to fight to keep radioactive waste from being deregulated or cleared from radioactive controls. Michael was instrumental in the big victory overturning the NRC “Below Regulatory Control” or BRC Policies in 1992 but repeated that fight eleven more times against NRC and other federal and state agencies and international entities.

High-Level Waste / Mobile Chernobyl:

Consolidated storage sites stopped during Michael’s tenure:
West Virginia
Mescalero Apache Reservation (NM)
Skull Valley Goshute Reservation (UT)
Yucca Mountain, Western Shoshone land (NV)
The Nuclear Waste Negotiator was defunded and 25 tribes sent “bribe” money back to DOE
The Stop Mobile Chernobyl Campaign educated the nation on nuclear waste transport and supported President Clinton’s veto of revisions to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
The DOE’s license application for a repository at Yucca Mountain was withdrawn and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stopped reviewing it (until reversed by court order).

MOX / Plutonium:

Every step of the MOX (mixed oxide) plutonium fuel program was challenged and every license step had an intervention

Climate Change:

In 2006, Michael helped mobilize an international alliance of anti-nuclear groups for United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen, which prevented nuclear power from being adopted as a solution to global warming. In 2014, he orchestrated a mobilization of thousands of anti-nuclear activists for the People’s Climate March under the banner of a Nuclear-Free, Carbon-Free contingent.

After a brave struggle against pancreatic cancer for three years, Michael died peacefully at home and his family on May 16, 2016 at 63 years of age. He is survived by his wife Tanya, their young daughters Zoryana and Kateryna, his friend and ex-wife Lynn, and their children Nicole and Richard, as well as his sister Julie, brother Jeff, and sister-in-law Marsheila. And of course he leaves a seasoned, experienced and growing anti-nuclear movement with many more victories to win. He asked friends and colleagues to do something fun in his memory. That was his way, to honor life by living and enjoying it to the fullest.

* * *

Washington Post Obituary

Washington City Paper Obituary

New York Times Obituary


EPA took nuclear out of the Clean Power Plan

Thousands joined the nuclear-free, carbon-free contingent at last September's People's Climate March in New York City. The unexpectedly large turnout--followed by tens of thousands of comments and petitions to the EPA, helped open the agency's eyes to first understand our position and then realize it made a lot of sense.

Thousands joined the nuclear-free, carbon-free contingent at last September’s People’s Climate March in New York City. The unexpectedly large turnout–followed by tens of thousands of comments and petitions to the EPA–helped open the agency’s eyes to first understand our position and then realize it made a lot of sense.

Yesterday, an amazing thing happened. Yes, President Obama released the first real climate action policy in the U.S. ever. But that’s not all. The incredible thing—the one that will be most important in the years to come—is … they got it basically right.

Including on nuclear power. President Obama just made it the policy of the United States that nuclear power is not a viable climate solution. And not just that, but renewable energy can replace nuclear power just like it can replace fossil fuels. Continue reading

Obama nominates former Exelon official/DOE safety advocate to NRC

The NRC's logo. Some might question the agency's commitment to its tag line.

The NRC’s logo. Some might question the agency’s commitment to its tag line.

President Obama has nominated a Bush-era DOE official, Jessie Roberson, to fill the final seat on the five member Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Roberson also worked for Exelon, the largest nuclear utility in the U.S., from 2004-2006, as Director of Nuclear Regulatory Programs. She has worked for Georgia Power, which is building the Vogtle reactors in that state and as President of the Nuclear Services Division at CH2M Hill. Currently, she is vice-chair of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. Her official bio is here. Continue reading

There’s a trend here.

This trend is clear: Solar and wind are already cheaper than coal and will become more so; and will beat out natural gas as well. Nuclear is so expensive it's off the chart. Chart from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

This trend is clear: Solar and wind are already cheaper than coal and will become more so; and will beat out natural gas as well. Nuclear is so expensive it’s off the chart. Chart from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Every day I take an hour or two to scan dozens of articles from across the globe on nuclear power and clean energy issues; I select a handful of the best to post on NIRS’ Twitter and Facebook feeds as well as the COP 21 organizing page on Facebook, along with some Twitter-enforced pithy commentary.

Today I found myself using the word “trend” twice in a half-dozen post comments. Accurately. Continue reading

The nuclear industry is still lobbying for a bailout in EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Maybe you should be lobbying too.

As we reported in June, the EIA found that nuclear power wouldn't help reduce carbon emissions at all under the Clean Power Plan. So there's no rational reason for the EPA to support it.

As we reported in June, the EIA found that nuclear power wouldn’t help reduce carbon emissions at all under the Clean Power Plan. Instead, it would just inhibit solar deployment. So there’s no rational reason for the EPA to support it.

The final language of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) is supposed to be released next month, which means most of the text (and more importantly, the concepts behind it) is already completed.

But that isn’t stopping industry, and the occasional environmental group, from continuing to press their cases for changes from the draft proposal.

And, more specifically, it isn’t stopping the nuclear power industry from pushing for changes that would benefit new reactors in particular, although it still holds out some fading hope for help for its older, uneconomic and obsolete reactors as well.

As evidence, E&E Publishing Friday published a story headlined White House opens doors to eleventh-hour pleas on Clean Power Plan. Among the bevy of recent visitors pleading their cases were:

*Edison Electric Institute and utility CEOs and representatives from American Electric Power Co. Inc., DTE Energy, Berkshire Hathaway Energy and Duke Energy Corp.

*MJ Bradley & Associates and electric utilities that are members of its Clean Power Plan Initiative, including the CEOs or senior executives of Dominion, National Grid, NextEra, Exelon, PSEG, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Calpine Corp.

That’s a lot of heavyweight nuclear utilities right there. A bunch of other industry groups got to make their case as well.

For balance, I guess, EPA also heard from a delegation from the Sierra Club.

While the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) so far doesn’t seem to have made it through the doors, its lobbying efforts haven’t ceased. The American Public Power Association (APPA) on Friday published an interview with NEI CEO Marvin Fertel specifically about nuclear power and the Clean Power Plan.

Fertel made clear the nuclear industry is continuing its advocacy efforts, although reading between the lines its efforts may not turn out entirely successful.

When the draft of the CPP came out last year, the industry was outraged that existing reactors weren’t being treated as well as the industry wants. The EPA had come up with a somewhat bizarre formula that nuclear should be rewarded based on the EPA’s concern that six percent of U.S. reactors were thought to be in jeopardy of closing for being uneconomic.

Here is some background on the EPA’s draft plan and the industry’s response.  Our own response was that the CPP offered far too much credit for nuclear power and that, as a technology that is in the end counterproductive toward dealing with our climate crisis, nuclear power should be discouraged, not encouraged. Our full comments, filed December 1, 2014 along with supporting materials, are available on this page.

Besides its treatment of existing nukes, the EPA wasn’t planning to give the industry credit for its new reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, as well as the TVA’s completed of Watts Bar in Tennessee.

In the interview, Fertel was clear that NEI has continued to engage with EPA and remains hopeful that someone at EPA is listening:

“To be honest, we’re cautiously optimistic that EPA has taken that recommendation and they will change that, for at least the new plants,” the NEI president and CEO said. “We have not seen anything, but certainly in discussions – they have not been explicit – but we get the sense that they’re going to fix that.”

“Fixing that” means capitulating to the nuclear industry, of course. But the statement seems to be admitting that EPA may not be planning on changing its treatment of existing reactors.

If so, perhaps that’s because, as we reported last month (and apparently we are still the only media outlet to have reported this), an analysis by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration concluded that nuclear power would not help reduce carbon emissions under the CPP. Instead, it would just block out greater deployment of safer, cleaner and cheaper solar power.

The NEI’s parsing of the word “new” gives a lot of room for interpretation. As the APPA post states:

NEI said in the comments that “new” nuclear should include, among other things, nuclear plants relicensed to operate beyond 60 years – a second license renewal – and any nuclear plants that had not received license extensions to operate beyond their original 40-year license term as of the beginning of the 2012 baseline year.

Oh, and NEI thinks power uprates at existing reactors should be considered “new” as well.

Fertel and NEI’s ultimate goal is to make sure the U.S. nuclear fleet doesn’t continue its recent downward trend. “He noted that currently nuclear is about 20 percent of the electricity mix in the U.S. ‘Our goal is that it never drop below 20, that it pick up and maybe be more than that, but that it’s in the 20 to 20+ range as we go forward. So that’s what we are expecting.'”

We, however, are expecting something quite different, and you should be too: if the CPP is meant to be the nation’s first climate change roadmap, then it should be pointing the path to a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy future, not figuring out how to do more of the same failed policies of the past.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is just waiting to hear your opinion on the Clean Power Plan and nuclear power.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is just waiting to hear your opinion on the Clean Power Plan and nuclear power.

While the public comment period ended December 1, 2014, and since unlike giant utilities and the occasional big green group the public doesn’t get access to EPA officials or the White House, we thought we’d give the public another chance to comment anyway. You can send your e-mail to President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy here, and let them know that we expect the final version of the Clean Power Plan to contain no help for nuclear whatsoever.

The APPA post pointed out: “On its website, NEI states that by 2030, the U.S. ‘could experience electricity shortages if a significant number of nuclear plants are retired in a short period. One way to avoid this outcome is renewing the operating licenses of nuclear power plants a second time for up to an additional 20 years. Companies are expected to seek these second license renewals in the coming years.'”

At least the NEI is being honest by using the word “could.” If it were more honest, it would admit that every reactor in the country could be shut down by 2030 and it wouldn’t affect electricity supplies whatsoever. It would hardly affect supplies if they were all closed by 2020–especially if more federal and state emphasis were placed on building a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system; i.e., if the U.S. were to embark on its own energy transition of the sort Germany, and even France with its first baby steps, are leading the way on now.

That’s the kind of Clean Power Plan we’d like to see. If you agree, and want to get in your own last-minute antidote to corporate lobbying, let Obama and McCarthy know.

Michael Mariotte

July 13, 2015


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Keeping up with the polls…


Graphic from Yale Project on Climate Change Communications.

We’ve pointed it out here before, but it bears saying again: Americans love renewable energy. There’s just no ifs, ands or buts about it.

The map above from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications, which breaks down support for renewable energy at the county level, shows clearly that a majority of Americans in every county in the U.S. support funding for renewable energy. Well, perhaps except for one lone county in southeast Texas–the heart of oil refining country.

And in most places, it’s not just mere majority support, it’s landslide-level support for renewable energy. Continue reading

NRC caves on foreign ownership (and why you shouldn’t expect it to value human life like other federal agencies)

atomicenergyactsinglestampThe NRC Commissioners voted unanimously earlier this month to adopt its staff recommendation that the agency’s rules be changed to allow a “graded approach” on meeting the Atomic Energy Act’s prohibition on foreign ownership, control, or domination of U.S. nuclear reactors.

This cave-in to the nuclear power wasn’t entirely unexpected (I wrote about it months ago here), although the unanimous vote was certainly a disappointing showing from the two newest Commissioners, who might have been expected to take a more skeptical line toward the industry than some past Commissioners. But it’s too bad.

And it’s just more evidence that the NRC sees its mission less as regulating the nuclear industry–even when the law is clear, and there are few laws more clear-cut than this Section 103(d) of the Atomic Energy Act–than in accommodating the industry. Continue reading