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« "Attorney Generals Fight for Public Access in Nuclear Issues" | Main | "Advocates, Ratepayers Oppose Paying for Vogtleā€™s Cost Overruns" »
Saturday
Aug032013

Nuclear revolving door gobbles up billions of dollars of ratepayers' money, threatening to move onto taxpayers next!

Commissioner Geoffrey Merrifield's NRC file photoWhile still a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioner, Geoffrey Merrifield did the nuclear power industry a big favor. He spearheaded a seemingly simple, but significant, change in NRC regulations, which paved the way for new reactor construction, unfettered by bothersome environmental safeguards. Merrifield shephered through a change in the definition of the word "construction." Now, nuclear utilities could build any aspect of a nuclear power plant, save for the reactor and its containment building, without having to first complete an environmental impact statement, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Thus, large aspects of a new reactor construction job -- such as foundation excavations for the reactor complex, or construction of the turbine building -- could proceed apace, building "facts on the ground," and momentum that would be hard to stop.

 

Merrifield capped such corruption by leaving NRC immediately after his dirty work, and going to work for the Shaw Group, which specializes in -- you guessed it -- new reactor construction! This example of the nuclear revolving door between supposed government regulator and industry even made a number of senior managers at NRC uneasy about Merrifield's blatant, self-serving conflict of interest.

 

Now, as reported by the Atlanta Progressive News, to such corruption must be added incompetence, raising not only financial risks, into the billions of dollars, but radiological risks that could impact millions of lives:

 

'...Chicago Bridge and Iron (CB&I), formerly known as Shaw Modular Solutions, makes modules being used to assemble four Westinghouse AP1000 reactors being built at Plant Vogtle in Georgia and V.C. Summer in South Carolina.

“CB&I is unable to provide properly constructed modules... and [have demonstrated a] continued inability to reliably meet the quality and schedule requirements of the project," Barbara Antonoplos, a ratepayer, testified, citing a report from the utility's regulatory staff in South Carolina.

"These problems have existed from the beginning and been raised in every other CB&I hearing and still there is no fix... they [Georgia Power] still do not have a competent outfit making parts and once the new parts get delivered to Vogtle, they are repairing them to make them acceptable.  This alarms me because incompetence of this magnitude breeds disaster especially when it comes to construction of a nuclear device. There is no way these reactors can be considered safe... when ‘patch it together’ is the best construction model they are able to come up with," Antonoplos said.

"Ongoing failures of this sort result in escalating cost and I don't believe you should force ratepayers to foot the bill for such gross incompetence," Antonoplos said.

Southern Company’s projections do not include the cost of the lawsuit they’re engaged in with their contractor, The Shaw Group/Chicago Bridge and Iron, nor the full cost of not getting Federal Loan Guarantees, for which the negotiation deadline has been extended three times according to Georgia WAND's website...'

Alex Flint, NEI's Senior Vice President for Governmental AffairsSpeaking of nuclear revolving doors and federal loan guarantees, the top lobbyist for the nuclear power industry, Alex Flint at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI, photo left), has passed through multiple times. For one, he "served" as the staff director on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, under Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), on whose personal staff Flint had previously "served." The ENR Committee hatched the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In addition to the $13 billion of direct taxpayer subsidies in that bill aimed at promoting new atomic reactor development, Flint wrote the federal nuclear loan guarantee language. After the bill was enacted into law, Flint left "public service" and went to work at NEI, where he remains to this day.

In a very real sense, Flint wrote his own (likely high six-figure, if not more) paycheck, while "serving the public" -- up for dinner to the nuclear industry, that is!

In late 2007, $18.5 billion for new reactor loan guarantees, and another $4 billion in new uranium enrichment loan guarantees, were approved by Congress and George W. Bush. However, even though President Obama, in Feb. 2010, awarded $8.3 billion in new reactor loan guarantees for the proposed new Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors -- giving it the highest profile possible, by making the announcement himself -- Southern Co. has never agreed to the terms. Too much of its own "skin in the game" is being asked of it, for such a financially risky scheme. Thus, no nuclear loan guarantees have yet been finalized.