Beyond Nuclear International

Nuclear power goes South in South Carolina

Executive admits fraud in fleecing ratepayers and shareholders

By Linda Pentz Gunter

“It looks like crime might well pay after all.”

That was the weary and only slightly tongue-in-cheek conclusion drawn by longtime anti-nuclear campaigner, Tom Clements recently, after a former South Carolina nuclear utility executive pled guilty to fraud in federal court. 

Clements is the director of Savannah River Site Watch, but his activism has, for decades, extended well beyond the perimeter of that vast nuclear site.

For years, Clements and others have followed — and attempted to stand in the way of — the forced march of South Carolina ratepayers toward nuclear fiasco. When it finally unraveled in late July, there was only cautious cause for celebration.

On July 23, Stephen Byrne, the former COO of SCANA, the South Carolina utility originally in charge of the construction of two new nuclear reactors in the state, pled guilty in a massive nuclear conspiracy that defrauded ratepayers, deceived regulators and misled shareholders. 

Byrne is charged with lying about progress on two Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors under construction — and since abandoned — at the V.C. Summer site, where costs ballooned to more than $9 billion. 

The lies — or “intentional misrepresentations” as court documents described them — were necessary to make the case that the two new reactors would be finished on time, thereby qualifying the company for $1.4 billion in future federal tax credits. 

But when Clements did the math, Byrne still came out ahead. “One of the court filings says Byrne earned $6.3 million from 2015-2017,” Clements said. “The project originally started with a filing with the SC Public Service Commission in 2008 and ended in July 2017. His plea agreement says he will pay a $1 million fine, though the judge could make it higher.” 

So yes, crime still pays.

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Nuclear blackmail in Illinois

Exelon stranglehold on energy legislation runs long and deep

By David Kraft

Breaking news update: Today, August 10, a putative class of Commonwealth Edison customers filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, Commonwealth Edison Company (“ComEd”), ComEd’s parent Exelon Corporation, and several other defendants. Read all the details here.

The recent Illinois lobbying corruption scandal involving Exelon Corporation, its subsidiary Commonwealth Edison and Democratic House Speaker, Michael Madigan, demonstrates the extent to which nuclear “power” is about more than electrons.  

The FBI arrests of the Ohio House Speaker and five others in a $60 million bribery/corruption scheme; the $10 billion Exelon nuclear bailout in New York; the questionable circumstances surrounding Exelon’s 2016 PepCo merger; and the South Carolina $9 billion SCANA fraud case, suggest that this may be a national pandemic. 

 illustration by George Eckart

All of this was summarized nicely in a recent New York Times opinion column, “When Utility Money Talks,” (8/2/20). 

However, the situation in Illinois with Exelon, and its subsidiary ComEd, has been longstanding and particularly egregious.

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When a Dene lantern shone in Hiroshima

A 1998 Dene delegation to Japan thanked Hibakusha for “holding up a shining light” to peace

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Sometimes the best therapy for trauma, is to return to the scene and make amends. In more academic realms, this is referred to as ‘reparations.’ For the suffering individual, it is a proven antidote to post traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD.

Thus, American veterans of the war in Vietnam have returned there to engage in works of charity, care and rebuilding, assuaging both the pain of atrocities witnessed but also those they may have participated in. Trauma is also guilt, and guilt can be eased by forgiveness and by actions for good.

Reparations and apologies are built into some cultures, including that of the Indigenous Dene people of Canada, who believe that healing requires circles to be closed in order to allow for reconciliation. And so it came about that, in August 1998, a delegation of 10 Dene went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 53 years after the deadly atomic bombings, to attend the annual peace ceremonies there. And to make amends.

Decades after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the Dene learned that uranium mined from their land had been used in the atomic bombs dropped on those cities. It was necessary, therefore, to travel there in person. 

“It’s a justice issue for them,” explains Dene activist, Cindy Kenny-Gilday. “They have to make amends of some kind. So they have to go to the surviving relatives of the Japanese people and say ‘this is the way it happened.’ And in telling that story, heal themselves.”

The Dene went to Hiroshima to remember and atone. (Photo: Jepster/Creative Commons)
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Canada should acknowledge its role in the A bomb

Nobel Laureate, Setsuko Thurlow, asks Trudeau for a “statement of regret”

Toronto’s Setsuko Thurlow—a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima—has urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to acknowledge the extensive Canadian government involvement in the creation of the first atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. She requested that the Prime Minister issue a statement of regret for the immense deaths and suffering inflicted on the two cities and asked that Canada ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Her actions and this article come courtesy of Anton Wagner and the Hiroshima Nagasaki Day Coalition.

The full text of Setsuko Thurlow’s appeal to the Prime Minister is posted on the Hiroshima Nagasaki Day Coalition website, with the background brief, “Canada and the Atom Bomb” she submitted to Justin Trudeau along with her letter.

Thurlow submitted her appeal to the prime minister three weeks before the 75th anniversary of the first American test of an atom bomb in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945. It was made of plutonium, the same weapon used against Nagasaki three weeks later. Hiroshima was destroyed by an atom bomb made from uranium. By the end of 1945, over 140,000 people had perished in the nuclear strike against Hiroshima, which Thurlow witnessed as a thirteen-year old. Another 70,000 died in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

Setsuko Thurlow lived through the horrors of the Hiroshima bombing and is a leading Hibakusha spokesperson for peace (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Thurlow jointly accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in 2017. Thirty-eight countries have ratified the UN Ban Treaty. But it needs twelve more nations to ratify for the treaty to become international law. Canada could break the ratification logjam stopping the Treaty from coming into force.

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The big spender we don’t need

Trump administration plans vast expansion of military budget

By Lawrence Wittner

In late May of this year, President Donald Trump’s special envoy for arms control bragged before a Washington think tank that the U.S. government was prepared to outspend Russia and China to win a new nuclear arms race.  “The president has made clear that we have a tried and true practice here,” he remarked.  “We know how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion.”

This comment was not out of line for a Trump administration official.  Indeed, back in December 2016, shortly after his election, Trump himself proclaimed that the United States would “greatly strengthen and expand” the U.S. government’s nuclear weapons program, adding provocatively:  “Let it be an arms race.  We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”  

In a fresh challenge to Russia and China, delivered in October 2018, Trump again extolled his decision to win the nuclear arms race, explaining: “We have more money than anybody else, by far.”

Trump brags that the US, already the world’s biggest military spender by far, can “outspend” and “outlast” every other country “into oblivion.” (Image: SIPRI/Wikimedia Commons)

And, in fact, the Trump administration has followed through on its promise to pour American tax dollars into the arms race through a vast expansion of the U.S. military budget.  In 2019 alone (the last year for which worldwide spending figures are available), federal spending on the U.S. military soared to $732 billion.  (Other military analysts, who included military-related spending, put the figure at $1.25 trillion.)  

As a result, the United States, with about 4 percent of the world’s population, accounted for 38 percent of world military spending.  Although it’s certainly true that other nations engaged in military buildups as well, China accounted for only 14 percent of global military spending that year, while Russia accounted for only 3 percent.  Indeed, the United States spent more on its military than the next 10 countries combined.

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Nucleargate in Ohio

Huge criminal racketeering conspiracy orchestrated reactor bailouts

By Linda Pentz Gunter

It’s been a bit of a Watergate week for nuclear power, with individuals in two states arrested for criminally defrauding the public to keep nuclear power alive. In Ohio, it was public officials, believed to be backed by nuclear company money, who illegally orchestrated a massive subsidy. In South Carolina, it was the arrest of an energy company official who has pled guilty to a $9 billion nuclear fraud. This week, we feature the Ohio story. Next week, it will be South Carolina’s turn.

If you were going to pull someone out of central casting to play a thuggish villain, you would choose Larry Householder. But he wouldn’t need any acting skills.

On July 21, Householder, along with four others, was arrested for his alleged involvement in what amounts to the biggest criminal racketeering conspiracy in Ohio history. Somehow it’s not a surprise that it revolved around pots of money to keep two aging and unaffordable nuclear power plants open.

Larry Householder’s straight-from-central-casting campaign ad

While Householder may physically embody everyone’s idea of a gangster, it’s not his official profession. He is — and presumably that will soon be a “was” — the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives.

The scheme is laid bare in an 81-page criminal complaint. It was busted open by a year-long, detailed and covert investigation by the US Attorney’s office and the FBI, and involves the flow of $61 million of dark money directed toward activities that would ensure the passage of legislation in Ohio guaranteeing the bailout of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear reactors to the tune of $1.5 billion. The subsidy is being funded via a surcharge on electricity customers.

The bill, known as HB6, also slashed mandates for wind and solar energy and eliminated energy efficiency requirements. It was, as David Roberts described it on Vox just after the bill passed in July 2019, “the worst piece of legislation in the 21st century” and “the most counterproductive and corrupt piece of state energy legislation I can recall in all my time covering this stuff.”

FirstEnergy Solutions, the then owner of the plants, had threatened their closure if the subsidy was not forthcoming.

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