People holding signs

Harvey Wasserman speaks to a rally in front of the PUCO on August 31.  Photo by Pat Marida

On August 31, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) began conducting evidentiary hearings on FirstEnergy’s request for a bailout for their Davis-Besse nuclear power reactor and three Ohio coal plants.

Over 20 protesters were outside, on Broad Street in downtown Columbus, to greet them.  This is the third rally that protesters have held at the PUCO, telling them to SAY NO! to nuclear and coal bailouts.

The Ohio Consumers Counsel has estimated that ratepayers will pay an extra $3 billion in electric charges if PUCO grants this request. That’s one big bailout!  FirstEnergy claims that this request will save ratepayers $2 billion.  Are we supposed to believe that they are requesting a change that would cause them to lose $2 billion in customer payments?   

After getting Davis-Besse bailed out to the tune of over $1 billion when Ohio deregulated its utilities (deregulation was lobbied hard for by all the utilities), it turns out that competition is now hurting FirstEnergy.  They now want to be re-regulated so they can charge more than the market rate for these plants’ electricity.  Seems like the free market concept is no longer so good when it doesn’t work for big corporations. 

Looking at the $3 billion price tag cited by Consumers Counsel, the majority of this money would go to bailing out Davis-Besse, which is a more expensive plant.  Let’s see what’s wrong with that……

Davis-Besse holds a record for the most accidents and violations of any reactor currently operating in the United States.  The most famous incident occurred in 2002, when a delayed inspection found that boric acid had eaten through 7 inches of the steel reactor lid, with only a bulging 3/16-inch steel liner preventing a radioactive catastrophe.  A photo was found, taken earlier, that showed major corrosion on the outside of the vessel, but this was ignored.  This “Hole-In-The-Head” fiasco resulted in the largest fine in Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) history – $33.5 million.  The plant was idled for 2 years, costing ratepayers $600 million. 

Nuclear power plants were engineered for a 40-year lifespan, not 60 years. Davis-Besse has a severely-cracked concrete shield building, which engineers have said could fall on the reactor.  After 38 years the reactor pressure vessel is becoming embrittled from exposure to radioactivity, which greatly increases the risk of cracking and a resulting catastrophic meltdown.  Two new steam generators don’t meet NRC standards which require them to be “like-for like” with the original steam generators.   

Conveniently, the PUCO, like other utilities commissions, makes decisions based only on costs and rates, not on safety. So forget all that safety stuff. 

HOWEVER, if FirstEnergy or some regulatory entity decides that Davis-Besse needs to be upgraded, or if the coal plants don’t meet new regulatory guidelines (and they won’t), First Energy could, if this bailout is granted, charge these costs to ratepayers.  Let’s see – we have a couple billion for a new shield building.  And $600-800 million for new steam generators.  Three reactor lids went bad in 10 years—cost for one $250-300 million.  The Sammis coal plant would need to be almost built over again.  

FirstEnergy’s aging coal plants are real public health issues, producing asthma-causing smog and global warming carbon dioxide (CO2).  The nuclear industry has gotten away with the outright lie that nuclear power does not cause global warming.  While the nuclear chain reaction itself does not produce CO2, the “front end” of nuclear power – uranium mining, milling, refining, conversion, and enrichment; nuclear fuel fabrication; transportation and the building of power plants – uses huge amounts of energy and leaves a radioactive trail everywhere in its wake. Oh, and how much energy will be needed for the “back end”, to keep the radioactive waste isolated (if that were possible) essentially forever?

Did I say contact the PUCO and tell them to SAY NO! to a FirstEnergy bailout?  The evidentiary hearings are expected to conclude in the middle of October, so send your message right away.   

In a related topic:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and US EPA are gearing up on efforts to reduce public health standards for radioactive exposure. 

 1) Comments were due August 3, 2015, on EPA’s Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Nuclear Power Operations.  Already EPA’s radiation protection standards fall far outside the acceptable risk EPA insists on for all other carcinogens.  Now, EPA’s Office of Radiation and Indoor Air (ORIA) has proposed changes that would dramatically weaken the regulations and increase allowable public exposures. 

  2)  The NRC has just proposed moving from a health standard which says that any amount of radioactivity exposure is dangerous to human health, to a much older “hormesis” theory that small amounts of radioactivity are not only harmless but actually good for you!

  3) On Sept. 9, 2015, NRC terminated a study being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences documenting the health of people living around U.S. nuclear power plants.

HELP US BY MESSAGING THE PUCO!  We ask Free Press readers to go to and tell them as a ratepayer with concern for public health, you SAY NO! to FirstEnergy bailouts for Davis-Besse and coal. Mention that this is case number 14-1297-el-sso.