Nuclear tower with lots of white smoke coming out against a blue sky

A terrifying series of gestapo-style assaults, petition buying, bribery, mass media manipulation and systematic intimidation has disrupted the attempt of Ohio citizens to repeal a nearly billion-dollar bailout for two dangerously failing atomic reactors on Lake Erie.

The unprecedented assault threatens the referendum process in Ohio and across the nation.

It also threatens to keep on line two very old, dangerously decayed reactors where melt-downs and explosions could forever contaminate the Great Lakes region and more.

On Monday, October 21, petitioners with the anti-nuclear referendum fell 44,682 signatures short of the number needed to qualify for the November 2020 ballot to repeal the bailout.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts (OCAB), the anti-nuclear group, filed a preliminary injunction in US District Court to force Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to extend the length of time they had to collect signatures.

The story began with the July passage by the gerrymandered Ohio Legislature of House Bill 6 (HB6), a massive bailout scheme designed to subsidize the Perry and Davis-Besse nuke plants, plus two 50-old coal burners, one of them in Indiana. HB6 does support ten small solar facilities. But it also kills an extremely popular, effective energy efficiency program along with larger subsidies for wind and solar energy in general.

The bailout would provide $900 million over six years, paid by Ohio taxpayers with a $1.50-$1,500 fee added on to monthly electrical bills. This fee reduces another fee that would have supported renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects.

The bailout is vehemently opposed by a large majority of Ohioans, including most of its usually pro-corporate media. Commercial, industrial and environmental groups mounted a massive campaign meant to stop the bill from passing. But with help from Democrats in both Houses, the legislature narrowly approved the bailouts.

Almost immediately, a referendum was filed for repeal. With 265,774 signatures due by October 21, the group opposing the bailout, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, began hiring canvassers.

Ohio’s Republican Attorney General David Yost delayed the process as long as possible. He waited a full 20 days before turning down the first petition submission. He then waited another 18 days to certify the second.

But as soon as the referendum supporters began gathering signatures, pro-nuke forces attacked with a fascist assault unlike any other in US history.

First, the pro-bailout group, Ohioans for Energy Security, began running an astonishing wave of TV ads claiming the referendum was a plot by Chinese Communists to take over Ohio’s electrical grid. The pro-bailout group spent over $2.5 million on ads featured hordes of goose-stepping Chinese soldiers, sinister footage of China’s dictator, shuttered US factories, and more.

The pro-nuke bailout group Ohioans for Energy Security accused the anti-bailout group of having nefarious Chinese funding, but the Energy and Policy Institute verified that the Ohioans for Energy Security didn’t disclose “…Securities and Exchange Commission filings that show the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has committed many millions of dollars to FirstEnergy Corp., the parent company that spawned FES [First Energy Solutions].”

Accompanied by high-gloss mass mailings, the pro-nuke forces were also running saturation radio ads warning Ohioans to shun all signature gatherers lest they be tracked by sinister communists out to ruin their lives and credit. A toll-free number is offered to those willing to call in the location of any repeal supporters.

But the pro-nuke gestapo has also leapt from mere media manipulation to physical intimidation. When the anti-nuke referendum gatherers hit the streets, they were confronted by industry “blockers” charged with preventing them from doing their job. In one case (as filmed on a security camera) a blocker smacked the cell phone out of the hands of a signature gatherer as he tried to photograph her. Petition gatherers have widely reported close-up verbal assaults. In some cases, as many as three paid blockers have surrounded a single signature gatherer to prevent anyone from coming near to signing a petition.

Because many of the signature gatherers are hired employees, they’re required to register contact information with the state. The pro-nuke mob has assaulted them with threatening phone calls. In some cases, they’ve reportedly offered substantial cash payments and airline tickets if to get them to leave the state. One signature gatherer reported being offered $2500 (!) for the day’s accumulated sign-up sheets, which would presumably then be shredded.

Several media outlet articles and editorials expressed outrage over the anti-democratic and violent tactics of the pro-nuke bailout group. The Ohio State University Lantern reported that, “Following students wearing headphones down 18th Avenue, cornering them at Thompson Library and ambushing them while eating at the Ohio Union are all tactics aggressive petitioners who swarmed campus have used on students in the last several weeks….” The Dispatch wrote that: “Harold Chung called police at 12:56 p.m. Tuesday to report he was attacked outside the Dublin branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, 75 N. High St., as he gathered signatures to oppose the bill to financially bail out Ohio’s two nuclear power plants through fees on electricity bills” and ran an editorial condemning the attacks on petitioners.

Even Attorney General Yost commented publicly on the Ohioans for Energy Security actions. In a press statement, he announced that he would not tolerate harassment and intimidation” of the petitioners and “My job as attorney general is to call balls and strikes like I see them, and this one is a wild pitch. It’s time to knock it off.”

With their failure to collect enough signatures, the Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts turned to the U.S. Southern District Court in Columbus on October 21 to request more time to petition. The Court noted that, “Immediately after enactment on July 23, 2019, opponents and supporters of the measures locked horns in what has become one of the most expensive and divisive campaigns in Ohio history….”

Plaintiffs swore under oath that “circulators of the referendum petitions have been assaulted and harassed.”

Judge Edmund Sargus denied the Ohioans for Corporate Bailouts’ motion for a preliminary injunction, but instead certified five questions for the Ohio Supreme Court to answer. These questions center around one theme: Are the petition circulators guaranteed ninety days under the Ohio Constitution to gather signatures for a referendum?

Ohioans for Corporate Bailouts pointed out that they lost 38 of the 90 days waiting for Ohio Attorney General to certify their petition for circulation. Depending on how the Ohio Supreme Court answers – the right of the people to put issues on the ballot could be gravely limited.

The ramifications of such an outcome are staggering. It could signal the death of the popular referendum, conceived in the Progressive Era – a cornerstone of the democratic process.

It could also mean two old, uncompetitive, uninsured, un-inspected crumbling atomic reactors highly likely to explode will continue to threaten the entire Great Lakes region for years to come.


  • In Ohio, the Davis-Besse reactor opened in 1974; Perry opened in 1986.
  • Both suffer from massive internal age-related defects.
  • FirstEnergy Solutions filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 31, 2018. FirstEnergy announced the closure of Davis Besse and Perry nuclear plants in Ohio if Ohio lawmakers did not approve a tax subsidy bill.
  • In July 2019, Ohio state legislators passed House Bill 6 (HB6), a massive bailout to keep two dying nukes operating on Lake Erie.
  • Akron-based FirstEnergy, owner of the nuke plants, is bankrupt, and says it will shut both reactors without the $1 billion promised by the bailout.
  • HB6 also bails out two coal burners (one in Indiana) and subsidizes ten small solar arrays while slashing successful Ohio energy efficiency/conservation programs and killing broader support for renewables.
  • Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts (OCAB) filed for a referendum to repeal HB6, with a requirement of 265,774 certified signatures to be gathered within 90 days.
  • Ohio’s Attorney General sat on the application for 38 days, effectively reducing the petition-gathering window from 90 to 52 days.
  • OACB’s hired petition gatherers were required by the state to make their contact information public, and immediately began receiving phone threats and bribe offers from FirstEnergy supported opposition forces.
  • OACB signature gatherers in the field were physically assaulted by pro-nuke thugs, including one attack in which a hand was injured and a cell phone smashed.
  • Up to three “blockers” repeatedly surrounded individual signature gatherers and drove away potential signers.
  • Signature gatherers were offered as much as $2500 to turn over their signed petitions.
  • Pro-nuke thugs aggressively collected multiple duplicate signatures for a fake non-binding petition from the dubiously named “Ohioans for Energy Security” group, while disrupting legitimate gatherers. 
  • FirstEnergy then claimed it had gathered more than 800,000 “pro-nuke” signatures.
  • FirstEnergy accompanied the assaults with a massive radio/TV/mailer campaign claiming Chinese Communists were buying Ohio’s grid.
  • OACB’s court filing showed that state regulations imposed on certification have vastly reduced the number of referenda Ohioans can vote on.