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Wasserman writes: "The likely explosion of an American nuclear power plant is the ultimate terror in the age of Trump."

Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio. (photo: AP)
Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio. (photo: AP)


Ohio's Crumbling Nukes Face Judgement Day

By Harvey Wasserman, Reader Supported News

02 March 17

 

he likely explosion of an American nuclear power plant is the ultimate terror in the age of Trump.

Across the United States, 99 dangerous, decrepit, and disastrous commercial nukes are literally falling to pieces. With no private insurance and no meaningful regulation, the industry is poised to wreak apocalyptic havoc on our planet. While the industry bribes and strong-arms governors and state legislatures into massive bailouts, the next meltdown/blowup could very well cost you both your money and your life.

None of these nukes are nearer to the breaking point than Ohio’s infamous Davis-Besse reactor, near Toledo. It is poised to lose hundreds of millions of dollars for its owners and Ohio ratepayers. So, of course, the “free enterprise” Republican legislature is poised to give those nuke operators a massive bailout. To the tune of more than $4 billion (that’s not a typo).

Natural gas is cheaper. New gas plants are under construction throughout the state. Ohio has tremendous wind resources, far in excess of anything we will ever need and far more than it would take to replace DB. Thanks to spectacular technological advances in recent years, that wind power – along with new solar panels – is cheaper, safer, cleaner and more reliable than the nuke, and would create thousands of jobs beyond the few hundred at Davis-Besse.

But FirstEnergy, which owns both Davis-Besse and the legislature, does not own the gas or the wind. Davis-Besse is also poised to melt down and/or blow up. Six other reactors (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima 1-4) have already done one or both.

One of the world’s oldest reactors, Davis-Besse is literally crumbling. As Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear has shown, DB’s shield building has been pulverized by storms, internalized moisture that alternatively freezes and thaws, faulty maintenance, and corrupt decision making.

DB is infamous worldwide for its “hole-in-the-head” fiasco. That happened when boric acid ate nearly all the way through the reactor pressure vessel. It came within a fraction of an inch of another Chernobyl. Says Kamps: “FirstEnergy has admitted that it has known since 2011 that large chunks of Shield Building exterior face concrete could fall off – as due to an earthquake, or meltdown pressures – and fall down onto safety significant systems, structures, or components below, exacerbating the disaster, perhaps even leading to a meltdown, that the breached containment could no longer contain.”

But if the all-too-likely disaster comes, FirstEnergy will not be liable for the damages. You will pay, with your money, your property, and maybe your life.

(photo: Trane DePriest)

The 1957 Price-Anderson Act was passed to encourage utility companies to build atomic reactors, which were essentially a happy face for the atomic bomb. The Atomic Energy Commission that both regulated and promoted nuclear power also produced America’s nuclear weapons. The power companies resisted the reactors because they feared meltdowns, which government reports at the time presciently warned could wipe out an area the size of Pennsylvania. The industry at the time promised electricity “too cheap to meter” and denied a commercial reactor could ever explode. Both statements proved to be epic lies.

Meanwhile a captive Congress let the industry proceed without liability insurance. A tiny ($540 million) fund was set up, essentially for show. That’s now up to about $13 billion. But considering Chernobyl did at least a half-trillion in damage and Fukushima more than anybody can yet calculate, the kitty is essentially an absurdity. A radioactive cloud pouring out of Davis-Besse would do $13 billion in damage to life and property within the first few miles.

The rest would be paid for by the public – you and me. After 60 years, American reactors still have no private liability insurance.

Protected by the government, FirstEnergy has no corporate stake in protecting the people or property downwind. Some workers might care. Some executives might be perpetually poised to flee the inevitable apocalyptic cloud as it hurtles toward their lakefront mansions.

But as an inanimate entity, the company itself is immune to radiation. Should the corporate shield crumble, bankruptcy is the easy and obvious option.

Which is what FirstEnergy may face at Davis-Besse. Among the world’s very oldest reactors, its operating and maintenance costs have soared. Even with the fake regulation provided by the rubber stamp Nuclear Regulatory Commission, DB faces massive repairs just to keep its turbines twirling. The building has already been slashed into four times to replace core components. It’s the equivalent of having four open-heart surgeries (if a reactor can be said to have a heart) through a rib cage that cannot heal, with each invasion accelerating general deterioration.

As Sierra Club energy expert Ned Ford explains, the economic crisis FirstEnergy now faces is of its own making. Many years ago, when it was known as Cleveland Electric Illuminating (and then Centerior, also encompassing Ohio Edison) the utility’s financial geniuses gouged out of the legislature a massive bailout for Davis-Besse and its compadre Perry reactor east of Cleveland. Together they took what energy expert Ned Ford estimates to be up to $20 billion from Ohio ratepayers.

At the time they argued (with straight faces) we’d all save millions in an open “free market” competition. But to get there, they insisted we underwrite the two lakefront nukes, which could not compete without gargantuan handouts that made a mockery of that old “too cheap to meter” pitch.

The legislature, of course, gave them all they wanted. We who testified against this outrageous stick-up warned that the “free market” reactor operators would be begging for re-regulation.

Why?

Because nukes can’t function without huge subsidies. Regulation guarantees a return on investment at ratepayer expense (which has never bothered a “free market” utility).

As Ned Ford has extensively shown, Ohio has huge excess capacity in coal-burners, though many are as decrepit and dysfunctional as Davis-Besse. It’s also over-built in gas burners, many of which sat unused when methane prices were high, but which now churn out juice far cheaper than any nukes anywhere.

Most importantly, northern Ohio has spectacular wind resources. The breezes in the middle of Lake Erie are as strong and steady as anywhere on Earth. The lake is relatively shallow and fresh, meaning there’s no salt to corrode the moving parts. The likely sites are also relatively close to Toronto, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and other major consuming centers.

On-shore is even better. The winds aren’t as strong, but installation is cheaper and there’s plenty of transmission, many willing farm hosts, and good proximity to the cities. Alongside solar cells, wind is humankind’s fastest-growing new energy source, creating millions of jobs worldwide – tens of thousands of which are poised to pour into Ohio whenever the nukes finally shut. Advanced reliability has driven capacity factors constantly higher, with downtime increasingly covered by a revolution in battery technologies.

In 2010 a broad coalition of activists, working with Governor Ted Strickland, put a far-seeing energy plan in place to take Ohio deep into a green energy future. The pioneer package of goals and incentives was set to bring the Buckeye State an energy mix that was clean, cheap, cutting-edge, and poised to create thousands of jobs in an advanced economy that could have pulled Ohio far ahead of the rest of the rust belt and into a truly sustainable post-recessional future. Several billion dollars in investment capital – much of it focused on wind farms in northern Ohio – was ready to go.

But with the coming of John Kasich and a Koch-controlled legislature, all that disappeared. Kasich has since softened his anti-green tone. But the legislature is still run by far-right corporate Republicans who hate anything that’s not fossil/nuke, even if there are jobs and money to be made and a sustainable future to be had. They also hate anything that smacks of government interference or handouts – until a big corporate donor like FirstEnergy demands billions in ratepayer subsidies for uninsurable privately-owned reactors that put the public at risk.

Indeed, FirstEnergy is now unabashedly asking this “anti-government” legislature to guarantee its return on nuclear investments whose real dollar values are a huge negative. Massive quantities of radioactive trash have piled up at the reactor sites with nowhere to go. The pioneer American radioactive waste facility – New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project –blew up three years ago at an estimated cost of $2 billion and counting. Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, decades from being completed if at all, will be even more unstable, with an ultimate price tag approaching $100 billion.

Both Ohio reactors are gargantuan liabilities demanding inestimable resources to decommission. Funds have been accumulated to allegedly pay for that, but nobody seriously believes there’s enough to do the job.

The nuclear industry has also adopted the astonishing lie that these reactors are somehow “zero emission” and therefore help fight global warming. It’s an amusing argument, coming from Republicans who adamantly denounce the idea that climate change might be real.

It’s also blatantly false. Davis-Besse, Perry, and all other reactors dump billions of gallons of heated water directly into the air and water. They thus “fight climate change” by directly heating the climate. They also emit Carbon 14 in their fission process, and many tons of carbon dioxide in the process of mining, milling, and enriching their uranium fuel.

Nukes also constantly emit radioactive gases and particulates that kill living things, both in their “normal” operating process and when they explode, as at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Above all, they have been blown away economically by the revolution in solar and wind. More than 260,000 Americans now work in the solar industry and more than 100,000 in wind, far more than in coal, oil, and nukes combined. Every time a reactor shuts, opportunity arises to create thousands of stable, long-term, well-paying jobs in renewables and efficiency. The faster the reactors shut, the more jobs are created and the safer, cleaner, and cooler the planet becomes.

If Ohio’s legislature does re-regulate and hand FirstEnergy its radioactive ransom, lawsuits will erupt (as they already have in Illinois) from independent “market” utilities seeking to compete. The type of monopoly status the “free market” Republicans are poised to give FirstEnergy will be challenged in the courts and regulatory agencies in hugely expensive litigations. The only certain outcome is years of delay and a yet another massive price tag – which FirstEnergy would stick to the rest of us.

Also certain would be the devastating impact on Ohio’s economic future. As shown by the Sierra’s Ford, the billions sucked up by these ancient, obsolete nukes have poisoned the Buckeye economy and helped hollow out what was once an industrial powerhouse. The only jobs created will be among the attorneys adding their exorbitant fees onto the ratepayers’ tab.

The revolution in wind and solar that’s sweeping the planet should long ago have brought Ohio’s economy into the new millennium.

Instead, these massively subsidized, crumbling, obsolete radioactive jalopies keep on rumbling toward the inevitable atomic cliff. What melted TMI, Chernobyl, and the Fukushimas draws closer every day.

Likewise the shameless, self-serving, and unconscionable campaign FirstEnergy has launched to force us all to yet again fund our own economic, employment, ecological and biological demise.

FirstEnergy now says it will sell Davis-Besse and get out of the generating business. But the deal will be meaningless if DB continues to operate.

Somewhere along the line, Ohioans must find those two off-switches at Perry and Davis-Besse while turning on the revolution in wind and solar power that is bringing jobs and prosperity to so much of the rest of the world.


Harvey Wasserman is author of SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, available via www.solartopia.org. He edits www.nukefree.org. This article originally appeared at www.freepress.org.

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+62 # DongiC 2017-03-02 13:47
Ohio is monumentally stupid and greedy. It can't see what is most obvious; nuclear energy is over, solar and wind are more efficient and safe. But, the big, fat cats control the politicians who control the energy sources. Another defect in the American system. What a pity.
 
 
+55 # rivervalley 2017-03-02 16:38
Ohio is Gov. Kasich's state - so why is anyone surprised?
 
 
+14 # Caliban 2017-03-02 18:38
This is a frightening report for sure. It makes me wonder about the state of nuclear energy in my own state but {almost} too frightened to investigate.
 
 
+4 # Questions, questions 2017-03-04 15:11
Hey, we all CAN do something about this impending disaster and proposed $280 BILLION in bail-outs throughout the nuke industry. NIRS has put together a petition campaign directed at all state governors and the Trumpsler (at http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5502/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=23675)- and you can find out how much your state might pony up to bail out this failing industry. https://safeenergy.org/2016/10/14/the-astronomical-cost-of-new-subsidies-for-old-reactors-280-billion/
 
 
+4 # John S. Browne 2017-03-05 10:45
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Signed. Thank you for directing to this.

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+20 # oakes721 2017-03-02 19:46
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The laws have been manipulated so as to guarantee that the only survivor of a nuclear accident will be the nuclear industry itself.
.
There is no known "safe" dosage level of radiation.
 
 
+18 # Lucretius 2017-03-02 19:55
"he likely explosion of an American nuclear power plant is the ultimate terror in the age of Trump." I think about this daily! Truer words never written. I think we are going to see some kind of Armaggedon here in the US and it won't be Russian-inspire d. But of our own doing!
 
 
+17 # btbees 2017-03-02 20:52
Thank you Harvey Wasserman for this informative article.
 
 
+28 # AJNorth 2017-03-02 21:55
As one of my physics professors stated more than thirty years ago, a future era will look back at nuclear fission power plants as monuments to Man's stupidity. (He neglected to add greed and arrogance.)
 
 
+21 # elkingo 2017-03-02 22:32
Money over nuking the planet? These guys are literally certifiable (dangerous to themselves and others) - and need to be removed NOW! The whole diseased capitalist system that is. I think this truth is so immense and pervasive that people cannot see it in bold relief. It is literally too much to imagine.
 
 
+19 # librarian1984 2017-03-03 11:55
Sanders has spoken recently of the oligarchs and their 'addiction to power'. Yes. We are at the mercy of junkies. People better wake up and rise up -- not only against Trump but against establishment GOP and Democrats, and the corporate media as well. With rare exceptions, they are not worthy stewards.
 
 
+19 # tedrey 2017-03-02 22:43
The enslaved commercial media won't let this story be told. They'd rather let us all be destroyed than face the truth. Sad.
 
 
+13 # soularddave 2017-03-03 11:15
Nuclear plants produce electricity for about 15 cents per kilowatt hour, wind and solar, for about 4 cents. Check my numbers, then look at your bill.
Fukushima is an ongoing disaster for 6 years, and is getting worse as it contaminates the USA more and more the costs are staggering, and the radiation is unimaginable now. Cleanup will take 100 years and the costs will run into the Trillions. 1/3 of Pacific sea life is already DEAD, and one dares not eat Pacific fish anymore.
 
 
+8 # ludditebob 2017-03-03 11:47
it might have been beneficial if you had actually used a picture of davis besse. the picture shown is NOT davis besse. in addition, i was once a welfare caseworkerin toledo. one of my clients was captain of the security crew who made so little that he and his family qualified for food stamps.
 
 
+16 # jeffsyrop 2017-03-03 12:45
An extraterrestria l scientist observing humans on Earth would laugh its ass off (if it had an ass) at "intelligent" beings who, INUNDATED, DELUGED with free energy from the Sun, wind, tides, and geothermal, instead choose to use scarce, dangerous, politically unstable oil and insanely poisonous nuclear power for their energy needs. This science marvels: "What kind of species sh*ts in its own bed?"
 
 
+3 # John S. Browne 2017-03-03 19:15
#

What can I add that you good commenters haven't already declared so efficiently? I'm at a loss for any "new" words, because it's all been said before on this topic, but I'd bet that the majority of visitors to RSN avoid articles such as this one, because they don't want to know how dire things really are. They want to keep their heads buried in their "la-la-land", "ignorance-is(- supposedly)-bli ss" holes in the ground; and, in addition, many of them are brainwashed by that segment of the "environmentali sts" who believe that all humankind "should" be destroyed, so they don't care; and, thus, why read articles like this, especially when they know that it is highly unlikely that anything to prevent the coming nuclear Armageddon is going to be forthcoming.

Evil has taken over most people, and is taking them over more and more, not just in the nuclear industry, but overall. All they want is to live their narcissistic, selfish and self-centered lives without anything, least of all truth, coming between them and their lusts for whatever they lust after. And those who obtain even a little bit of power, have it go to their heads, making them less and less concerned for their fellow-humankin d, and increasingly concerned only about themselves and "their own". The rest of us can be carted off to extermination camps for all they care; and, when it comes to that, these "good Amerikans" will contribute to sending their innocent neighbors to same, just as the "good Germans" did.

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+6 # elizabethblock 2017-03-05 08:05
Why don't these supposed fiscal conservatives pay attention to the insurance industry? They won't insure nuclear plants, for good reasons, and those reasons have nothing to do with saving the environment.
 

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