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Commentary: Excelon’s nuclear hostage tactics must end via Chicago Tribune

“Nuclear Hostage Crisis: Day 2,363”

Yes, that’s right. It was March 9, 2014, when Exelon announced that it would close its nuclear plants if the Illinois legislature, under House Speaker Michael Madigan’s watchful eye, did not bail them out. The jobs that would be lost! More dirty fossil fuel burned! Tax bases destroyed! The horror!

So in 2016 the General Assembly approved a 10-year, $2.35 billion subsidy of two nuclear power plants owned by Exelon — effectively it paid a ratepayer-funded ransom to Exelon’s nuclear hostage crisis fund.

Crisis averted, right? Wrong. Exelon returns with more ingenious ways of legally extorting ratepayer funds through proposed legislation, which unfortunately for them Gov. J.B. Pritzker doesn’t like — perhaps in no small part due to the FBI’s investigation of suspected illegal lobbying practices that produced the first $2.35 billion bailout.

Exelon’s response? Yet another nuclear hostage crisis!

Recently, Exelon announced potential 2021 closure dates for its Byron and Dresden nuclear plants. Both were also on Exelon’s 2014 closure list.

The timing of this nuclear kabuki theater is quite unfortunate, however.

Earlier this same week, Moody’s Investment Services released a report torpedoing both the long ridiculous claims of “cheap” nuclear power and the opportunistic pro-nuclear claim of nuclear being needed to address the climate crisis.

The report states:

  • Climate hazards are likely to worsen for nuclear power plant operators over the next two decades, with severity varying by region.
  • Ultimate credit impact depends on the ability of plant operators to invest in mitigating measures to manage risks.

English translation: Running nuclear plants safely in an increasingly climate-disrupted world is going to cost more money — if they can even run at all.

The conclusion from Moody’s analysis is simple: In an increasingly climate-disrupted world, nuclear power anywhere will be more costly, under constant and unpredictable threat and may not even be capable of generating power. If Exelon’s reactors are unprofitable now, what will they be in such a future? It’s a dangerous gamble — environmentally and economically — to rely on nuclear in energy planning. Therefore, no amount of creative financing, subsidies or bailouts in any form is justifiable or should be approved.

As if to prove the point, during the same week, two reactors in France faced reduced power or total shutdown because of drought — precisely when needed most.

Exelon’s Illinois reactors already experienced shutdowns or drastic power curtailments during the drought of 1988, losing or curtailing over 100 reactor-days of operation between June and September due to low water levels and higher water temperatures in the rivers, and again during droughts in 2005, 2006 and 2012. The reactors were unavailable when needed most to meet the severe power demands during those heat waves, which were “climate disruption lite.” Future predicted conditions will be more severe and unpredictable.

A better future for our children would be one that’s both carbon- and radioactive waste-free.

To create a truly low-carbon and less-polluting energy future, put those funds that were gambled on nuclear directly into renewables, efficiency and energy storage upfront instead, eliminating nuclear’s unpredictable risks and perpetual bailouts. This will provide the added benefits of not only being lower-carbon, but also generating power without creating long-lived, dangerous and costly to dispose of high-level radioactive wastes.

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