Looming Closure of Davis-Besse, Perry Puts Focus on Advocacy for Future of Nuclear Energy in Ohio and the Nation

  • First Energy to declare bankruptcy and close David-Besse and Perry nuclear plants
  • Ohio Millennials Organize Over Future of Advanced Reactors
  • ‘Titans of Nuclear’ Podcasts Launch to Promote Nuclear Energy Message to Address Climate Change
  • Third Way’s Todd Allen Interviews CEO of X-Energy on Firm’s Game Changing Reactor Design
Davis-Besse-2

Davis-Besse nuclear power plant. Image: First Energy file photo

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the fate of FirstEnergy’s Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants could be sealed before the end of April 2018 as the company signs a deal for $2.5 billion in new investments from a consortium of global hedge funds.

The investors will support the Akron-based company with restructuring the plants’ legal owner, as FirstEnergy Solutions, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

According to the newspaper, four private investor groups have agreed to bring the $2.5 billion to FirstEnergy for 18 months (cashing out at that point) in exchange for helping the company shed its money-losing power plants, or to get them returned to regulation and protection from competition.  Note that so far neither Ohio’s governor nor its legislature has shown any interest in returning to regulated markets for electricity generated by nuclear reactors.

What will happen is that the four private investment groups will buy $2.5 billion in FirstEnergy shares — $1.62 billion in preferred stock and $850 million in common stock.  After 18 months, the investors must convert their preferred stock into common stock, which they may sell.  The risk is that the stock will not fall in price, and the reward is that it will go up as the parent firm emerges from its planned bankruptcy process. The private funds include;

  • Affiliates of New York-based multi-billion dollar Elliott Management Corp.,
  • Dallas-based Bluescape Resources Co.,
  • Singapore-based GIC Private Limited (formerly the Government of Singapore Investment Corp.) and
  • New York City-based Zimmer Partners LP.

The announcement resulted in buying on the New York Stock Exchange and FirstEnergy’s share price (NYSE:FE) closed up 10.4 percent or $3.05 a share, at $32.45. The firm said in a letter to investors that it may not choose to make a $100M debt payment in April and instead would seek bankruptcy protection. It’s long-term goal is to exit merchant markets and only invest in regulated markets.

FirstEnergy told the newspaper late last week that “market design and federal energy policies, not technology, are the reasons its nuclear plans cannot compete effectively against gas turbine plants and wind farms.”

The move could raise energy prices for consumers throughout Ohio if the two reactors at shut down. Meanwhile the Ohio legislature has not taken any action to address the issue of losing the plants which have a combined output of over 2 Gwe of CO2 emission free electrical power.

According to a news report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last last week Senate Public Utilities Committee chairman Bill Beagle said he had no plans to hold additional hearings and no plans to vote the bill out of committee. The effort to move this legislation stalled out last June.

Senate Bill 128 would add a flat fee of $2.50 a month to residential bills. Commercial and industrial customers would see a 5% monthly increase to their bills.

The increases, called Zero Emission Credits or ZEC, would give the company an additional $180 million a year for 12 years to subsidize its nuclear plants. The bill has been stalled in committees since last fall.

Like other nuclear plant closures the replacement power will come from coal and natural gas, both of which pour CO2 into the atmosphere. Short-term profit taking is dooming future generations to more difficult climate conditions and may put the very existence of the human species at risk.

Ohio Millennials: We Need Advanced Reactors

  • Movement for a thriving U.S. nuclear industry continues in cities across America
  • More young voices turn up volume in Ohio to save operating reactors
  • Innovative storytelling, partnerships is  necessary for advanced reactors to succeed

What are the thoughts of the next generation which will inherit the earth with or without concerted effort to mitigate climate change?

What if we had energy with no CO2 negatives?  That is the vision of eGeneration Executive Chairman Bill Thesling, an experienced “serial entrepreneur” now working on the development of liquid core molten salt reactors (LCMSRs). (Note: Dr. Bill Thesling holds a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from Cleveland State University, where he performed research for NASA and the Ohio Aerospace Institute.)

Thesling joined an expert panel last week for a gathering of the Millennial Nuclear Caucus in Columbus, Ohio, hosted by U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and the Michigan-Ohio Section of the American Nuclear Society. (Photo album on Facebook)

Ohio Millennial Nuclear Caucus

DOE-NE Chief of Staff Suzie Jaworowski (left) with a panel of nuclear experts
at the Ohio Millennial Nuclear Caucus. [Photo: DOE]

More than 70 participants came together at the Ohio State University Riffe Center Studio Theaters to hear from DOE officials, industry experts, grassroots advocates and thought leaders from The Ohio State University. (Video on Facebook)

Advocates in the audience included Ohio state representatives and represented a wide range of the nuclear energy field, from young leaders operating nuclear reactors to those designing advanced nuclear technologies.

The panel discussion was followed by a “Nuclear Reimagined” art reception featuring sketches and renderings from the Third Way of what the future of nuclear energy could look like. 

DOE Office of Nuclear Energy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor Suzie Jaworowski opened last week’s caucus.

“Electricity is definitely an undervalued commodity that really is the platform for our whole culture and our society in the United States and around the world,” she said. “So I think that it’s something that we often take for granted and forget about, but we want to be able to raise the awareness of where that comes from and what makes up a diverse and resilient and clean energy resource.”

Panelists discussed the numerous benefits of nuclear energy—carbon-free electricity, grid resiliency, high-paying jobs, price stability—and the consequences of letting these irreplaceable assets disappear.

“The current fleet is an economic driver. It’s helping ensure our energy security, our national security. The expertise that we have because of the nuclear industry has important implications around the world. And the world is moving towards nuclear,” Senior Advisor to the DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Bradley Williams said.

“Simply put, if we let the industry die and the current plants close, we won’t have people or knowledge or a supply chain or a regulatory body to move forward the next generation of nuclear technologies.”

“When someone comes to you and says, ‘Why should I care about nuclear?,’ have an answer for them. A good place to start is by telling them why you care about nuclear,” Generation Atomic Co-founder and Managing Director Tay Stevenson said.

Ohio State Representative Dick Stein was in the audience, and urged those invested in the success of nuclear to join together to create a national ad campaign. “To me the biggest issue here is messaging and … how you get that message out.”

This was the second meeting of the caucus. Last October its members met with DOE Secretary Rick Perry in Washington, DC. Each of these events connects the next generation of leaders in nuclear innovation with environmental, economic and scientific experts in industry and government. The next Millennial Nuclear Caucus will take place at Texas A&M University in College Station on Feb. 20.

Energy Impact Center Launches
Titans of Nuclear Podcasts

titans of nuclearThe Titans of Nuclear is a podcast featuring interviews with experts throughout the field nuclear energy. Its host, Bret Kugelmass, is a Stanford educated mechanical engineer, former robotics entrepreneur, inventor of the internet-connected drone, and climate change thought leader.

Bret’s identified both a severe disconnect and steep learning curve between nuclear and tech adjacent communities as impediments to innovation, financing, and social acceptance. He seeks to bridge this gulf by creating an audio encyclopedia of the greatest minds in Nuclear Energy opening the field to environmental-minded technologists who might otherwise favor alternate approaches.

There have been three episodes so far.

  • Ep. 3 – Todd Allen, University of Wisconsin; Released Jan 24, 2018 — In this episode an interview with Todd Allen, one of the top U.S. experts in nuclear energy
  • Ep. 2 – Per Peterson, Kairos Power; Released Jan 17, 2018 — In this episode an interview with Per Peterson, professor at one of UC Berkeley’s Nuclear reactors groups. He’s the world expert on Fluoride Salt Cooled High Temperature reactors
  • Ep. 1 – Michael Shellenberger,  Environmental Progress; Released Jan 10, 2018 — In thjsa episode an interview Michael Shellenberger who has been on the forefront of nuclear advocacy for over a decade. He’s the founder of Environmental Progress, a research and policy  organization. He is also a candidate for governor of California.

You can hear the podcasts on Apple devices on iTunes or on Android and Windows devices on Stitcher.

The home for Titans of Nuclear is the Energy Impact Center which is a research institute that explores climate risk, environmental data, and energy technology.

It’s mission is to put better information into the public sphere regarding the risk and potential paths forward associated with carbon emissions. It aims to educate on technical concepts using both scientific data coupled with a rigorous analysis. Our program is divided into three categories:

  • Understanding climate risk   
  • Assessing geo-engineering options    
  • Determining an appropriate energy portfolio 

The group’s education work takes the form of interviewing a broad-based group of scholars, experts, and policy makers to engage in thorough exploration. Producing long-form written and audio content from these conversations prepares an informed public to tackle the greatest challenges of the 21st century.

Third Way’s Todd Allen
Interviews CEO of X-Energy  Kam Ghaffarian

xenergy ceo

Kam Ghaffarian, CEO of X-Energy

In late December 2017 Todd Allen, collaborating with the Third Way think tank in Washington, DC, sat down with Kam Ghaffarian to talk about his firm’s work on a TRISO fueled HTGR reactor design.

The interview covers a lot of ground. Here are some highlights.

Q: What’s your earliest memory associated with nuclear energy?

A: Fundamentally I know that the generations to come will have a big problem if we didn’t start delivering technologies to provide abundant and clean electricity.

Q: So you jumped in. Who pitched you on starting X-energy?

A: As I looked into the air pollution problem and the need for clean energy alternatives, I realized that there were ideas and solutions all around us. I reached out to a few long-time associates, leading technologists that I worked with at NASA to investigate the problem further. They brought in a nuclear physicist affiliated with MIT to begin devising solutions to those problems – namely how to get power that is affordable, safe, clean, and secure to the communities and regions that need it the most.

Q: And that led you to high temperature gas-cooled reactors?

A: The evolution to advanced nuclear, and more specifically high temperature gas cooled reactors (HTGRs) happened after I had a chance to meet with our current Chief Nuclear Officer, Dr. Eben Mulder and our Vice President of Engineering, Dr. Martin van Staden.

Having established a core team of HTGR experts to inform me on the technical decisions, we set out to add broader capabilities in licensing, fuel development, business development, and systems engineering.

Q: Of the other 50-something advanced nuclear projects being developed in North America, can you pick one or two that stand out to you for having a particularly good product and/or business model?

A: I love the concept of developing advanced reactors with the capability of using reprocessed spent fuel as their primary fuel source. I believe this duel-purpose reactor (create energy + reduce spent fuel stockpiles) will create a new revolution in advanced nuclear at some point in the future.

Q: What has NASA done well to encourage private-sector innovation, and could any of those “best practices” be applied to private-public partnerships in advanced nuclear?

A: I think NASA has been a great example of the right balance between government-funded development of highly-risky technology and industry being the implementer of those technologies after the risk has been retired. This is the standard approach NASA takes for new deep space and earth-observing instruments – because the degree of risk that industry would have to be willing to take would make the development cost-prohibitive.

So NASA either performs the initial development, or performs it collaboratively with industry. Then, after the technology has been proven, you can see commercial industries forming and applying that technology effectively, with NASA relinquishing the role in order to focus on the next risky adventure.

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