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Environmental Coalition Demands Expedited Release of Documents regarding Public and Nonpublic Meetings Between NRC and FERC

Groups cite risks to ratepayer and taxpayer pocketbooks from massive proposed bailouts, and regulatory rollback safety risks.

WASHINGTON - A coalition of environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, Don’t Waste Michigan, Public Citizen, and the Sierra Club, have filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), seeking documents related to its public meeting, as well as its separate, secretive, nonpublic meeting, both held with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday, June 7, 2018. The FOIA request letter sent to NRC is posted online at Beyond Nuclear's website.

“We are deeply concerned that at the same time President Trump and Energy Secretary Perry are scheming with nuclear power industry lobbyists to massively bail out dangerously age-degraded atomic reactors at public expense in order to keep them operating for years to come, NRC and FERC may be conspiring behind closed doors to further weaken safety regulations, in order to boost industry profits even more,” stated Terry Lodge, counsel for Beyond Nuclear and Don’t Waste Michigan.

Experts featured on a telephone press conference held on June 6, 2018 – including Tyson Slocum, director of the Energy Program at Public Citizen, a signatory group endorsing today’s FOIA request – warned that the Trump/Perry bailout could cost U.S. federal taxpayers, and American ratepayers, up to $17 billion per year, for old reactor subsidies alone. An additional $17 billion per year electricity surcharge could accrue to the American public from the old coal plant side of the Trump/Perry bailout proposal. The press release, and press conference audio recording, are posted online at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) website, under the NEWS tab. A link to the press release and press conference audio recording is also posted at the top of Beyond Nuclear's homepage.

The proposed bailout originated with the coal-burning and atom-splitting electricity generator FirstEnergy, headquartered in Akron, Ohio. The utility has attempted for several years to secure multi-billion dollar annual bailouts at both the state and federal levels, but has not succeeded. However, it seems to have recently gained significant traction with President Trump and Energy Secretary Perry, thanks to the personal lobbying of Jeff Miller on behalf of FirstEnergy. Miller, a longtime close personal friend and colleague of the Energy Secretary, who served as Rick Perry’s campaign manager during his unsuccessful presidential run in 2016, is reportedly paid $110,000 per quarter by FirstEnergy for his lobbying services. After Miller attended a private dinner with Trump in recent weeks, the president began touting the importance of the requested bailout, publicly citing the obscure section 202(c) of the century-old Federal Power Act (FPA)—a bailout pathway also suggested to the Trump administration by the coal magnate Robert Murray.

The Trump administration is also attempting to justify the bailouts under provisions of the Defense Production Act (DPA) of 1950, as well as the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act. Such major federal government interventions via the FPA or DPA are very rarely undertaken, and usually only for wartime emergencies or natural disasters. No such emergency action has been taken in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, which a recent Harvard University study reported could have resulted in around 5,000 deaths, many due to the widespread power outages, some of which continue still, nearly nine months later. PJM Interconnection, the largest electric grid operator in the U.S. -- serving 65 million people in a 13-state (plus Washington, D.C.) region from Chicago to North Carolina – has consistently reported that there is now, and would be, no reliability or resilience problem whatsoever -- even if the bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions, and FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company, electricity generation subsidiaries' four atomic reactors, and several coal plants, in Ohio and Pennsylvania, were to permanently shut down in the next few years, as the company has announced.

“The only so-called ‘emergency’ is FirstEnergy’s bad business decisions, and mismanagement, that extend back not years but decades,” said Michael Keegan of Don’t Waste Michigan in Monroe, Michigan, a longtime watchdog on FirstEnergy’s northern Ohio, Lake Erie shoreline atomic reactors, Davis-Besse east of Toledo and Perry east of Cleveland.

“In addition to the $34 billion per year gouge on ratepayer and taxpayer pocketbooks from Trump and Perry’s absurd proposal to bailout FirstEnergy’s dirty old coal and dangerously old nuclear plants, there are the increasing safety risks,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, a nuclear industry watchdog group based in Takoma Park, Maryland. “It is outrageous that FERC commissioner, Robert F. Powelson, pressured NRC commissioners during the public portion of their joint meeting on June 7 to decrease safety regulations, in order to save money for uncompetitive old atomic reactors. We can only imagine the outrageous things that were said during the nonpublic portion of the meeting,” Kamps added, “which is why we have made this FOIA request.”

From 2010 to 2015, Lodge also served as legal counsel for an environmental coalition, including Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Coalition of Southwestern Ontario, Don’t Waste Michigan, and the Ohio Green Party, which challenged the Davis-Besse atomic reactor’s 2017-2037 license extension. The Sierra Club joined the coalition's efforts in 2013, challenging risky steam generator replacements at the reactor.  Despite Davis-Besse’s industry record of most close calls with meltdown catastrophes, as well as its severely cracked containment structure (which is currently operating as an experiment; see the NRC document, “Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, Unit 1 - Report of Facility Changes, Tests, and Experiments,” in an “Annual Operating Report Letter” dated May 21, 2018, ML number ML18141A502, posted online at Beyond Nuclear's website), NRC has approved 60 years of operations (1977 to 2037) at the troubled reactor.

A 1982 report commissioned by NRC, and carried out by Sandia National Lab, calculated that a meltdown at Davis-Besse would cause 1,400 acute radiation poisoning deaths, 73,000 acute radiation injuries, 10,000 latent cancer fatalities, and $84 billion in property damages. But the Associated Press reported in 2011 after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan had begun, that populations have soared since 1982 around atomic reactors like Davis-Besse, so casualties would be significantly higher today; and when adjusted for inflation to today’s dollar figures, property damages downwind of a Davis-Besse meltdown would significantly surpass $200 billion.

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