Linda Pentz Gunter on the Nuclear Corruption Cases

In Ohio, Larry Householder, the former Speaker of the House, is facing trial in federal court in Cincinnati on charges of directing $61 million to pass and defend a billion dollar nuclear bailout bill.

Linda Pentz Gunter
Beyond Nuclear

In July 2021, FirstEnergy entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, paid a $230 million penalty and acknowledged that it paid the money to Householder and others through a non profit to get the bailout bill passed.

In South Carolina, in October 2021, Kevin B. Marsh, 66, former SCANA CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors, was sentenced to two years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Federal officials alleged that Marsh intentionally defrauded ratepayers while overseeing and managing SCANA’s operations – including the construction of two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station – so the company could obtain and retain rate increases imposed on its rate-paying customers and qualify for up to $2.2 billion in tax credits.  

In late 2016, confronted with information that the project was delayed and that the tax credits were at risk, Marsh and others withheld that information from regulators in an effort to keep the project going.  

Marsh’s false and misleading statements, as well as other false and materially misleading statements made by his co-conspirators, allowed SCANA to obtain and retain rate increases imposed on SCANA’s rate-paying customers.

And in Illinois, in March 2022, a federal grand jury indicted the powerful Speaker of the House, Michael Madigan, on racketeering and bribery charges for allegedly using his official position to corruptly solicit and receive personal financial rewards for himself and his associates. 

Two years earlier, Commonwealth Edison Company, the largest electric utility in Illinois, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, paid $200 million to resolve bribery allegations related to the Madigan case. Madigan’s House carried water for ComEd and its corporate parent, Exelon, allowing it to charge Illinois ratepayers as much as $2.3 billion to keep afloat Exelon’s two  struggling nuclear plants.

Linda Pentz Gunter of Beyond Nuclear has been tracking the corruption in the nuclear power industry. 

Do you see this as a positive story – that the Justice Department is bringing these prosecutions against major corporations and politicians, that they are focusing their fire on serious corporate corruption?

“Absolutely,” Gunter told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “When we watched the Householder press conference unfold and we listened to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney and the way they spoke about this, they were furious that they had to expend this kind of time on politicians that should be just doing their jobs. The U.S. Attorney in particular talks about the fentanyl crisis and all of the other things they were trying to deal with, and instead they had to spend this extraordinary amount of time on corrupt politicians, politicians who ought to know better. They represent us. You don’t expect them to be lawbreakers.”

“It was so surprising to us. We think of the FBI as an organization that investigates citizen activist groups. To see the FBI actually taking the time to thoroughly investigate this case – was quite encouraging. It’s not surprising to see a leading Democrat in Illinois be so easily bought and so corrupt, as it is by no means restricted along party lines. If you look at the history of political corruption, it’s not restricted to one party or another. But finally you are seeing some justice.”

“Nuclear power is so uneconomical now,” Gunter said. “Nuclear power is almost completely dependent on the government for not only its continued existence, but also for new reactor construction. It’s almost completely dependent on federal bailouts, which is our money. They cannot stand on their own two feet financially. To see the industry exposed for the kinds of skullduggery and corruption that is going on at our expense is very satisfying.”

The West Virginia legislature last year repealed its ban on nuclear power facilities. And earlier this year the Associated Press reported that Bill Gates is considering West Virginia as a location for his nuclear power efforts. Here is the opening of that story: 

“Bill Gates is looking to West Virginia as he plans for the next phase of his effort to reboot U.S. nuclear energy technology: powering the east coast.”

“Microsoft co-founder Gates, who visited a closed down coal-fired plant in Glasgow, West Virginia on Monday, said he needs to see how his Natrium nuclear reactor demonstration in Wyoming performs before making any announcements about new sites.” 

“The Kemmerer, Wyoming sodium-cooled nuclear reactor is taking over the site of a current coal-powered plant and was scheduled to be online by 2028, but is facing delays because its only source of fuel was uranium from Russia, now at war with Ukraine.”

“However, during a visit to the American Electric Power plant, which closed in 2015, Gates called the West Virginia’s Legislature’s decision last year to repeal the state’s ban on nuclear power facilities ‘quite impressive’ and said he’s looking for sites to expand his efforts to the east coast.”

So, Bill Gates wants to bring his nuclear power plants to the East Coast. And there is the West Virginia legislature upending its ban a year before he arrives on the scene to scope out locations.

No ground has been broken yet on any of these so-called new advanced reactors. But are there still any new plants under construction in the United States?

“In Georgia, you have the only two new nuclear power plants still under construction,” Gunter said. “These are the Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors – also Westinghouse AP1000 – also paid by Georgia ratepayers in advance through this construction work in progress law. That means you get a surcharge in your rates while they are building them, also heavily subsidized, originally pushed through by President Obama with federal subsidies, massively over budget. We are looking at costs as high as $34 billion for these two reactors if and when they are completed. They are constantly delayed. They were supposed to be online years ago. Now they are supposed to be online this year. Now it’s maybe next year. And it keeps getting pushed back.”

“The Georgia case exemplifies many of the problems with nuclear power, front and center being the fact that nuclear power is too slow and too expensive to be useful in any form for addressing the climate crisis.”  

“There are other arguments against it – waste and security and safety. But just too slow and too expensive knock it out as a contender. And yet at same time as you just mentioned, you have people like Bill Gates trying to get his Natrium small reactor started. And Bill Gates, effectively an American oligarch, a billionaire, has to still come cap in hand to the federal government. His TerraPower nuclear energy company is putting in $2 billion.”

“But he wants another $2 billion from us to help pay for his Natrium small reactor. That speaks volumes. We are supposed to help poor Bill Gates pay for his expensive toy, which has absolutely no utility whatsoever for anything, other than making proliferation risks greater. And the reactors are intended for export.”

“These so-called new small reactors are based on old designs that have safety issues and that produce plutonium and raise proliferation concerns. They are eyeing the export market, not necessarily for here in the United States. But they have to build them somewhere first. The fact that he is eyeing West Virginia is interesting.”

Give us the lay of the land. How many nuclear power plants are operating in the United States? How many new ones? And what is the prognosis for nuclear power in the USA?

“There are the two traditional full-sized nuclear power reactors being built in Georgia. And then there are the 92 reactors still operating in the United States. There are quite a few closing. We are seeing a flurry of shutdowns – Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim, Oyster Creek, Indian Point – having reached the end of their affordable life. The tune then changed a bit. They started asking for bailouts. The Palisades reactor in Michigan closed, but the new owner, Holtec, in charge of decommissioning it, is trying to grab some of the federal funding in the Inflation Reduction Act to reopen the reactor. That presents all sorts of complications as Holtec is not a reactor operator and has never operated a nuclear power plant.” 

“The owner of Palisades is Holtec, a decommissioning and waste company. It has never operated a reactor. There is a level of desperation in the industry. It is inevitably declining because it is inflexible, unaffordable, the costs due to the immense risks involved are killing them too. They are aging and degrading. They are not economical to run anymore.” 

What percentage of electricity are we getting from nuclear power?

“It’s under 20 percent in the United States. Globally, it dropped to below ten percent for the first time. In this country, it would be on a downward trajectory, but we need to see what’s going to happen with these license renewals and these requests for federal dollars to keep reactors open that otherwise would be unaffordable to run.”

If we shut them all down, how do we replace the 20 percent?

“Nothing gets shut down overnight obviously. But the renewable energy sector is the fastest growing sector in this country. HB 6 in Ohio not only delivered these massive subsidies to FirstEnergy to keep its failing nuclear reactors open, it also eliminated mandates for wind and solar altogether.” 

“The nuclear energy industry says we need all kinds of energy, including nuclear. But actually nuclear energy, because of the federal subsidies needed to keep it open, effectively shuts out renewables. In fact, we need to shut down the nuclear energy plants in order to fully fund and support renewal energy measures. Every dollar you invest in energy efficiency reduces more carbon faster than that same dollar invested in nuclear power. It’s more expensive to keep a nuclear power plant open than it is to initiate the same amount of energy from new renewables. You can bring renewables on in a couple of years. These reactors that they are building have taken a decade or more and are still not complete.”

“They predicted that even the new small reactors would be operational by 2016. Here we are in 2023, and only one company just got a design certification permit. That tells you how slow that progress is.” 

“We have the tools in place. We have energy efficiency, solar and wind. We could do weatherization programs with that money that would reduce use dramatically. But instead, the immense lobbying power of the energy companies has successfully maintained an outdated, dangerous and damaging status quo that should have been replaced decades ago.”

Then you have all of these non profit leaders pushing nuclear power.

“Yes, you even have people like Oliver Stone who has made a pro-nuclear film, based on one book. You have Bill Gates, who we have talked about. Richard Branson, a UK billionaire. There are a number of them. You wish that all of these people with more money than God would use their money on something useful. It baffles my mind that Bill Gates wants to knock out malaria on one hand but on the other hand wants to pockmark the planet with nuclear reactors that release harmful radiation routinely, nevermind the devastation if a major accident were to occur. The press loves the person who changed their minds – people like Stuart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Linda Pentz Gunter, see 37 Corporate Crime Reporter 8(11), February 13, 2023, print edition only.] 

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