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A set of bribes cast a dark shadow over North American nuclear

image credit: ID 28806893 © Ammentorp | Dreamstime.com

After decades of confused and short-sighted closures, things were finally starting to look up for North American nuclear power. Recently, legislation passed in New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Illoinois to offer subsidies to existing plants. This progress, however, is now at risk of being reversed thanks to two back-to-back bribery scandals. The development is explained in Yahoo News:

“On Tuesday, federal officials arrested the speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives on racketeering charges tied to a bailout of two nuclear plants owned by Energy Harbor Corp., a former FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary. Four days earlier, Exelon Corp.’s Commonwealth Edison unit agreed to pay $200 million to resolve a lobbying probe in Illinois, where nuclear plants also receive aid.

The fallout in Ohio has been swift, with Democratic and Republican lawmakers calling on Wednesday for the nuclear bailout law to be repealed immediately. Shares of FirstEnergy, which received subpoenas related to the investigation, plunged 21% Wednesday, the most on record. Taken together, the two scandals could undermine future efforts by utilities to seek support from lawmakers.

Legislators are right to further examine the bailout plan and the utilities involved in light of these racketeering charges. However, they’d be wrong to let the actions of these bad faith actors derail their states’ nuclear projects for good. Despite its boogeyman status in the Hollywood movie canon, nuclear is the best shot humans have at mitigating the effects of climate change in the next 50 years. Lockup the bribsters, but please, give our steam stacks the long overdue embrace they deserve.


 

Henry Craver's picture

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 24, 2020 11:45 am GMT

Unfortunately I think this is an issue that plagues the industry as a whole in certain ways, not just nuclear. Some of the largest utilities have really deep pockets and really profound political connections-- so whether it's direct bribery or leaning into those assets, oversight is certainly necessary to ensure what's being done is benefiting the customer more than any other actor. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 24, 2020 1:44 pm GMT

Henry, some context: HB6 was not a nuclear "bailout", despite the barrage of constant propaganda aimed at it by renewables & gas interests in the Marcellus shale belt. By offering all carbon-free generation - including renewables - the same zero-emission credit based on EPA's social cost of carbon, it leveled the playing field, giving all zero-emission sources (deserved) credit for lowering Ohio's CO2 emissions by milllions of tons annually.

Renewables developers hated it, because it only made their irrelevance obvious. After 11 years of subsidizing that industry, Ohio's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) had increased renewables' penetration in the state by a whopping 3% - useless.

Gas interests hated it even more, and the passage of HB 6 blindsided them when they thought they had the shutdown of Ohio nuclear in the bag. This "development" has the dirty fingerprints of the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the American Gas Association (AGA) all over it. Stay tuned.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jul 28, 2020 7:49 pm GMT

It were bailouts as:
- they implied the continuation of high cost electricity despite major liability subsidies, and didn't offer any prospect for cheaper electicity;
- the utilities threatened to close NPP's and fire all staff.

Then we still don't consider the shown significant genetic & health damage from those plants:  http://goo.gl/p0aUGk

Renewable can increase much faster than in Ohio. In Germany renewable share in electricity generation grew in 11years from 19% in 2009 towards 55% now (wind+solar supplying 75% of all renewable). While the costs decreased so much that new wind and solar can now compete against any fossil.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jul 28, 2020 1:18 pm GMT

No energy industry has so proven itself unworthy of public trust as the nuclear industry.  And that is saying a lot, especially considering the Oil&Gas industry!  And, as Matt says, the largest utilities have not distinguished themselves either. As the wind and solar industries grow, they too have shot themselves in the foot at times, e.g. lack of proper consultation with local interests with siting, and disposal/recycling of waste equipment. But nothing on the scale seen here.

Promise after promise to the public, lie after lie to regulators and now a major bribery scandal only portends further scandal in a nuclear industry struggling to survive. 

There are plenty of dedicated and competent professionals in the nuclear industry.  But they are not served well by their management.  When Democrats and Republicans see eye to eye, something is either very right or very wrong.

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