Green Social Thought
By Harvey Wasserman
As the nuke power industry slumps toward oblivion, two huge reactors are shutting in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
The shutdowns are a body blow to atomic energy. The soaring costs of the decayed US reactor fleet have forced them to beg gerrymandered state legislatures for huge bailouts.
Just two US reactors are still being built. Stuffed with $12 billion in interest-free federal loans, Georgia’s Vogtle is nearing a staggering $30 billion in cost. Years behind schedule, the lowest possible costs of whatever electricity the two reactors there might produce already far exceed wind and solar.
Virtually none of the 98 US reactors now operating can compete with wind, solar, or methane. All but one are more than twenty years old, with serious issues of obsolescence and decay; some are more than forty, operating far behind their original design life.
Four decrepit, money-losing, upstate New York State reactors still run because Governor Andrew Cuomo is handing them $7.6 billion in bailouts. This year’s price tag jumped more than $50 million, despite Cuomo’s promise it would drop. Safe energy/consumer groups are fighting him in court.
Cuomo has otherwise agreed to shut two old reactors at Indian Point, which sit on an earthquake fault north of New York City.
But Illinois has voted billions to sustain three old reactors that can’t compete with wind/solar and gas. New Jersey has also jumped in with hundreds of millions for money-losing nukes.
In Massachusetts, the Pilgrim reactor will shut this month. The New York Times says Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island Unit One will die in September, dropping the US fleet to 96. The industry wants to scam billions in bailouts for the Keystone State’s other nukes, which are being vastly outstripped by renewables.
But the Ohio war over two geezer nukes rages full bore. Their owner, Akron’s FirstEnergy, is bankrupt, trying to shed its cleanup responsibilities. Despite slipping millions in “lobbying” to key state officials, FirstEnergy has still been unable to shaft the state with its $300m/year nuke-bailout scam.
Designed in the 1960s, FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse opened near Toledo in 1977. A serious accident presaged the 1979 meltdown at its doomed clone, Three Mile Island Unit Two.
In 2002, boric acid ate Davis-Besse’s infamous “hole in the head” to within an inch of irradiating the entire Great Lakes and north coast.
The leaks are still an issue. But Davis-Besse’s owners sawed off the top of an abandoned Michigan nuke, cut through the containment building, and pasted it into the damaged reactor. The radioactive shield building is crumbling along with the rest of the nuke, from top to bottom.
East of Cleveland, Perry opened in 1986, just after the first earthquake that damaged a US nuke. To this day, no operators have been forced to run a reactor caught amidst a seismic shaking.
The utility and its backers are betting on Ohio’s gerrymandered legislature to gouge some $300 million from the tax/rate-paying public. A bevy of “free market” Republicans wants at least $150 million per year for the nukes, and another $150 million or more for various unclear activities, including about $8.5 million yearly for company president Chuck Jones.
FirstEnergy burns huge quantities of gas, oil, and coal but hypes its “emissions free” nukes that spew Carbon 14, heat, and radiation. The industry does not want to mention or pay for its thousands of tons of radioactive waste.
Such details are loudly overlooked by a mutant choir trumpeting nukes as “zero emission.” All reactors spew deadly isotopes along with climate-killing heat and some Carbon 14. They stand in the way of the wind, solar, batteries, and LED efficiency that comprise our only route to saving the climate.
Ohio’s north coast region is great for wind. More than $4 billion in private capital is waiting to create more than 10,000 jobs while slashing electric rates. The surrounding states of Indiana, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania have far more wind turbines than Ohio, operating at big profits with substantial workforces.
But an absurd anti-green setback requirement from a bought legislature has frozen Ohio’s turbine industry. Without that single Ohio Code sentence, cheap wind energy would be flooding the state. The “need” for nukes would evaporate. The reactor jobs “lost” would be dwarfed by those in renewables.
Against all odds, a very broad coalition of environmentalists, wind promoters, consumers, and industrialists has kept FirstEnergy at bay. Bailout opponents vastly outnumber nuke pushers at ongoing hearings.
But worldwide, the clock ticks on the next old money-sucking reactor to collapse from incompetence and greed, or to crumble in an earthquake, tsunami, or terror attack.
The shutdowns of Pilgrim and Three Mile Island mark huge victories for jobs, the economy, and the climate. If green advocates can now win in Ohio and Pennsylvania and roll back the insanity in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, the march of the shutdowns just might outrun the next meltdown. Stay tuned!
Harvey Wasserman’s Green Power & Wellness Show is podcast at prn.fm; California Solartopia is broadcast at KPFK-Pacifica, 90.7 fm, Los Angeles. His Life & Death Spiral of US History: From Deganawidah to Solartopia will soon be at www.solartopia.org.