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Nuclear's Last Stand? New York’s Cuomo Rushes in to Save Dying Plants


Nuclear's Last Stand? New York’s Cuomo Rushes in to Save Dying Plants

Harvey Wasserman

New York’s “liberal” Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying to ram through a complex backdoor bailout package worth up to $11 billion to keep at least four dangerously decrepit nuclear reactors operating.

To many proponents of safe energy, the move comes as a shock. Its outcome will have monumental consequences for nuclear power and the future of our energy supply.


If you do nothing or very little to install renewable energy facilities that generate the electricity required to replace the electricity being taken off-line, then you find yourself in Cuomo's current predicament.
The question is whether Cuomo did nothing intentionally (knowing that he'd never close the plant(s)) or did he just screw up?
Cuomo's a plutocrat so we already have half the answer to the question.


Power to the people!


This is a tough one. I believe Cuomo has put in place the most aggressive policies of any state to make the transition to carbon-free energy. However, experts are saying the goal cannot be met if upstate reactors are closed. I guess it comes down to how important it to quickly make this transition (probably even New York's goal is not fast enough based on science) and are the experts right that the goals cannot be met without the nuclear reactors. This is one of the toughest issues for environmentalists who are fighting for two conflicting goals, addressing climate change by rapidly transitioning to carbon-free energy and shutting down nuclear power plants. Cuomo banned fracking so you have to give that. I believe New York is the only state with a large potential for fracking to ban it. In doing this he surprised many skeptical environmentalists. I would say his intentions are good but he is dealing with difficult choices.


This is fairly predictable, and not only because Cuomo happens to be involved. The values in the case of dying nuclear plants--plural because we have them all over the country--are clearly defined.

  • The capital investment interests invest a very large amount of money to start these up.
  • The longer and more consistently a given plant is able to stay on-line and producing, the more money it pays back to investors and the less likely it is to be a net loss
  • The reason that a plant gets shut down is that it becomes progressively more expensive or unsafe to local populations to run.
  • The reason that a plant becomes more expensive to run is that it becomes more unsafe
  • The reason that being unsafe becomes expensive is regulation and potential liability
  • Regulation and potential liability are mediated by government
  • The things that government regulates in this case are largely undetectable without instruments
  • Where large amounts of money are involved, government can be profitably bribed

In all cases, then, we can expect long popular movements or acute problems of a nature that would lead to sudden spikes in liability. There is no liability without popular pressure or a threat of popular pressure.

Generally speaking, we will have to work to shut plants down unless they go offline Fukushima-style.



The Nuclear Power "industry" is like a cartel and it has strong ties to the Defense Department. No doubt, Cuomo is forced to deal with the devil as most politicians in high office daily do.


Am I sensing an inverted Libertarian argument here in favor of deregulation?

The unsafe aspect is due to natural wear and tear. The plants were built to, at best, stand for 40 years. The promise (never fulfilled) was that in that 40-year interim, either a technology that could neutralize radioactive waste or an appropriate facility to store it would have been fully implemented. Neither was accomplished... like so many things that have to do with so-called "Free Enterprise," the can got kicked down the road.

To now.

You turn the safety and cost issues onto the matter of regulation.

Regulation is what protects a community whether you agree with its parameters, or otherwise.

These plants age and not enough money goes into maintenance. Yet even if it did, there is both human failures ("mistakes were made") and an obvious parade of massive climate/environmental crises that are threatening what formerly seemed like safe places for these lethal monsters (i.e. the nuke plants) to sit.


I actually think the threat of popular pressure is inherent in that threat of "acute problems of a nature that would lead to sudden spikes in liability," as you note, Fukushima style. No one wants to be the Governor dealing with a meltdown. I can't imagine how anyone would run for the office in a state with nukes on the ground. Cuomo is indeed on the hot seat.


You've aptly raised the point about nuclear power that absolutely astounds me (well, right behind earthquake-prone, island-nation Japan building them at all): that we went ahead and became dependent on a technology that we knew would produce lethal waste without knowing what we would do with that waste. What were we thinking?!

But the time for thinking and planning is long past. We've got to get doing.



Citizens had a choice in this?

You sit here most days so the results of The Page and Gilens Study ought not surprise you.

Citizens have almost ZERO influence over policies that are determined by corporate elites.

How much say did YOU or I have over fluoride being poured into water systems?

How much say over whether or not our children must be vaccinated when evidence shows that quite a few are ending up with neurological impairments like Autism?

How much say did citizens have over bailing out the banks with insufficient guarantees or policy changes implemented to prevent the same crap from happening again?

How much say over foreign wars?

How much say over how much the U.S govt. invests in non-fossil fuel energy systems?

How much say over the HIDDEN components of the TIPP and TPP... which would have remained hidden and likely made into binding law had Wikileaks not managed to leak some of their content?

You know how I feel about the slimy use of a WE frame that hides the perpetrators by pretending that all citizens were on-board.

And you also know that I see you as a phony who didn't show up here on the basis of a genuine wish to be part of an organic debate forum. You have An Agenda.

Here is Chris Hedges explaining The Game...



Actually, I have more education than agenda, and as I've observed, this is not a "study" of actual functioning of our government, but a metanalysis of what theoretical framework best fits the findings of many other analyses on varied bases. Its conclusions are really useful only to political theorists.

Did you miss where I complimented your "apt" analysis?

And of course I was using an editorial "we," not in any way claiming my own voice in the development of nuclear power. I've actually been opposing it in every way open to me. Yeah, that's my agenda, or part of it. But this is no place for ad hominem comments of any kind.


Actually, no, Sioux, not at all. I am very much in favor of regulation and of tighter regulations for nuclear plants. In fact, I would shut them all down, and I would do it as fast as it could be managed without creating immediate chaos from grid closure and so forth.

At the same time, you (and I, and others) should have nearly zero faith that regulation will actually be done in any realistic way. Because of the centralization of social and political power intrinsic to the operation of any such plant, there is almost no chance that regulation will be acceptably administered. NRC officials get passed back and forth between government and corporate industry, and the actual decisions that get made involve profit and what can be gotten away with. The amount that power companies gain or lose by such decisions is greater than what it costs them to bribe officials.

That does not mean that regulation is unimportant. Regulation gives populations some legal handle on the companies and makes the battle far easier. It just means that without popular pressure, the government will bend willingly to industry.


I read with interest that the US Military is going to spend some 12 billion dollars to refurbish its existing fleet of F-15s and extend their lifespan up to 2040. These things were first built in 1972.

This while they still building the F-35 at an ever escalating cost. One of the reasons they use in fact is that the F-35 costs so much they can not afford as many aircraft as they would like and that, in any case, the F-15 outperforms the newest technology.

What has this to do with Nulcear power? I think it shows how the nature of Technology and its ever escalating cost creates a system where more and more of a nations resources are invested in it. I think it shows there no real consideration given to whether ot not said technology provides a net benefit to the citizen and country as a whole over the lifetime of its implementation. It shows how it in fact can become a DRAIN on wealth even as those that provide it make profits off the same.

In short it no different really than those accounts we read in the Western Press of the old Soviet Union where one factory would make cast iron bathtubs no one wanted and another was built to melt those tubs down back into the raw materials and ship the same back to the former factory to make cast iron bathtubs.

Over the lifetime of a given piece of Military equipment there no payback ever to a society. It always a drain of wealth and an ever growing drain of wealth. The same applies to the Nuclear power industry.

They are a great way of generating profits for the 1 percent however, which ultimately their only purpose.


The valence of popular pressure on this industry is not and has not been uniform. More pressure earlier means fewer health problems before shutdown.

I agree that Cuomo is in a hot seat. Hot seats are endemic to oppressive politics: there's a population on the one hand, money and power on the other. One can ill serve both, and there is a cost to serving either. I don't doubt that rulers, governors, and mafia heads all suffer; where that leads to no better action, I doubt that it is a good thing. I might be more sympathetic if I saw more conscience; I suppose there are always reasons for it.

Indian Point has been one of several go-to study models for problems with plants since at least the mid-1980s. Among other things, various companies were studying who could be sued to cut losses--after Three Mile Island, to my knowledge, but including before Chernobyl. I do not know whether the owners of Indian Point were included, but it seems logical that they would have been. Of course, if one sues because a plant is defective, one has to shut it down. So of course there were profit-loss figures---

---and here we are, much as though no time had passed.

Cuomo has a lot of company on that hot seat. At least he has reason to know that he is there.


The obvious question is, how much did the nuke industry pay Cuomo?

Direct Democracy


That's a good question. I do not mean to suggest that I can climb into anybody's head here, but there are indications, and I think that it is worth a wee bit of speculation to pull them together for a single picture of sorts.

We is an interesting term here. Different parts of who we might refer to had considerably different information. This is true even within the industry. This industry distributes information in-house on a remarkably strict need-to-know basis, and the need refers to what the owners need a person to know, not what the person might need him or her self. So an engineer will be informed of things that an executive of one or another level might not, and vice versa--and these things are often in direct contradiction. The person who cleans out the pressurizer unit gets a considerably different story.

The public was told that we (that word again!) would get nearly free and nearly unlimited energy. We were also told that the development of the "peaceful atom" would increase security because it would go hand-in-hand with the responsible development of nuclear technology for military use, and because this would create relative energy-independence for the US of A, so that we would not be reliant on uncertain petroleum sources. GE in particular gave film-strips and other media materials to news outlets and schools to support the idea that the population was being cared for by bright, optimistic, rational types like Reddy Kilowatt

At least some local power entities--the companies that hired the plants built--have claimed to have been approached by the government with similar arguments. This is a self-serving claim that I can neither verify nor disprove. But it appears to fit what information is available: energy companies were apparently told that they would be able to continue to levy a fee for service and have almost no technical or hardware overhead after some certain point.

Companies approached insurance companies, of course. The insurance companies said that they could not responsibly insure any nuclear plant at any price because they could not come close to paying off in in case of an accident. Government responded by limiting liability. So, essentially, in effect, the people mainly held culpable for the failure of nuclear plants are the nearby populations. There is some responsibility by insurance companies, primarily to the company owners.

Of course, were a large case to be really tried with anything like full information, the results would not likely be so straightforward, and would be presumably quite difficult for owners, but not in anything close to the measure of the actual problem.

So encouraged, companies made huge investments in construction of plants. Many of these investments were made after pretty much all of the problems were thoroughly known in at least part of the industry.

There were considerable changes in official policy regarding how dangerous how much emissions of which things might be. Allowable emissions amounts in some cases changed by factors of over 100,000. Now, at first glance, such a factoid might give one sympathy for the industry. Investors and executives are told that they can have a containment built to some certain specification; midway or later, this is revised considerably, and the containment has to be torn down and rebuilt. On consideration, one might note that this does mean that the decision is made to produce something for money despite not knowing the danger of the substances involved to a factor of 100,000.

Of course, there was some disagreement over who was supposed to have known, and when.

That leaves a few possible explanations that, in some combination, probably cover many people:

  • They were told they were getting free electricity
  • The were told that they could sell free electricity for money
  • They thought that they were covering for military necessity
  • They thought that they could get money by convincing people of the above or just not wising people up
  • They thought that they could centralize great military power by convincing people of the above
  • They were afraid of revealing the falsehood of any of the above because of threats
  • They had made large investments in this technology, and did not wish to lose them
  • They saw that government and large blocs of industry were heavily invested, so they figured that they were safe to go ahead because there were other people to take the blame and because people are easy to fool anyway, so the story goes.

There are probably twists for each individual involved, but I suppose this describes the drift.


A liberal dose of duplicity


I agree totally.

However, I see regulatory law differently. Regulatory law makes one think that their government is protecting them.

But instead it allows a corporation to pollute with toxic and environmental killers. A regulated smoke stack is limited to so much mercury, So2, and other human killers. What about the amounts that are allowed. Are they in anyway good for anything on our planet? The smoke stack prevents a community from knowing the dangers in their town as the stack sends the pollution into another town, county or state. The solution to pollution is not dilution.

Regulatory law is actually the allowance of poisons that are toxic to all things on the planet. It sets limits so it is not apparent that the people's health is being destroyed. It is destruction of health planet wide for profit. I am sure you agree that once in place the actual oversight of regulation is determined by funding by congress. How is that working out for us? The Clean Air Act indeed.


“Specifically, elimination of upstate nuclear facilities, operating under valid federal licenses, would eviscerate the emission reductions achieved through the State’s renewable energy programs, diminish fuel diversity, increase price volatility, and financially harms host communities,” -- Governor Andrew Cuomo


We have to do better for these communities (coal mining, among other industries, too) than just keeping the old jobs limping.