Green spirals

Tuesday, December 22, 2020 was the last day for meetings at the Ohio Statehouse, with the full senate scheduled to meet in the afternoon to pass any remaining legislation. Only one committee was scheduled to meet in the morning – the Ohio Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee. And the committee had only one item on their agenda – Ohio House Bill 104.

HB 104 had passed the Ohio House in June with a vote of 80-11. All Republicans voted yes, and all the nay votes were from Democrats. Why 22 Democrats would vote in favor of this Republican-sponsored boondoggle has its opponents stymied.

Opposing this bizarre nuclear subsidy was a long struggle, lasting over 2 years and continuing until the very last minute. And the way it was sneaked through the legislature, managing to move along with an extremely low profile, and popping up unexpectedly, is nearly unique in the long history of outrageous Ohio legislation.

In 10 poorly-written pages, reduced from 34, House Bill 104 laid out obligations for the state that would have:

  • funded research and development of “advanced” nuclear reactors, in particular thorium and molten salt reactors;
  • created a new government agency, a “Nuclear Development Authority” that would have the ability to raise and spend money while being answerable to no one, not even the governor;
  • created a new state lending authority;
  • allowed for eminent domain;
  • allowed Ohio to take ownership of radioactive waste from Davis-Besse and Perry for the purpose of “recycling” it. Reprocessing has been a disaster everywhere in the world where it has been tried, and could create billions in liability for Ohio if radioactive contamination spreads by leaks or accidents.

The bill benefited but one organization, and that was eGeneration, a small thorium-promoting company near Cleveland. There were dealings with the U.S. Department of Energy – to what extent they may have played a part we have not determined. We do know that the agency is hugely interested in promoting “advanced” nuclear reactor research and development at the Portsmouth Nuclear Site in Piketon, Ohio.

The bill got little attention. Our committee was the only group in opposition, and we all thought it too absurd to go anywhere. Nonetheless, we developed a fact sheet Ohio HB 104: A Radioactive Taxpayer Giveawayin response, a one-pager listing 10 major problems with the bill. We were surprised when the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed the bill 11-2. Then it languished for over a year when suddenly it passed the House 80-11. That was scary. That was when attorney Terry Lodge wrote a 9-page legal analysisof the bill, while he and Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear gathered the signatures of what eventually turned out to be 107 organizations around the country that signed on to the analysis. Then we waited, anticipating a last-minute surprise. Sure enough, in mid-November, HB 104 suddenly appeared in the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee. This is what we had prepared for. Terry sent out the letter. We called our friends and asked them to call and email the senators and send testimony. The fact that HB 104 was scheduled for the very last day meant that the committee had the votes to pass it. They ended up meeting much later than scheduled, approved the minutes of their last meeting, and adjourned. They had apparently not been able to get enough votes to pass the full senate, so they let it die.

This is a big win for all our fantastic volunteers, including Free Press readers!We can be very proud of all of us. It does seem rather ironic, though, that so many of our victories involve simply maintaining the status quo. Stay tuned for a possible revival in the new legislature. But for now, this great win happened, and you all helped!