Bailing out old nuclear plants is bad public policy

Bailing out old nuclear plants is bad public policy
Bob Sheak, May 13, 2019

The Ohio House is in the process of considering a bill, H.B. No. 6, to create the “Ohio Clean Air Program.” It is widely described as a bailout bill being advanced by Republicans to give FirstEnergy Solutions (FES), until last year a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp, a large ongoing stream of cash to keep its two old, uncompetitive, highly indebted nuclear plants in operation. It is $3 billion in debt. While it’s described as a clean-energy bill, it nonetheless includes language that would even make coal and natural gas power plants, the great emitters of greenhouse gases, eligible to reap financial assistance from the state, if they can show that they have made any “improvements” in reducing the emissions of polluting gases, not necessarily carbon dioxide or methane. And it introduces measures that undermine state support for energy-efficiency standards and renewable energy.

A Subcommittee of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Energy Generation Subcommittee, has held a series of hearings on the bill, with both proponents and opponents offering testimony. Dave Simons, co-Chair Ohio Chapter Sierra Club Energy Committee, provides a fitting summary of how the bill is written. Speaking as a citizen at the hearing on April 24, 2019, Simons described the bill as not involving “a careful study and vetting done by experts at the PUCO when making policy decisions like this,” but rather the work of “an under qualified, understaffed, nearly unknown agency operating in the shadows, with little accountability or oversight.” Simons says pointedly, “The Bill is so undefined, poorly written, that pretty much anything goes.” At the same time, given the Republican majority on the subcommittee and in the entire Ohio state government, the bailout of the nuclear plants seems preordained politically. And FirstEnergy Corp and FirstEnergy Solutions will the biggest beneficiaries.

HB6 falls into a pattern of right-wing energy policies across states
The bill is a reflection of a long-term effort by right-wing and industry-backed forces in the country to accomplish at least seven goals related to energy, namely, (1) preserving nuclear power as part of the energy mix, (2) supporting the policy of “energy independence,” which favors fracked natural gas; (3) avoiding costly shut-downs of the nuclear plants, regardless of the environmental and health impacts (unless the public picks up the tab), (4) protecting jobs in the nuclear and fossil-fuel industries to shore up public support, (5) keeping support for renewables at a minimum, (6) continuing to satisfy nuclear plant owners and their allies so that their political contributions keep rolling in for Republicans, and (7) dismissing, if not denying, the vast disruption and harm accompanying global warming. Ohio House Democrats are likely to go along with the bailout, provided the legislation retains something for renewables. Though the political realty in Ohio is that the Republicans in the Ohio House will pass the legislation, with the bailout, regardless of what the Democrats want, and it will ultimately be passed into law. (For the larger context on trends on nuclear policy at the state level, see Sarah E. Hunt, “A Policy Renaissance: Emerging Trends in State Nuclear Policy:

Travis Kavulla gives us some background on this larger, long-term venture in an article entitled “How nuclear plants are gaming climate-change rules” ( The renewed interest in preserving and extending the life of old nuclear power plants is in reaction to the gains in renewable energy. On this he writes: “For more than a decade, state officials have been adopting procurement mandates to grow the share of electricity needs supplied by solar, wind, and other renewable technologies. Today, such laws are in force in 29 states. As renewable technologies have grown in scale, cost has declined. Indeed, these laws have been so effective at reducing the cost of renewables that it is not readily apparent that such mandates are a necessary driver for decarbonization. A recent report by Energy Innovation, an independent research firm, suggests three-quarters of the U.S. coal fleet could be replaced today by renewables solely for economic reasons.” In the face of the development, “some of the nation’s largest energy producers have started to turn them to their own benefit… In numerous states, companies with large investments in nuclear energy – including Exelon, First Energy, Dominion and PSEG – have lobbied states to reconfigure their clean-power incentives to subsidize existing nuclear plants, rather than the emergent technologies that the laws were intended for.”

These reactionary efforts have had some success. Kavulla says this: “The result is a contagion of subsidies to nuclear power plants that started in Democratic states like Illinois and New York in 2016, spread to Connecticut in 2017 and New Jersey in 2018. Bills to this effect are now being considered by Republican-led chambers in Ohio and Pennsylvania. If these measures pass [and this is likely], nuclear interests will have executed a clean sweep of the six northeastern states that have the largest quantities of nuclear generation.” The pro-nuclear-power changes differ slightly from one another, but all “take advantage of green-sounding energy incentives, and they share a basic outline intended to avoid the appearance of a naked subsidy.” They emphasize that nuclear power plants do not produce carbon-dioxide emissions in the generation of electricity and therefore they, like solar and wind, deserve public/government support for their “zero-emissions.” In the end, old nuclear power plants are being bailed out, costumers are paying higher rates, and support for renewables is being questioned or challenged.

The nuclear plants in Ohio

The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant is one of these plants. Journalist Sandy Mitchell writes that Davis-Besse “is located on 954-acre site 10 miles north of Oak Harbor, Ohio, and 21 miles east of Toledo. ( The plant opened in 1978, making it the first in Ohio and the 57th commercial nuclear power plant in the United States. It was originally co-owned by Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company and Toledo Edison and is named for the chairmen of both companies, John K. Davis and Ralph M. Besse”). Subsequently, First Energy Corp became the owner. Mitchell adds, “Davis-Besse is [has] a pressurized water reactor and produces 40 percent of the electricity used in northwestern Ohio” [and] “The plant contributes over $10 million a year in local and state taxes. Its original 40-year license to operate ran from 1977 until 2017 and then was extended by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for another 20 years to 2037, despite its record of accidents and the unsolved, ever-growing nuclear waste problem.

Gar Smith, author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth About the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth (published 2012),writes that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recognized “Davis-Besse as one of the most dangerous reactors in the United States and that “Between 1969 and 2005 this single plant experienced six out of the 34 reported ‘significant accident sequence precursors’ – triple the rate reported at any other U.S. nuclear plant” (p. 147). There have been at least six accidents at the Davis-Besse plant since 2005, according to Sandy Mitchell investigation (( Wikipedia has a summary of information on the “Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station,” including the following notorious example.

“On March 5, 2002, maintenance workers discovered that corrosion had eaten a football-sized hole into the reactor vessel head of the Davis–Besse plant. Although the corrosion did not lead to an accident, this was considered to be a serious nuclear safety incident.[2][3] The Nuclear Regulatory Commission kept Davis–Besse shut down until March 2004, so that FirstEnergy was able to perform all the necessary maintenance for safe operations. The NRC imposed its largest fine ever—more than $5 million—against FirstEnergy for the actions that led to the corrosion. The company paid an additional $28 million in fines under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.[2]” (”

You can see further details on this near-catastrophic event in Helen Caldicott’s book, Nuclear Power is Not the Answer (pages 81-83), or in James Mahaffey’s Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima (pp. 337-341).

The other FirstEnergy Solutions’ nuclear power plant is “The Perry Nuclear Power Plant.” It is notable because it has one of the largest “boiling water reactors in the U.S.” The Perry plant “sits on 1100 acres in North Perry, Ohio, about 40 miles northeast of Cleveland.” When the plant opened in 1987, it “was the 100th power reactor to be built in the US.” While there have been accidents at Perry and while it is unprofitable and in debt, and while the NRC has included it in a list of “27 reactors most at risk from earthquakes” (Gar Smith, p. 79), the focus of attention in the debate over HB6 has been largely about Davis-Besse.

Getting rid of the albatross of old nuclear power plants

FirstEnergy Solutions was a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. until spring of 2018. All along, FirstEnergy Solutions (FES), which operates generating facilities in several states, had the responsibility of operating the two nuclear plants and a coal plant in Ohio. During this time, FirstEnergy Corp. and FES agreed to a “restructuring” plan to have FES become an independent company and to cut all ties with each other. At the same time, FES, already highly indebted, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 31, 2018 (; and “on March 28, 2018, FES filed notice with PJM Interconnection LLC (PJM), the regional transmission organization, that the three nuclear facilities [the two in Ohio and another one in Pennsylvania] would be deactivated or sold during the next three years. In the meantime, the company assured its customers that “all of the plants will continue current operations” (

The coincidence of the restructuring plan and the bankruptcy proceeding reflects the interests of FirstEnergy Corp. FirstEnergy wanted to get rid of this subsidiary, because it is not only unprofitable and encumbered with large debt but has little prospect of becoming competitive. Anya Litvak offers some support for this analysis in an article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (, According to Litvak, the restructuring plan cuts “virtually all ties between First Energy and FirstEnergy solutions, freeing the former “from any liability going forward.” Litvak notes that “FirstEnergy Corp. has been trying to separate from its unprofitable, non-utility power generating division for several years, after low natural gas prices, slow economic growth and other factors conspired to push older coal and nuclear plants out of the money.” There are creditors and government regulators that had to be satisfied with the creation of this new company. But the restructuring plan went ahead. As part of the deal, FirstEnergy agreed to transfer “about $1 billion in value” to FirstEnergy Solutions and “waive any claims against it,” or about “$2.1 billion in claims ( And to sweeten the restructuring plan for FirstEnergy Corp, the company was given “absolution for potential crimes of the past.”

According to Litvak’s investigation, regulators were “shut out of the process.” Government agency officials complained that FirstEnergy provided no information “about the extent of environmental contamination at the sites and that the restructuring plan was “so vague about what rights creditors are forfeiting…they can’t even make a decision whether it’s a reasonable trade . FirstEnergy Corp apparently will go to great lengths to remove FES from its corporation. Why?

It pays off financially

The restructuring plan has been good financially for FirstEnergy Corp. John Fund reports that “FirstEnergy made money after cutting ties with bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions” ( In 2018, the company’s net profits were $981 million, up from $1.7 billion in losses in 2017. There turnaround stems from higher transmission rates, $2.5 billion in “short-term stock investment in the company by several hedge funds, increased sales, reduced debt, and a $3 billion growth strategy to impress the rating agencies (e.g., to increase transmission lines). But the separation of FirstEnergy Solutions from FirstEnergy Corp. was a factor in making all the rest happen.

It pays off politically

The separation also cleared the way politically. The Republicans in the Ohio House would have had a harder time convincing the public that a bailout for FES was necessary if it was still a part of FirstEnergy Corp. After all, FirstEnergy Corp. is one of the largest corporations in the U.S., making the Fortune magazine 500 list. The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, elucidates this fact as follows. “FirstEnergy Corp is an electric utility headquartered in Akron, Ohio. Its subsidiaries and affiliates are involved in the distribution, transmission, and generation of electricity, as well as energy management and other energy-related services. Its ten electric utility operating companies comprise one of the United States’ largest investor-owned utilities, based on serving 6 million customers within a 65,000-square-mile (170,000 km2) area of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.[4] Its generation subsidiaries control more than 16,000 megawatts of capacity, and its distribution lines span over 194,000 miles. In 2018, FirstEnergy ranked 219 on the Fortune 500 list of the largest public corporations in the United States by revenue[5]” (

Politics and corporate interests drive HB 6

It is a Republican bill. The primary sponsors of the bill are Republicans, Reps. Jamie Callender, of Lake County’s Concord Township, and Shane Wilkin, of southwest Ohio’s Highland County. One of the two plants, the Perry plant, is in Callender’s House district. The House Speaker, Larry Householder, wants the bailout. Jim Siegel reports that Governor “DeWine backs saving Ohio nuclear plants,” despite the opposition ( Balmert writes that “FirstEnergy’s political action group has donated more than $250,000 to Householder’s campaign since August 2017. The Pac also gave money to the proposal’s sponsors – $13,700 to Rep Jamie Callender’s most recent campaign and $10,000 to Rep. Shane Wilkin’s,” environmental groups say” (, while Jim Seigel and Mark Williams report that in “the 2017-18 election cycle, FirstEnergy’s political-action committees and executives donated about $1.3 million to Ohio candidates and party funds — more than 70% to Republicans — and spent millions more on lobbying in Ohio and Pennsylvania” (

The proponents’ justifications for the bailout

How do they justify the bailout? John Seewar reports on April 20, 2019 for U.S. News and World Report” on the views of Dave Griffing, vice president of government affairs for FirstEnergy Solutions ( Griffings says the company needs HB6 to be passed to make the electricity generation playing field equal, because solar and wind sources of non-polluting electricity get energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives while nuclear plants don’t. HB6 will help to make up for this past inequity, Griffing is arguing. Note that Republicans have been trying to undermine these incentives since they were introduced. Griffing claims that there have been upgrades at the nuclear plants that “now allow them to operate more efficiently,” implying they are now competitive in the electricity marketplace. The company does not provide any evidence of what the “upgrades” are or that any of its policies have improved its competitiveness. Griffing strongest arguments are based on what the state will lose if the nuclear plants are shut down. Tax revenues will be lost in the communities where the plants are located, affecting “schools, safety services and programs for children and seniors.”1,400 workers plus suppliers and contractors will be thrown out of work, though Seewar notes there are no job guarantees in HB6. And he contends that electricity rates will go up as supply from the plants vanishes and utilities are forced to import electricity from other states. And, as we’ll see, HB 6 does little to strengthen the wind and solar sectors of the Ohio economy.

Thomas Suddes adds to this discussion in an article headlined “Politics, not dirty-air concerns, drive Ohio House GOP’s Green New Deal” ( While it is dubbed a “clean-air plan” that will be “a fair deal for homeowners and renters” who pay FirstEnergy Solutions for electricity, the passage of HB 6 carries a heavy price and in significant ways is just the opposite of a “clean air” bill. The company has no remedy for the nuclear waste accumulating at the two nuclear plants. Clean air credits (cash) would go to any “Ohio electricity producer (whether generating with nuclear fuel, natural gas, coal, wind or the sun) if its plant, or plants, emit no or reduced amounts of carbon dioxide).” But, as already pointed out, coal and natural gas power plants are the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. It threatens to cancel the $4.39 monthly renewable-energy and electricity demand charges designed to encourage the development of solar and wind power generation. And the proponents of HB6 warn that if the two Ohio nuclear plants are closed, as FirstEnergy Solutions threatens to do, then 4,000-plus jobs will be directly and indirectly lost, many of them union jobs. Suddes suggests this is a bit hypocritical, pointing out that Republican legislators have not shown “the same degree of urgency for Ohioans in Trumbull (Warren) and Mahoning (Youngstown) counties thrown out of work thanks to General Motors’ Lordstown shutdown. (FYI, total 2018 compensation of Mary T. Barra, General Motors’ board chair and CEO, was $21,870,450.)” When all is said and done, this is a partisan bill that will benefit some Republican contributors.

According to a report by Jim Siegel and Mark Williams, “Supporters of the bill highlight that the plants generate about 90% of the state’s carbon dioxide-free power and support about 4,000 workers directly and indirectly, while the plants’ taxes are important to local communities and schools. About 15% of the state’s electricity production comes from nuclear sources, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. FirstEnergy Solutions warns that electric bills will go up if the plants close. PJM, which coordinates the wholesale movement of electricity in 13 states, says closing the plants is not expected to hurt electricity reliability in the region. However, closures would require the state to import more power generated elsewhere.” (

HB 6 – some details

There are now two versions of the bill, the original bill and a newer substitute bill. However the original purposes stand, namely, “to facilitate and encourage electricity production and use from clean air resources, to facilitate investment to reduce the emissions from other generating technologies that can be readily dispatched to satisfy demand in real time, and proactively engage the buying power of consumers in this state for the purpose of improving air quality in the state.” What does this mean?
First version of H.B. 6.

Customers pay more

It means the residential, commercial, and industry customers who buy electricity will see their rates go up. If this bill is enacted, the funding will come from raising the rates of residential customers by $2.50 a month, for commercial utilities by twenty dollars, for smaller industrial users by $250, and for commercial or industrial customers “that exceed forty-five million kilowatt hours of electricity at a single location in the preceding year, two thousand five hundred dollars. According to this version, it was estimated that the rate increases would yield $300 million a year, roughly $160-170 million of which was expected to go to the Davis-Besse and Perry, which are viewed by proponents as “clean air resources” and “zero-carbon emitters.” There is no “sunset” provision in the current bill, which means that unless the state legislature (and governor) acts in the future or unless electricity usage goes down, the new rates will continue generating hundreds of millions of dollars each year and for years to come. Bear in mind taxpayers paid for original construction when the plants were built.

How would the money be allocated or spent? An analysis by the editors of The Columbus Dispatch (April 21, 2019) puts it as follows. “The bill purports to be an impartial boost to cleaner energy because it would reward utilities of any sort for zero-emissions energy. A surcharge on electric bills…would create and fund something called the Ohio Clean Air Program. The program would pay utilities $9.25 for every megawatt hour of energy produced with zero carbon emissions.” Wind and solar would be short-changed, because, as the editors write, “While wind and solar energy are growing in Ohio, the two nuclear plants still account for the vast majority of zero-carbon power in the state, so estimates are that they would claim about half of the $300 million the monthly fees would generate” (( Jessie Balmert reports that, while the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants would be eligible for about $169 million of the $300 million Ohio expects to collect in fees…. wind energy in Ohio would be eligible for about $16.4 million and solar could get about $1.4 million, using the plan’s formula” (

Furthermore, according to reporter Mark Williams, “[t]he state also would likely create a program to send funding to coal and gas power plants that make emissions improvements,” something far less than “zero carbon,” or no carbon dioxide or methane emissions (The Columbus Dispatch, April 24, 2019, B1, 12). Williams quotes John Finnigan, the senior regulatory attorney for EDF’s US Climate and Energy Program, representing EDF before state public utility commissions on smart grid deployments and energy efficiency matters who referred to the bill as “nothing but a brazen boondoggle of a bailout for a bankrupt business.”

Renewables are undermined by Ohio Republican legislators

Ohio’s Renewable energy law includes “a renewable energy portfolio standards that requires that 12.5 percent of electricity sold by Ohio’s electric distribution utilities service companies must be generated from renewable energy sources by 2027 and each year thereafter ( However, Republican legislators have tried to end such support. Dave Simons contends: ““House Bill 6 effectively annihilates Ohio’s middle of the road energy efficiency and renewable energy standards by defunding them.” In written testimony for the Subcommittee on Energy Generation, Neil Waggoner (Sierra Club member) writes that the HB 6 “guts Ohio’s clean energy and efficiency standards while forcing electric customers to pay more each month to bail old uneconomic nuclear plants – all while calling it a clean air program. The idea of this would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that it could become a regressive and destructive law” ( The editors at the Columbus Dispatch published a piece on April 21, 2019 (cited above as well) that reveals how HB 6 is a bill that wants to reduce government/state support for renewables ( Here’s some of what the editors write:

“HB 6 backers say the Clean Air Program and its zero-emission credits are open to wind and solar producers, but the bill eliminates funding to achieve Ohio’s Renewable Portfolio Standards — a requirement that, by 2027, utilities in the state must produce at least 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources. Backers say the standards haven’t worked well enough, but the claim is hardly credible given Republicans’ steady efforts to undermine them. From the time they were approved in 2008, think tanks supported by fossil fuel interests published studies claiming the mandate for renewables would kill Ohio jobs and shrink the economy. Those claims generally were rebutted by reports showing that renewables helped lower customers’ electric bills and generated tens of thousands of jobs.

“A 2014 bill froze the mandates at their then-current level and created a study committee that eventually recommended doing away with them entirely. To his credit, former Gov. John Kasich vetoed two bills that would have done that, and the standards remain in place for now.

“But investment in renewables in Ohio surely has been hurt by the uncertainty created by lawmakers’ hostility to the mandates. As bad or worse, in 2014 opponents of wind power passed a law that essentially shut down new wind development by greatly increasing the required distance between wind turbines and adjacent property lines.

“Yet even against those headwinds, clean energy companies and construction projects added nearly 5,000 Ohio jobs in 2018, bringing the total to more than 112,000 — the third-highest in the Midwest and eighth in the U.S., according to a recent report by E2 and Clean Energy Trust, two nonprofit groups supporting clean energy entrepreneurs.

“Imagine what Ohio could accomplish by actually supporting renewables.”

Substitute H.B. 6.

The Energy Generation Subcommittee released an outline of “Sub. H.B. 6” bill on May 2. A list of the changes can be accessed online through the “Ohio Legislative Service Commission.” Mark Williams reports “The House subcommittee voted 5-3 along party lines to refer the revised House Bill 6 to the full Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The proposal was introduced last month as a way to shore up the state’s two financially struggling nuclear power plants, both operated by Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions” (

Jeremy Pelzer provides a useful overview of the latest version of HB6, which remains at its essence a bailout for FirstEnergy Solutions. In the new bill, there is a “slower timeline to end Ohio’s existing green-energy mandates and replace them with new subsidies for ‘zero-carbon power plants’” ( bill takes this into account by lowering the surcharge rates for 2020 to 50 cents per month for residential customers and $15 per month for commercial customers.” This is done because Ohioans will continue through 2020 to pay $4.39 per month “to fund energy-efficiency, renewable-energy, and peak demand programs.” Beginning in 2021, the full surcharge that was specified in the first version of the bill will take effect, that is, “$2.50 per month for residential customers, $20 per month for commercial customers, $250 per month for industrial ratepayers and $2,500 per month for very large power users,” and the state subsidies for energy efficiency and renewable energy will be phased out as they now stand.

There are two big changes. The energy efficiency program will become the responsibility of the electric utilities like FirstEnergy Solutions rather than of the state, if they get state approval, and customers who have had to “opt out” if they did not want to participate in the. Under HB6, customers will have to “opt in,” that is to notify their electric utility that they want to pay a monthly fee for energy-efficiency programs.

If passed, Mark Williams reports, the new surcharge would generate an estimated $176 million in 2020 and $300 million or more in the years thereafter.” Pelzer’s numbers are a bit different. He reports, “The new surcharge would generate an estimated $86 million in 2020, $239 million in 2021, and $306 million annually after that, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Service Commission.” Either way, the HB6 will raise $300 million or more a year by 2021 or 2022 from customers, and then continue at this levels in subsequent years.

As before, the new bill will authorize that the money “be awarded in the form of ‘clean-energy credits,’ based on $9 credit per megawatt in reduced emissions, to the two nuclear plants as well as to wind and solar plants, but in much lower amounts, and to coal and natural gas plants if they can document any “improvements” in their operations that have lowered any air-polluting emissions. But, as previously noted, the majority of the funds are expected to go to FirstEnergy Solutions. Pelzer notes that “Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican who has made HB 6 a priority, has said he hopes to pass the legislation in the next couple of weeks,” that is, before the end of May.

Democrats offer an alternative to HB6: “The Ohio Clean Jobs Plan”

Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus), a member of the Ohio House Energy Generation subcommittee, provides some details on this Democratic alternative “clean energy” bill on her government website

It differs from the Republican versions of the bill mainly by emphasizing the need to encourage and develop renewable energy companies that “protect and grow good jobs across the state, improve the health of Ohioans and avoid rate hikes on consumer utility bills.” With respect to jobs, the emphasis is on restoring the promise of “better jobs and brighter futures, and gives the next generation of Ohio workers the opportunity to lead again – in advanced, clean energy jobs that will power our state into the future.” The implication is that these jobs will be in energy sectors such as solar, wind, energy efficiency, not jobs in nuclear power plants.

The alternative clean energy plan of the subcommittee Democrats also includes a priority for non-nuclear clean energy when it calls for the establishment of “a 50-percent renewable energy portfolio standard by 2050, fix setback requirements to encourage large-scale wind turbine investment, and require a 50 percent in-state preference for new wind and solar projects. And there’s more. The Democratic bill want to “strengthen Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency benchmarks and re-envisions the state’s Advanced Energy Standards (AES) to save consumers money and grow emerging sectors of Ohio’s clean energy economy.” Boggs refers to a report that “Ohioans could realize $3.5 billion in additional economic value under updated efficiency standards” [while] “Nuclear power will not save Ohioans money on their electric bills.”

The message of the Democratic alternative is muddled, because along with the strong emphasis on solar, wind, and energy efficiency, the bill seems to include support for some sort of bailout for the nuclear plants, as suggested by the following language: “The plan would re-envision and modernize Ohio’s AES to support nuclear technology as part of the state’s energy future and create Advanced Energy Credits to maintain a 15 percent baseline generation capacity from emissions-free nuclear power.”

The arguments of those who oppose HB6

The arguments are both for why the nuclear plants should not be bailout and why there should be increased government support for renewables, especial wind and solar, and energy efficiency.

In an email sent out to Sierra Club email-lists on April 20, 2019, Harvey Wasserman offers a “preliminary draft talking points for this week’s Ohio nuke bailout hearings [April 24] (solartopia@GMAIL.COM). He lists his talking points into four categories of reasons for opposing the bailout and generally for opposing nuclear energy, but also reasons for supporting wind and solar energy – and I add information supporting energy efficiency.

#1 The first category is on the “physical status” of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, which Wasserman says “literally crumbling.” He elaborates with this example: “The shield building at Davis-Besse is swiss cheese…pock-marked with holes caused by moisture getting into cracks, then expanding in cold weather, then melting in thaws. It could easily drop heavy chunks onto vital components.” Though it came into operation in 1978, based on a 1960’s design, there “has never been a comprehensive inspection of DB in its over 40 years of operation by an independent agency to check for cracking, embrittlement, incomplete maintenance.” And, as mentioned earlier in this essay, the plant has suffered numerous accidents. Sandy Mitchell offers a list of notable accidents, as follows:

“September 24, 1977—the plant shut down due to a problem with the feedwater system, causing the pressure relief valve to stick open. The NRC still considers this to be one of the top safety incidents in the U.S.
June 24, 1998—the plant was struck by an F-2 tornado, causing damage to the switchyard and the external power to shut off. The reactor automatically shut down until the plant’s generators could restore power.

“March 2002—damage from corrosion of the steel reactor pressure vessel was found by staff. The damage, about the size of a football, was caused by a leak of water containing borax. Repairs and corrections took two years and the plant was fined more than $5 million by the NRC, which called this incident one of the top five in nuclear incidents in U.S. history.

“January 2003—the plant’s private computer network was infected by a computer virus called the “slammer worm,” causing the safety monitoring system to be down for five hours.

“October 22, 2008—a tritium leak was discovered during an unrelated fire inspection. It was indicated that the groundwater outside the plant was not infiltrated by radioactive water.

“March 12, 2010—two nozzles on a reactor head did not meet acceptance criteria during a scheduled refueling outage. After inspection, new cracks were discovered in about one-third of the nozzles, including one that could potentially leak boric acid.

“October 2011—during routine maintenance, a 30-foot-long crack was found in the concrete shield building around the containment vessel.
June 6, 2012—while inspecting the reactor coolant pump, a pinhole spray leakage was discovered from a weld in the seal.

“May 9, 2015—FirstEnergy operators declare an “unusual event” due to a steam leak in the turbine building. (

#2 – Wasserman’s second category is about the negative “health impacts” of nuclear power. He gives three examples that apply to nuclear plants generally and, by implication to Davis-Besse as well. In his email, he writes that “All nukes emit deadly radiation,” refers to “downwind infant death rates rise when a nuke opens,” and refers to the cataclysmic nuclear accidents and their massive ecological and health effects at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. In another article, Wasserman point to how Davis-Besse continuously “dumps its waste water into Lake Erie between Toldao and Cleveland” ( In his book, Nuclear Roulette, Gar Smith offers the following example of how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been negligent in enforcing safety standards at nuclear power facilities, a contributing factor in the accidents, and, implicitly, to make the point that nuclear facilities are inherently unsafe, accidents compound the problem, and poor regulation further exacerbates both safety and health.

“In 2011, the Associated Press published an extraordinary series of reports revealing the extent to which the NRC had become a tool of the very industry it was supposed to be regulating. After spending a year poring over more than 11,000 NRC documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the AP came to a chilling conclusion: ‘Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them” (p. 138).

Joseph Mangano, Executive Director Radiation and Public Health Project, published a report on April 6, 2019, titled “ Rising Cancer Incidence Near New York State Nuclear Power Plants Since Startup of Reactors” ( He points out that there is good reason to be concerned about the health effects of nuclear power plants, since they “routinely release over 100 radioactive chemicals into the environment/food chain – chemicals only created in reactor operations or atomic bomb explosions. Just one federal study of cancer near U.S. plants has been conducted, a review of cancer mortality trends from 1950 to 1984.”

Mangano uses data from The New York State Cancer Registry to compare the cancer incidence in the counties in which the six nuclear reactors are variously located to the cancer incidence in all other counties combined, which are defined as the ‘control’ area, in which no exposures or much lower exposures from nuclear plants occur…most of whom live over 20 miles from any reactor.” He identifies the counties in which the nuclear reactors are currently operating or counties that are closer than 20 miles from. Two are at the Indian Point plant in Westchester County (started 1973 and 1976). Four others are on Lake Ontario, including one at the James Fitzpatrick plant in Oswego County (1974); two at the Nine Mile Point plant in Oswego County (1969 and 1987); and one at the R. E. Ginna plant in Wayne County (1970).” Except for Nine Mile Point unit 2, the other five reactors “are among the oldest of 98 reactors currently operating in the U.S. A tentative agreement signed by New York State would shut down the Indian Point reactors in spring 2020 and spring 2021. A 2016 law allows electric utilities to increase rates.”

“The registry,” Mangano notes, “provides historical data for five-year periods, according to when cases were diagnosed. Moreover, cases are assigned to the county of residence of the person diagnosed at the time of diagnosis. The earliest data is the period 1976-1980, and the latest five-year period is 2011-2015 (as of April 2019).” He continues: “The registry provides the number of cancer cases for five-year groups, along with the rate (number of cases per 100,000 population). The rates are age-adjusted to the 2000 standard U.S. population, using five-year groups (age 0-4 up to age 80-84, age 85 and over). This adjustment, used as a standard in epidemiological research, ensures an ‘apples to apples’ comparison by period and by geographic area; failure to make such an adjustment would mean that an area with an unusually large percentage of elderly residents (with high cancer rates) would always have higher rates.”

Mangano’s analysis of the data finds that the incidence of cancer goes up in the targeted counties after the nuclear power plants go into operation and that the cancer incidence in these counties are higher than in the rest of New York. Here’s a summary from the report of what he found. “This report is the first of trends in cancer cases near New York State nuclear plants, comparing trends in local county(ies) with the state, for five-year periods, from 1976-1980 to 2011-2015.” He then refers to the results of the study, as follows:

1.Indian Point. In 1976-1980, cancer incidence in the four counties closest to Indian Point was 20.5% BELOW the state rate. By 1996-2000, the local rate was 4.0% ABOVE the state, and since then has been 1 to 4% ABOVE the state. If the local rate had remained at 20.5% below the state rate over the following 35 years, 56,012 fewer cancer cases would have occurred (“excess” cases).

2.Fitzpatrick and Nine Mile Point. In Oswego County, the 1976-1980 cancer incidence rate was 52.9% BELOW the state rate. By 1986-1990, the county rate had surpassed the state rate (2.0% ABOVE); and in the five-year periods in the 21st century, had risen to 12.3%, 8.7%, and 9.1% ABOVE the state. Total excess cases from 1981-2015 were 10,793.

3.R. E. Ginna. In Wayne County, the 1976-1980 cancer incidence rate was 28.6% BELOW the state rate. By 1986-1990, the county rate had surpassed the state rate (7.5% ABOVE), and has ranged from 3.6% to 6.6% ABOVE since then. Total excess cases from 1981-2015 were 5,020.

The findings are “significant and unexpected trends near each of the nuclear plants are not just statistically significant but raise the question of whether radioactive emissions from the reactors have harmed local residents.” That is, there is a need to collect additional evidence to determine the specific links between the radioactive chemical that nuclear reactors release into the air and water and the people who are stricken with cancer. Thus, he writes, “More studies are warranted, and any discussion of the future of New York nuclear plants must consider public health issues, not just financial ones.” Bear in mind that the discussions in Ohio over HB6 lack such information.

#3 – The third category identified by Wasserman is about “environmental impacts. He makes three points. One, the “Cooling towers at Perry and Davis-Besse kill far more birds than modern industrial wing turbines, solar panels, batteries or LED/efficiency.” Two, “Heat emissions from steam and hot water [from the reactors] ‘kill trillions of marine creatures and unbalance Lake Erie’s eco-system; renewables emit no such heat.” Three, “All reactors create both low and high radioactive waste – [and there is] no realistic management plan.”

Coolant ponds

On the second point, Gar Smith has this is say:

“The 104 US reactors operating in 40 of the 50 states [as of 2012] routinely discharge used coolant water into the nation’s major streams, the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. While much of a reactor’s coolant water is released as steam (which heats the atmosphere), the remainder – heated up to 25 degrees F over ambient water temperatures and sometimes tainted with radioactive isotopes – is discharged back into local waters, where it wreaks damage on river and water life” (p. 56).

He also notes: “When it comes to producing electricity, nuclear is an extravagantly water-wasting technology” (p. 57).

Global warming increases the chances of accidents.

The nuclear reactors at Davis-Besse and Perry need relatively cool water constantly flowing through them to prevent the uranium fuel in the core of the nuclear reactor from over-heating and exploding. What that have to do with global Warming? Helen Calidcutt makes the point concisely: “Global warming can induce unpredicted and extreme weather events that could heat up the rivers and lakes from which nuclear power plants extract their cooling water. An adequate supply of water itself may also cease to exist as drought conditions take over” (Nuclear Power is Not the Answer, p.86).

Nuclear waste

The problem of nuclear fuel waste is referred to by Wasserman, another serious and growing problem without an adequate solution in sight. This is a problem that would continue even if Davis-Besse was denied the bailout and the nuclear power plants were shutdown, because it would leave the accumulated spent fuel rods there. If the company is bailed out, then it will continue generating waste on top of what is already there. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a “backgrounder” on “radioactive waste,” ( The NRC publication is a useful reminder of how lethal and long-lasting such waste is. Here is some of what the NRC says on the issue.

“High-level radioactive waste primarily is uranium fuel that has been used in a nuclear power reactor and is ‘spent,’ or no longer efficient in producing electricity. Spent fuel is thermally hot as well as highly radioactive and requires remote handling and shielding. Nuclear reactor fuel contains ceramic pellets of uranium 235 inside of metal rods. Before these fuel rods are used, they are only slightly radioactive and may be handled without special shielding.

“During the fission process, two things happen to the uranium in the fuel. First, uranium atoms split, creating energy that is used to produce electricity. The fission creates radioactive isotopes of lighter elements such as cesium-137 and strontium-90. These isotopes, called “fission products,” account for most of the heat and penetrating radiation in high-level waste. Second, some uranium atoms capture neutrons produced during fission. These atoms form heavier elements such as plutonium. These heavier-than-uranium, or “transuranic,” elements do not produce nearly the amount of heat or penetrating radiation that fission products do, but they take much longer to decay. Transuranic wastes, sometimes called TRU, account for most of the radioactive hazard remaining in high-level waste after 1,000 years.
“Radioactive isotopes eventually decay, or disintegrate, to harmless materials. Some isotopes decay in hours or even minutes, but others decay very slowly. Strontium-90 and cesium-137 have half-lives of about 30 years (half the radioactivity will decay in 30 years). Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years.

“High-level wastes are hazardous because they produce fatal radiation doses during short periods of direct exposure. For example, 10 years after removal from a reactor, the surface dose rate for a typical spent fuel assembly exceeds 10,000 rem/hour – far greater than the fatal whole-body dose for humans of about 500 rem received all at once. If isotopes from these high-level wastes get into groundwater or rivers, they may enter food chains. The dose produced through this indirect exposure would be much smaller than a direct-exposure dose, but a much larger population could be exposed.”
Storage of nuclear waste

How is this waste stored? Robert Alvarez has an answer in an article published for The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on August 9, 2017 ( He discusses “the pool problem,” where “[c]urrently, about 70 percent of some 244,000 spent nuclear fuel assemblies in the United States sit in US power reactor cooling ponds, with the remaining 30 percent in dry storage casks.” The capacity of the US reactor fleet’s cooling pond storage is “maxed out.” The problem, or challenge, is that any situation where the cooling pool would lose a significant amount of water. Alverez continues:
“If the fuel assemblies in a pool are exposed to air and steam, their zirconium cladding will react exothermically, after several hours or days catching fire in burn front, ala a forest fire or a fireworks sparkler…. Such a fire would release a potpourri of radioisotopes; particularly worrisome is the large amount of cesium 137 in spent fuel. Cesium 137 gives off highly penetrating radiation and has a 30-year half-life, meaning it persists in the environment for a long time. It is absorbed and concentrates in the food chain as it if were potassium.”

Alvarez and his colleagues recommend two steps: “a reduction of the density of spent fuel assemblies now stored in these pools, and an expansion of on-site storage of used fuel in hardened ‘dry casks.’” At the same time, Alvarez points out that the “current generation of dry casks was intended for short-term on-site storage…. None of the dry casks storing spent nuclear fuel is licensed for long-term disposal.” The upshot is that there appears to be no efficient, long-term solution to the nuclear-waste problem. Trump and his administration are ignoring the problem: “The trump administration zeroed out a $65 million-line in the Energy Department’ fiscal 2018 budget that would have gone toward improving the safety and security of stored spent nuclear fuel.” In the meantime, “US commercial power reactors have generated about 75 percent of the global inventory of spent nuclear fuel” and all they can do is continue what they’ve been doing. And that’s scary. By the way, it is not an issue that has been raised in the hearings over H.B. 6, as far as news coverage goes.

#4 – This is about the problematic “economics” of nuclear-generated electricity. Wasserman maintains that state regulation that has deterred investment in Ohio’s wind. On this, he writes: “The Legislature’s senseless anti-wind setback is purely Luddite, stopping $4 billion in private investment ready to build northern Ohio wind farms that would quickly and cleanly provide the power now produced by nukes.” The conditions in that part of the state are propitious for wind farms. The land is flat and there is plenty of wind. The farmers on whose land wind turbines would be located “want the income.” Wind farms can be up and running in two years and keep going for 30 years. Investment in renewables will create jobs: “More than a quarter-million Americans now work in the solar industry; more than 100,000 in wind, far more than in coal, oil, or nuclear.
There are other issues concerning current and anticipated regulation.

At the hearing held by the Energy Generation subcommittee on April 22, 2019, Annie Gilleo, Senior Manager, State Policy, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy [ACEEE], gave the following testimony. She opposes H.B. 6 because it makes little sense to support “Ohio’s aging nuclear fleet while simultaneously rolling back the state’s energy efficiency.” She also says that “HB 6 increases electricity rates but “provides no direct benefits in exchange.” But “similarly funded energy efficiency programs save customers money by lowering energy usage and keeping utility system costs down.” She continues: “In 2017, every $1 spent on them created $2.65 in benefits for Ohio families and businesses…. A study by ACEEE found Ohio’s energy savings goals could save customers almost $5.6 billion in avoided energy expenditure and reduced wholesale energy and capacity prices over 10 years of implementation” (

Gilleo refers to other benefits stemming from existing energy efficiency programs. “Efficiency improvements in buildings and industry decrease fossil fuel emissions and air pollution. The reduced emissions could help counties working to improve air quality meet national standards. A recent analysis shows that efficiency is a key tool for reducing emissions for a few Ohio counties in particular Jefferson, Lorain, Butler, and Hamilton. These pollution reductions also have significant impacts on the health impacts from energy efficiency, saving up to $1.6 billion in avoided health harms. And efficiency is a major job creator in the state, employing almost 80,000 Ohioans. It accounts for 20% of all construction jobs and 24% of all energy sector jobs. HB 6 could entirely erase these health and job benefits.”

The Ohio Environmental Council also views energy efficiency as something to be given priority in Ohio’s energy policy. The organization defines energy efficiency as “a means to getting the same amount of services we expect when we use energy – electricity or natural gas in our homes, for example – but using less of it to deliver those same services.” Energy efficiency makes our homes, businesses, factories, schools, and home appliances less energy wasteful and more energy efficient ( According to OEC, “Ohio’s Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) – the state’s requirement on electric utilities to meet a portion of their customer demand through energy efficiency – was established in 2008 with the enactment of Ohio Senate Bill 221.” Under this standard, Ohio utilities “offer discounts and rebates on energy efficient lighting, weatherization, and household appliances.” Customers “can earn a rebate on purchasing an Energy Star refrigerator, or a factory could get an incentive to replace old light with new LED fixtures.” Overall, if the standard is not eliminated by HB 6, the standard is expected to “reduce 22.5% of Ohio’s electric energy use by the year 2027.” And since 2009, the standard “has resulted in over $5.1 Billion in savings for Ohio customers on their utility bills.” The results might have been even better if “in 2014 the Ohio General Assembly [had not] enacted law changes that negatively impacted Ohio’s efficiency standard by creating an opt-out for large industrial customers, and allowed utilities to count efficiency savings” that not improve energy efficiency.

Why are there so few new nuclear reactors being built?

Peter Fairley addresses this question in an article for MIT’s Technology Review on May 28, 2015 ( His bottom line is that “it’s just too expensive.” There other concerns as well. The accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima added to the worries about nuclear power. The “economics” of the nuclear power plants remains have gone from poor to worse. Fairley refers to a report by the International Energy Agency and the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency that found equipment costs had risen 20 percent from 2010 to 2014. He cites evidence from the financial advisory firm Lazard that the costs of generating power from solar and onshore wind had fallen below the costs of nuclear. In the meantime, power from natural-gas-fired plants (increasingly from fracking) is far cheaper than from nuclear power, though be reminded that natural gas is a carbon-emitter. While there are four new nuclear reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, only loan guarantees from the federal government and additional financing support from state regulators made that feasible.

For a rebound to occur, Fairly maintains, the nuclear industry will have “to demonstrate that it can build the enhanced-safety reactors that regulators are mandating, on time and on budget.” There is no indication that this is going to happen, at least when it comes to the construction of the large conventional nuclear reactors. The new reactors being built are “now years late and billions of dollars over budget.” The U.S. Department of Energy and other proponents of nuclear-powered energy have hope that work on the construction of small modular reactors will sooner or later become available and will be a boost the nuclear power industry. On this point, however, Fairley found that “the most mature designs have yet to attract buyers.” He continues this point: “Several leading developers, including Babcock & Wilcox and Westinghouse, have recently scaled back their programs.”

Concluding thoughts

The future of HB6 lies presently in the hands of the Republican Party, its control of both houses of the General Assembly and the governorship. And they have made it clear that, whatever else ends up in the bill, they support a funding formula that will give FirstEnergy Solutions large and continuing financial assistance for an unspecified number of years into the future. And they will do this without any restrictions on how the money will be spent and without any expressed concern about the age of the two nuclear plants and history of accidents, especially at Davis-Besse. They will do it without acknowledging the frequent, if not continuous, harmful leaks of radioactive isotopes into the air, the water contamination in Lake Erie, and the effects on health of workers and local communities. And they will pass HB6 without an independent audit of the nuclear plants. They will do it without a word about the festering problem of nuclear wastes, accepting the assurances of FirstEnergy Solutions that there have been unspecified “upgrades.” And, while they may include some token provisions in the bill in support of wind and solar power to placate their Democratic colleagues, the Republicans in Ohio have a history of doing their best to undermine wind and solar by imposing or freezing regulations that undermine their prospects. And the funding formula under HB6 ensures that little will go to wind and solar. The hypocrisy of these opportunistic free market ideologues is blatant.

But the situation, the result of past corporate and government decisions, does not provide for good options. If the legislators rule against the bailout (unlikely), FirstEnergy Solutions will end up bankrupt and will close the nuclear power plants, jobs and taxes will be lost. The question then would be: Who is responsible for the very expensive and lengthy decommissioning of the plants? Probably Ohio taxpayers. Maybe it would just become another minimally secured sacrifice zone. If the legislators support the bailout (likely), then the customers will pay. What about wind and solar? Well, the Republican legislators have pretty much decided that wind and solar are not viable alternatives to nuclear power at this time.

In the meantime, all this talk about Republican talk about zero-emissions seems a distraction. They generally express little or no concern about the increasingly disruptive climate change and its effects that have been not only well documented by scientists but also by our own experience with extreme weather events, flooding, wildfires, droughts, extraordinary hurricanes, and such. And what is “normal” adds to the problem. We have locally and nationally an energy system that is overwhelmingly based on carbon-dioxide emitting fossil fuels. The transportation system is dominated by gasoline-burning cars, vans, and trucks, and a substantial portion of taxpayer money goes into maintaining the roads and bridges that keep the system operating. Most residences and buildings and businesses are heated and cooled by electricity generated largely by natural gas and coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels. Real estate development engulfs every available of profitable space, often devoid of any though to infrastructure. The landfills steadily fill with the wastes culture of hyper consumption that is fostered by endless corporate advertising and products made not to last. While solar, wind, and energy efficiency may not be the whole answer to global warming, there are the only viable energy options available and they need all the support they can get. But, as far as the Republicans are concerned, there is no climate emergency that requires extraordinary government intervention, the economy is just fine, and the more consumption the better and wind and solar don’t quite fit into this conception.

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