VOGTLE BIG BET$ LOTTO

Big-Bets

Where has all the public’s money gone?

by Glenn Carroll, illustrated by Tom Ferguson

ATLANTA 5/17/17: IT MAY BE EASIER TO UNDERSTAND the fast-moving drama of the slow-moving construction of Vogtle 3 & 4 if you look at the whole affair as a high-stakes betting game rather than the high-risk nuclear power project it appears to be.

If you haven’t already, tune into the frequent financial headlines about the $10 billion debt ruining Georgia Power’s multi-national corporate partners building AP1000 reactors in Burke County, Georgia. Tom Ferguson, famous artist and Nuclear Watch South board president, has created the above infographic to help you understand the action-packed poker game: VOGTLE BIG BET$ LOTTO!

(We join the game already in progress)

In December, Georgia Power secured a commitment from the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to be reimbursed for its portion of billions of dollars in cost overruns that had been tied up in litigation with reactor designer Westinghouse for two years.

Four days later, the Japanese firm Toshiba, parent company of U.S.-based Westinghouse, announced substantial losses from its U.S. nuclear reactor projects. Toshiba had taken on all future cost overruns at Vogtle as part of its settlement with Georgia Power, and Toshiba’s stock went into freefall as it was revealed that the nuclear losses amounted to $10 billion.

Westinghouse declared bankruptcy in March while suing the construction company it had acquired as part of the settlement, Stone & Webster/Shaw/CB&I, for concealing several billion in debt which CB&I was carrying from Vogtle 3 & 4 (and Summer 2 & 3 in SC) in the deal.

All the companies involved have been honing their profit-making skills for a century and have rich, litigious histories. In the case of Westinghouse, bankruptcy appears to be a business strategy — it was bailed out by Toshiba after bankrupting British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. in a Japanese MOX fuel scandal. Toshiba made a risky bet on Westinghouse, paying three times the asking price because of giddy expectations of a “Nuclear Renaissance” back in 2006.

A most important detail of the game is that Georgia Power’s bets have been placed with public money: $2 billion collected from Georgia customers in an up-front nuclear construction tax on electricity bills (CWIP) PLUS $8 billion in taxpayer dollars loaned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Georgia Power emerges as the Big Winner posting startling annual profits more than 20% higher than before Vogtle construction! In light of the bankruptcies, Georgia Power says it is reviewing its options, including to stop construction of Vogtle.

Nuclear Watch South has filed a formal request for an emergency public hearing with the PSC and for a deadline to be set for Georgia Power to submit its plan forward. Georgia Power customers continue to pay $23 million per month to keep building an unneeded power project with an uncertain future. Today, we are still waiting for the PSC to exercise its authority and take hold of the situation.

Last week, the public came out strong to say “NOT ONE MORE CENT FOR VOGTLE” at the PSC’s 16th Semi-Annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring Review public hearing. Media coverage was strong and our message is beginning to show up in the narrative. The next public hearing will be on June 29 at 10AM at the PSC.

Follow the action at nonukesyall.org.

Federal Government Backs 6.5 Billion Dollars in Loans for Plant Vogtle

Vogtle-Dec-13-2013-IMG_9872-smGlenn Carroll

(APN) ATLANTA — On February 20, 2014, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz came down to Georgia to sign off on giving 6.5 billion in taxpayer dollars to Southern Company, its subsidiary

Georgia Power, and Oglethorpe Power to build two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta.

MEAG (Municipal Electric Association of Georgia), 22.7% owner of Vogtle is seeking 1.8 billion dollars in a separate loan guarantee and has a July closure deadline.

The terms of the loan are secret, but Southern Company has divulged to the media that it has put up collateral for the massive loan — namely, the unfinished Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors.

The relatively obscure loan guarantee program goes like this: Wall Street wouldn’t underwrite risky nuclear energy development, so erstwhile President George W. Bush persuaded U.S. Congress to pass a bill allowing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to give “loan guarantees” to jump start construction of a new generation of nuclear reactors.  These loan guarantees are direct payouts from the U.S. Treasury.

Troublingly, there is an historic 50 percent default rate in the loan guarantee program.

As the so-called “Nuclear Renaissance,” which was touted in the late Bush years, shriveled, Southern Company has become one of only two utilities in the country even attempting new reactors, and Southern Company became the sole candidate requesting loan guarantees.

Southern Company’s loan was first announced by President Barack Obama in 2010.  Four years passed, in which Vogtle, less than half-finished, has gone 1.6 billion dollars over budget and 21 months behind schedule.

U.S. citizens have sent literally tens of thousands of letters and petitions to Obama and DOE demanding that the loan guarantees be withdrawn.

Southern Company has said repeatedly that it does not even need the loan guarantees.

The loan had been hung up for so long, reportedly, because Southern Company balked at the terms which amounted to an unbelievably low interest rate, an upfront “credit subsidy fee” of only 0.5-1.5 percent.

However, because the loan guarantee terms are secret, it is not known if Southern Company actually ended up paying anything at all to use taxpayer money.

We do know that DOE gave weight to Southern Company’s “captive ratepayers” and the Georgia Public Service Commission’s generously allowing electric customers to be taxed up front for Vogtle construction costs in a financing mechanism called Construction Work in Progress (CWIP).

Sara Barczak, high-risk energy choices program director for Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, calls it “corporate welfare for one of the largest power companies in the country.”

Recent analysis of Georgia Power annual report data shows that Georgia Power is not even using 46 percent of its electrical production capacity, has suffered flat sales for ten years years, and has posted declining sales the past three years.

This gives rise to real concern whether Southern Company, Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power and MEAG can sell enough electricity to pay back their hefty loan from U.S. taxpayers.

“This loan guarantee is a sweetheart deal for the utilities building Plant Vogtle. Essentially, they’re gambling with every U.S. taxpayer’s dollars to unnecessarily expand one plant here in Georgia,” Becky Rafter, executive director of Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, said.

Glenn Carroll is coordinator of Nuclear Watch South based in Atlanta. http://www.nuclearwatchsouth.org. This article originally appeared in Atlanta Progressive News February 26, 2014

Georgia Power Stuck in a Nuclear Jam

First concrete poured at nuclear reactor in more than 30 years. Plant Vogtle, Georgia.

First concrete poured at nuclear reactor in more than 30 years. Plant Vogtle, Georgia.

Glenn Carroll

Everybody except for Georgia is jumping on the wind and solar bandwagon, but Georgia Power is side-lined in a nuclear jam like a horse-buggy manufacturer at the dawning of the Ford assembly line

Solar and wind are setting records in output and lower costs. Technological breakthroughs in collection and storage of wind and solar have been developed and deployed at such a rapid clip that renewable energy sources are now contributing more electricity to the grid, at lower cost, than nuclear. The historic shift has analysts now harking the coming day when wind and solar will undercut King Coal as well.

It’s easy to see how Georgia Power could get into a nuclear jam. President Bush tried to jumpstart a “nuclear renaissance” by dangling multi-billion dollar enticements to high-stakes utilities like Georgia Power. Georgia Power’s parent company Southern Company had a Federal Reserve Bank-connected CEO position the company at the head of the short list for $8.3 billion in low-interest tax-funded federal loans to build two additional nuclear reactors in Burke County, Georgia. But now Fukushima has changed everything and the nuclear renaissance is a bust, but Georgia Power is left stuck practically alone in a nuclear jam.

This isn’t the first time Georgia Power, and Georgia, have been taken in by federal nuclear promises. Georgia Power only got in the nuclear game after the feds promised to take charge of the radioactive wastes that are generated with nuclear energy. The 1998 nuclear waste deadline has long passed and no new promises are even on the table. Thousands of tons of dangerous high-level radioactive wastes remain indefinitely stored in flimsy warehouses on the banks of Georgia rivers vulnerable to catastrophic loss of coolant and fuel pool fires.

Well meaning Georgia legislators and the Public Service Commission pushed Georgia Power further into the nuclear jam by giving Georgia Power a hefty $2 billion rate hike for “nuclear construction costs.” The escalating rate hike even includes $1 billion of pure profit to Georgia Power for the purpose of ensuring the company will qualify for the low-interest tax-funded federal loan it’s been promised by the feds.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviewing the reactor design proposed to be built at Georgia Power’s Vogtle has thus far failed to mobilize a safety response to the Japanese nuclear disaster and the agency’s in-fighting has landed them before Congress for investigation. Undeterred by internal trouble, the NRC screwed the lid tighter on Georgia Power’s nuclear jam by rushing a majority vote to license the risky new reactor design before completing the Fukushima safety review, placing Georgia Power, and Georgia electric customers, at risk of future unknown and probably expensive reactor safety design upgrades after construction begins.

Industry predictions that gave rationale to the pursuit of new nuclear reactors have been upended by a marked downward trend in electric consumption. Do-it-yourself solar panel installations are sold at major hardware stores and home centers. Simple technologies available to consumers, like LED lighting, and clotheslines will further boost the positive energy conservation trends.

May Georgia Power remember the hard lessons of building Vogtle 1 and 2 before all Georgians experience the tragic lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima! Georgia Power must correct its course or it will spend the next decade mired in a complex nuclear project while the world moves on. Georgia Power’s blind commitment to outmoded nuclear power robs all Georgians of our opportunity to harness the benign sun and wind power abundant in our state.

So … how can Georgia Power get out of its nuclear jam? A good first step in the right direction would be to install solar panels on the 40-acre site already cleared for Vogtle 3 and 4.

Glenn Carroll is coordinator of Nuclear Watch South. This blog originally appeared at Georgia WAND on 5/25/12.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Glenn Carroll

“When the power of love is greater than the love of power the world will know peace.”

bikiniExplosion in the Bikini Islands. Photos of Dr. Tom L. Edmondson from collection of Patrick Edmondson

I was recently present for an astonishing conversation that worked its way from near-death experiences to the Bikini hydrogen bomb test in the South Pacific. More than one man in our group had a father who had participated, in some historic way, with nuclear weapons. A fond acquaintance, Patrick, whose father, Dr. Tom L. Edmondson, saved his life when he was 10 years old said, “The house I grew up in had my father’s first-hand photographs of the Bikini mushroom cloud hanging in the kitchen.”

***

Without one word of public debate the world woke up on an August day to the staggering face of atomic energy. On that day, 600,000 nuclear workers were institutionalized in secret cities building nuclear bombs. The decades which followed would see trillions of tax dollars lavished to build a nuclear industry with classified budgets kept even from Congress.

The horror of nuclear weapons was sold to the people as saving lives by winning the war quickly. The hydrogen bomb, which started the Cold War by obliterating the island of Bikini in 1946, was effectively glossed over by fun, scanty new bathing suits and an explosion of consumerism blasted into orbit by sexy advertising and easy credit — the American Way of Life.

Factories in a chosen few countries cranked out a half-million pounds of atomic gold, that is, plutonium, of which only 15 pounds can make a bomb like the one that destroyed Nagasaki. Soon our home planet had 30,000 atomic weapons aimed at it, each with the destructive force of 1,000 Hiroshimas. The government-sponsored nuclear industry operated in secret and without environmental oversight for decades until uranium from what neighbors thought was a dog-food factory turned up in an Ohio resident’s well and widespread contamination at the nation’s vast complex of nuclear weapons factories came to light.

Heavily subsidized and protected from liability, the nuclear industry also built over 400 nuclear reactors around the globe to produce electricity, and several full-scale nuclear meltdowns are being endured by Earth’s inhabitants as well as contamination from mining and manufacturing at every step of the uranium fuel chain.

How can ordinary citizens possibly bring the powerful and secretive atomic age to a safe closure?

Public response to the fact of uranium, plutonium and hydrogen bombs that could destroy whole cities was swift and clear. The grassroots Ban the Bomb movement started from the heart of radical Christians who could see that nuclear weapons threaten all life on God’s earth and who refused to accept from the start the abomination spawned by the military industrial complex.

Spiritual leaders stood at the forefront of a citizens movement which challenged the morality and legality of nuclear weapons in the courts of justice. Ordinary people joined priests and nuns to get arrested for acts of creative nonviolence and civil disobedience such as hammering a solid gold replica of a nuclear weapon in General Electric’s corporate office or blocking a train transporting nuclear weapons. These simple acts of human resistance to nuclear annihilation bore fruit in 1996 when the International Court of Justice found nuclear weapons possession and threat of use to be illegal.

The Bomb itself contains important lessons. The pictures of the whole Earth which inspired an environmental movement were sent from rockets developed to deliver nuclear weapons which could destroy the other side of the Earth. The powerful mushroom cloud showed us that we are all in it together. And the atom itself teaches us the power that is expressed in a critical mass.

Although the nuclear industry seems entrenched and intractable, it is not even 70 years old, less than one human lifetime. For all its power and captive adherents, nuclear is beginning to crumble under its own unnatural weight. Wholesale production of nuclear weapons on our planet has ceased. The last nuclear weapons test occurred 20 years ago. The trend for nuclear power is steadily downward due to reactor aging and even if the most optimistic version of the so-called “nuclear renaissance” is produced, it will not be enough to overcome the trend. Meanwhile, solar and wind power are sprinting ahead and shaping a much more wholesome future for our planet.

Martin Luther King Jr. testified clearly about the power of love when he said, “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

Nuclear Watch South and Georgia WAND are fine examples of the proverbial “small group of thoughtful, committed people who change the world.” Nuclear technology represents an extreme of a dangerously outmoded way of living based on fear and competition. When we swing back towards love and cooperation a new world will be possible.

Join us in protesting, marching, meeting, testifying and organizing to create a nuclear-free future! Mobilizing our hearts, minds, and bodies we will unleash the power of love in the people as we sing the immortal Georgia WAND song, “if we can only start a chain reaction of the human heart what a wonderful world this will be!”

Glenn Carroll is coordinator of Nuclear Watch South. This blog originally appeared at Georgia WAND on 1/31/12.

This Is the Time to Reject Nuclear Arms

Glenn Carroll

Without a word of public debate, nuclear weapons became a seemingly inevitable fact of life and death on our planet. After World War II ended with two single bombs destroying the JapaneseLove_Your_Mother cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Bomb became big business with vast factory complexes on government reservations in several states across the country.

A government agency, now called U.S. Department of Energy, was formed to oversee private contractors who churned out no less than 30,000 nuclear warheads over the next four decades and established the nuclear industry as an economic force in human affairs.

A people’s movement to “Ban the Bomb” formed instantly in response to the wartime bombing of Japan, and to the “test bombings” on the lands of the Western Shoshone Nation in Nevada and Utah and the Pacific islanders of the Moruroa Atoll.

From protests on the street to civil disobedience at weapons sites, the public has been vocal and insistent that our only reasonable option is to abolish nuclear weapons. Indeed, in 1996 the World Court issued a landmark decision defending this basic ethic when it declared the manufacture, possession or use of nuclear weapons to be illegal.

The Cold War bomb factories were built in secret in the 1940s and 1950s. They operated without public oversight until the Cold War ended in 1991, when crumbling Russian and U.S. nuclear bomb factories and reactors were forced to shut down.

With the Cold War’s end, shocking security issues and environmental contamination throughout Russia and the U.S. bomb complexes were discovered.

Huge inventories of U.S. nuclear waste and weapons-grade plutonium had piled up and were stored in slipshod, temporary containers — even cardboard boxes tossed into landfills.

The U.S. is for the third time seeking permission from its people to rebuild the nuclear weapons complex. There are eight sites that would be involved in the current DOE vision: Savannah River Site near Augusta, Oak Ridge in Tennessee, Los Alamos and Sandia labs in New Mexico, Pantex in Texas, the Kansas City Plant, Lawrence Livermore in California and the Nevada test site.

There are literally dozens of facilities proposed to be spread around at these eight sites, and the sites are being pitted against each other to lure DOE to set up the new facilities there. SRS, for example, is competing against Los Alamos for a consolidated plutonium center.

Thanks to the National Environmental Policy Act, DOE is now required to hold public hearings for an environmental impact statement before it can build new bomb factories. The public has spoken clearly and unequivocally at each opportunity that we reject nuclear weapons under any and all circumstances.

It has been nearly 20 years now since our country has manufactured new nuclear weapons. Momentum is on the side of nuclear disarmament and the final abolition of weapons of mass destruction. Our national security lies down the path of nuclear waste management, environmental restoration and securing the bomb materials from dismantled weapons.

We have a rare window of opportunity to establish a turning point in human history — to publicly express the vision and goal that may inspire our country to lead the world in ending the global nuclear nightmare.

Nuclear weapons are a human artifact and it is humanly possible to turn away from the wasteful path of nuclear madness. We can turn our hearts and minds to a new frontier of human ingenuity — honoring treaties to dismantle nuclear weapons, managing radioactive nuclear waste and securing weapons-grade plutonium and uranium from future use as nuclear weapons.

We are standing at a choice point in history. If it is human nature to learn from our mistakes, then it is wise for us to remember that it was the Bomb itself (and the rockets we developed to deliver them to the other side of our Earth) that showed us the stark and glorious revelation that our planet is finite, fragile and destructible and — most important of all — that we are all in it together.

Glenn Carroll of Decatur is coordinator of Nuclear Watch South. This editorial originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution on 3/3/2008 and reprinted at Common Dreams. “Love Your Mother” artwork ©2007, Glenn Carroll.

No, we don’t need more bombs; plutonium is too dangerous

 

Glenn Carroll

PLUTONIUM.

Trinity_Test_Fireball_16ms

It’s the problem child of the Atomic Age. The first-born from the union of Uranium with man. Gone forth and multiplied – well, proliferated. The fearsome heart of atomic bombs. And now, 34 tons of our precious plutonium is finding its way back home to the Savannah River Site.

Imagine!

For a brief moment, we entertained the grandest of impulses and contemplated reuniting plutonium with the mother fluid from which it was first extracted. I’m referring, of course, to the 35 million gallons of high-level liquid radioactive waste which waits in 50-year-old underground tanks (and occasionally leaks).

REUNITE PLUTONIUM and its related nuclear waste in the immobilization process and you do much to alleviate two currently malignant situations. Plutonium is an ultra-slow radioactivity emitter, and poses no immediate threat to any would-be thief. But only a few pounds of plutonium can be easily made into a bomb, so no slip-ups at all are allowed to the nuclear baby-sitter.

dwpf-canisters

It would be better to return plutonium to the care of the radioactive solvents from which it was taken. The ferociously hot nuclear waste, dangerously mobile if it escapes into the environment, can be solidified into two-ton, glass logs surrounding plutonium canisters to completely safeguard the plutonium from all would-be molesters.
That is nuclear waste management and plutonium security in one righteous jobs program!

Imagine.

REGRETTABLY, the fine notion of immobilization gave way to a far more elaborate proposal – to run plutonium back through the mill and generate yet more hot liquids. Nicknamed “MOX,” the plan called for 34 tons of plutonium returning to Savannah River Site to be fashioned into an untested plutonium nuclear-power plant fuel. MOX’s claim to the plutonium seems to be weakening though as the United States drags a reluctant Russia toward an unprecedented partnership in an ill-advised attempt to harness leftover Cold War fuel to the badly sagging nuclear-power industry.

It’s too early to call the outcome of the plutonium toss-up, but the grandiose concept of MOX plutonium nuclear fuel has been overtaken by a final and supremely sinister suggestion which has emerged for the SRS-bound plutonium. Process it and make it back into “The Bomb!”

Imagine.

The United States, the way-out-front leader of the free world, whose military and nuclear strength knows no peer, has a compelling desire to set up shop to make atomic bombs again. And how can the selective eye fail to settle on Savannah River Site? Glittering crown jewel of the nation’s nuclear-weapons complex with thousands of highly trained Cold War heroes, masters in the handling of plutonium – and with the added bonus of 34 tons of plutonium in stock!

Imagine.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Energy operated its only other plutonium pit facility at Rocky Flats near Denver for 37 years but production was halted because the facility could not be operated within safety and environmental regulations. Exposures to plutonium, beryllium, and other toxins in the work place resulted in elevated levels of cancer, lung disease and other ailments among workers at the Rocky Flats plant.

One worker can be expected to die for every 4.5 years of plutonium pit plant operations, according to the three-volume, 1,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Modern Pit Facility issued by the Department of Energy.

DownloadedFile

Imagine.

Thirty-four tons of plutonium are coming to Savannah River Site. A few pounds can make a bomb to vaporize tens of thousands of sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters in the winking of an eye.

PEOPLE WILL converge from many points on the map and from many points of view to discuss the fate of 34 tons of plutonium in North Augusta this Monday night.
Plutonium. Our first-born child of the Atomic Age. God bless the child. And God bless the people who care for the child.

Imagine.

(Editor’s note: The writer is coordinator of Georgians Against Nuclear Energy, or GANE. GANE opposes construction authorization for the MOX facility before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.)

 

From the Saturday, July 05, 2003 edition of the Augusta Chronicle