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Archive for April 3, 2011

Leaving Nuclear Power Behind

Leaving Nuclear Power Behind

by Paul Deaton

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Daily Kos on March 21, 2011.]

When we consider that the essence of nuclear power depends so much upon the balance between heat and cold, and protecting the engineered boiling of water, a lot can go wrong, including natural disaster as evidenced by the Fukushima problems in Japan. Too, much time goes by between incidents of loss of that control, so we forget. We shouldn't.

Six nuclear reactors in Japan, hit by an earthquake and the wave of a tsunami, have lost control that we are slowly regaining. Pundits talk about what happened, and cite the obvious: the tsunami disrupted the cooling process and heat overcame cold. There is more to learn, and informed people do not accept simple solutions to a complex problem until the failure is controlled and it has been studied and vetted in the scientific community.

Natural disaster is one thing, but this nuclear stuff, fuel and radioactive waste, has been the target of those who would do others harm. Too, humans make mistakes as happened at Chernobyl. If we had no other way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we might consider it, but we need not. Then there is the radioactive output of the controlled water boiling: What about that? These are all reasons to refrain from building more nuclear reactors and to decommission the existing ones.

We use about 20 kilowatt hours of electricity each day in our home and there must be a way to reduce the amount of electricity purchased from the grid, and generate some or all of our own. This may be the better pursuit than public discourse over whether or not to build new nuclear reactors in the United States. It is a pursuit corporations and electric utilities are sure to hate.

Because if a viable (including it works and cost competitive) methodology for home made electricity could be developed, our house and others would uncouple from the grid, leaving the utilities behind. It is a path to be taken in lieu of more nuclear power plants. An enterprise that can be replicated, and if cost effective, could lead to jobs, advances in technology and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Worth considering as the Japanese engineers struggle to regain control of the nuclear reaction, and we look on, helpless to change it.

~Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail Paul Deaton

Blog for Iowa Nuclear Power Coverage

Blog for Iowa Nuclear Power Coverage

by Paul Deaton

Beginning on February 25, Blog for Iowa has covered the ascendancy of HF 561 and SF 390 in the Iowa Legislature. The bills are written by MidAmerican Energy, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, and are intended to take nuclear power investment and transfer the risks to rate payers so that financial investors would be willing to build a nuclear reactor in Iowa. That is, should the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Iowa Utilities Board approve a design and rate structure. Following are links to our coverage of this issue over the past few years:

HF 591/SF 390 coverage:

Other Blog for Iowa Nuclear Energy Posts of Interest:

~Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail Paul Deaton


Click here to find your legislator. Ask them to vote no on HF 561/SF 390.

While Waiting for Iowa Jobs to Trickle Down

While Waiting for Iowa Jobs to Trickle Down

by Paul Deaton

Iowa Republicans have a plan to create jobs and a generation ago, it would have been called a “trickle down economy.” Today, they call it “Iowa is Open for Business.” By removing government as an impediment to business investment, opening up what little remains of the commons to exploitation by contractors, entrepreneurs and corporations, they assert that business will invest in Iowa and jobs will be forthcoming.

Firing up the chain saw, Republicans would clear the forest of government bureaucracy, leaving a field where business could set up shop, inseminate the earth with schemes and stratagems and extract a progeny of profit. Never mind what happens to the land, water and air, because government enforcement of regulations has been hobbled by lack of funding and left to wither, hopefully to disappear from involvement. No worries about protecting workers because investors are confident there will be takers for their new jobs and government protections will have been minimized. Consumers? They are hoping we won't notice and will pay the price for their brazen money grab and look the other way because it means jobs.

It seems like yesterday that Blog for Iowa wrote about the impact cuts to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) budget have on water and air quality issues in Iowa. It was 2009. Leland Searles of the Iowa Environmental Council wrote this week, “On March 22, 2011, the DNR's ambient air quality monitor for fine particulate matter unofficially exceeded the 24-hour maximum concentration, which is 35 micrograms per cubic liter of air. The reading on March 22 was 43.7 micrograms. The DNR did not post an air quality alert on that day. Is this because of budget cuts? If so, then we're already seeing harm from the political intent to curtail Clean Air Act activities in Iowa. The public deserves to know when there is an 'exceedance day,' and the DNR needs the staff and resources to analyze and publish the information.”

Fine particulate matter is regulated by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and Iowa DNR because of its adverse effect on human health in the form of increased incidence of asthma and cardio-respiratory disease. In part, it is caused by a chemical reaction in the atmosphere between methane released from concentrated animal feeding operations and emissions from burning coal for electricity. Iowa has plenty of this.

Republicans obfuscate the risks of fine particulate matter to human health, call it dust and brush it aside. If some of us notice that they are uninformed of the science, they brush us aside as well, demonizing us as “radical environmentalists” who would cripple investment by business concerns.

Republicans are having their day in the sun and if they keep this up, they will get burned. At some point, mother nature will have her day and it is not likely to be pretty. In a world where row crop farmers are called environmentalists while polluting our waterways, the science will eventually win, and Iowans may be the worse for it.

What is a progressive to do? As Winston Churchill said in 1941 after the German blitz, “Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

~Paul Deaton is a
native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend editor of
Blog for Iowa.

Relationships and Bad Math go Nuclear

It is hard to get over the way MidAmerican Energy President Bill Fehrman fumbled to provide the cost of a new nuclear reactor in Iowa to members of the Iowa Senate Commerce Subcommittee on March 17. Here was a man, president of a recognized and successful company that earned $279 million in profits in Iowa in 2010, and he has to resort to his smart phone for a quick calculation to answer a Senator’s question? It went something like… “let’s see 1 or 2 billion dollars divided by 40 or 50 years, divided by… $5 per month. It will be more like $5 per month.” Anyone who believed that number should stand on their head.

As a person who was a businessman most of my working life, I thought it was a poor performance for the representative of such a company. Why would Fehrman do such a thing? Did he have insufficient self control to say, “let me get back to you on that with some solid numbers?” Was the growing enthusiasm among some legislators for Senate File 390 rubbing off on him, making him blind with a similar enthusiasm? Did he believe that his personal relationship with the Senators would forgive any mistake and avoid all details? There may be another answer.

With the unexpected resignation of David Sokol, CEO of MidAmerican Energy Holdings, more about how the company performs financial calculations is being revealed in the media. Sokol left the company last week under a cloud of suspicion about possible insider trading during the acquisition of Lubrizol by Berkshire Hathaway.  That is a matter for the courts to work out, but what came to light was that Sokol had a history of making false calculations regarding project economics.

According to David Cohan of Daily Finance, “On April 2, 2010, the Omaha court concluded that MidAmerican had faked the project’s financial statements so it could wipe out the rights of its minority shareholders. Specifically […] it found that when it came to calculating (the minority shareholder’s) interest, MidAmerican wrongfully and contrary to the agreement of the parties did not use information that reflected actual project economics.”

It turns out this is not the first time MidAmerican’s Sokol has been accused of leveraging deception and personal relationships to do a deal. According to the Sioux City Journal, a shareholders lawsuit against MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., claimed Sokol “tricked company directors into approving the 1999 sale of MidAmerican Energy to Berkshire Hathaway. Papers filed in the 1999 lawsuit claim David Sokol used personal relationships, fraud and deceit to manipulate the board’s decision.” The lawsuit was settled, but a pattern may be beginning to emerge. MidAmerican appears to be willing to misrepresent project economics and use personal relationships with others to do a deal. Enter Senate File 390, a bill to clear the financial hurdles for MidAmerican to build a new nuclear reactor in Iowa. More of the same?

SF 390 appeared to be on a fast track for passage before the public started to find out about it. According to some legislators, they received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails objecting to the bill because of its cost to rate payers. Even though it did not make it out of the second funnel, last Thursday it was placed on the calendar under unfinished business and could still be debated in the 2011 session.

We say nothing bad about Mr. Fehrman, only that as a businessman his performance on March 17 left something to be desired. However, if his performance was not a personal characteristic, but a manifestation of a corporate culture of misrepresenting project economics, and leveraging personal relationships to get SF 390 through the legislature, that would be another story.

With David Sokol’s history, and his relationship to MidAmerican Energy, the whole discussion leaves us wondering if Iowa is being duped into a commitment to new nuclear reactors, the same way shareholders felt when MidAmerican Energy was sold to Berkshire Hathaway in 1999.

Legislators need to do their homework before clearing the financial hurdles for MidAmerican and its parent to invest in nuclear power in Iowa.

~Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend editor of Blog for Iowa.



Click here to find your legislator. Ask them to vote no on HF 561/SF 390.