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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Dave Freeman, the nuclear giant-killer

He seems an unlikely giant killer. He’s five foot seven, one sixty-five pounds, has a distinct southern accent and is not an Olympic athlete. And yet, by any count, he has stopped the construction or shut down the operations of more nuclear plants in the United States than any other person, living or dead.

S. David Freeman’s ninetieth birthday party was held in February of last year. For some years, Dave (as he is known to friends and detractors both) has effected a gray cowboy hat, and his address includes the term “green cowboy.” Each guest upon arrival at the Ritz Carlton ballroom in Marina Del Rey was given a party cowboy hat to wear. It has been quite some time since Los Angeles was a ranch, maybe 200 years, so everyone looked a little silly in their cocktail dresses or suits and ties and cowboy hats. Not Dave, who was busy dancing with the prettiest girls and grilling the attending politicos, including a PUC Chairman, on what the hell they were doing about global warming……..

He went off to the Georgia Institute of Technology where he showed much intellectual promise, but went home to go to law school at the University of Tennessee. Eventually he came to Washington to work as an assistant to Chairman Joe Swidler at what was then called the Federal Power Commission. The FPC had some interesting regulatory responsibilities related to the electric utility industry, but you had to be a real energy geek even to know it existed or did anything that mattered much. Dave labored diligently there, and even found time to write the first of his many books, this one called Energy Future. He moved on, as people do in Washington, to work for the House Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill. And then the times found the man.

It is difficult to remember now how little anyone, including just about the entire US government, knew about energy, or cared. There was the FPC, there was the Atomic Energy Commission (“AEC”, now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) which both promoted and regulated nuclear plants, and there was a small office in the Department of the Interior that, with a mighty staff of ten, fiddled with some ideas about energy conservation. There was no Department of Energy……

Ultimately the system produced the National Energy Act of 1978, which did useful things like freeing the price controls on natural gas, setting up a number of energy conservation programs, and almost inadvertently deregulating the generation of electricity. Nobody really knew that the legislation would do that, the focus was on promoting a technology called “cogeneration.” But it was promoted by allowing third parties to make and sell “cogenerated” electricity without being regulated as the utilities were. And the genie was out of the bottle—. competition came to the electric business. And that was bad news for costly technologies like nuclear plants.

Dave was rewarded by President Carter by being appointed the Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The creation of TVA was one of the most successful of the many government actions taken during the depression in the 1930’s. ….

[in the 50s and 60s the energy] industry fell in love with the promise of nuclear power, and TVA fell the hardest. The first unit, Brown’s Ferry, and went into service in 1974. But after that things got more complicated…….

People began to notice how much money was being spent. In a budget meeting of top TVA officials there was a line item of a billion dollars, just for interest on the debt that had already been spent on building the nuclear plants…….

over his three year period as Chairman, Dave slowly and painfully started to pare away the inventory, stopping procurement, cutting construction employment, mothballing sites. Two units at Phipps Bend near Knoxville, gone. Two units at Bellefonte near Huntsville, Alabama, gone; two units at Yellow Creek near Corinth, MS, gone. And four units at Hartsville near Nashville, gone. By the time Dave’s term was up, Ronald Reagan was president and the handwriting on the wall was clear; his time at TVA was over. He left having stopped the construction of twelve nuclearunits at five plant sites. And if he hadn’t done that, it is likely that the federal government would have had to bail out the utility and repay all the debt that would have been required to finish the plants.

In 1990 Dave was hired to run one of the largest municipal utilities in California, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, with the unfortunate acronym of SMUD, pronounced as you would expect. It also had a badly running nuclear plant, Rancho Seco. This plant had suffered, according to the NRC, the third worst nuclear accident in the US. This was before Chernobyl and Fukushima. Dave spearheaded the shutdown of this exceptionally poorly run plant, whose lifetime availability of 39% had contributed to a three-year period during which rates increased 92%. Both of these may be utility industry records, not of a good kind.

After leaving SMUD in spectacularly better shape than he found it, Dave ran the New York Public Power Authority, and then the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Neither of these had any nuclear plants or plans, and Dave kept it that way.

He retired from the Department of Water and Power at age 80. But he didn’t fade away. Instead the crisis at San Onofre called to him……..

 Dave and Friends of the Earth intervened, as did many other environmental groups. Dave was quoted as saying the San Onofre and Diablo Canyon are both “disasters waiting to happen: ageing, unreliable reactors sitting near earthquake fault zones on the fragile Pacific Coast, with millions or hundreds of thousands of Californians living nearby”. PGE read the tea leaves, and in June of 2016 agreed to cease pursuing a re-licensing, close Diablo Canyon’s two units in 2024 and 2025, and replace its output with renewable power and storage. Dave was 90 years and 4 months old.

The “nuclear renaissance,” announced with fanfare sixteen years ago, has resulted in the troubled and still incomplete construction of a grand total of two new US plants, both being built by Toshiba. Dave hasn’t announced any new campaigns with regard to nukes as of this writing. But if one saw him heading for the Vogtle plant of Georgia Power, or the Summer plant in South Carolina, the only two construction locations, one should think about shorting Toshiba’s stock. And if he could stop these construction projects—both way over budget and way behind schedule— it just might be the best thing that ever happened to the two utilities paying for all this expensive hardware. And it would certainly be good for their customers who will ultimately pay for this expensive electricity…….

The Green Cowboy put on his spurs, linked up with Friends of the Earth, and together they and others mounted a successful campaign to shut down San Onofre permanently. Dave was a key leadership voice in the opposition to restarting the plant, given his remarkable credentials and his long history in the industry. In June of 2013 SCE threw in the towel and shut down the plant permanently.

But Dave still want finished. There is one other nuclear plant in California, the oddly named Diablo Canyon plant owned by Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE). …

 Dave was quoted as saying the San Onofre and Diablo Canyon are both “disasters waiting to happen: ageing, unreliable reactors sitting near earthquake fault zones on the fragile Pacific Coast, with millions or hundreds of thousands of Californians living nearby”. PGE read the tea leaves, and in June of 2016 agreed to cease pursuing a re-licensing, close Diablo Canyon’s two units in 2024 and 2025, and replace its output with renewable power and storage. Dave was 90 years and 4 months old.

The “nuclear renaissance,” announced with fanfare sixteen years ago, has resulted in the troubled and still incomplete construction of a grand total of two new US plants, both being built by Toshiba. Dave hasn’t announced any new campaigns with regard to nukes as of this writing. But if one saw him heading for the Vogtle plant of Georgia Power, or the Summer plant in South Carolina, the only two construction locations, one should think about shorting Toshiba’s stock. And if he could stop these construction projects—both way over budget and way behind schedule— it just might be the best thing that ever happened to the two utilities paying for all this expensive hardware. And it would certainly be good for their customers who will ultimately pay for this expensive electricity.

Mr. Hemphill is the Chairman and CEO of Sunshine Soldiers, a non-profit focused on education activities happening in energy, especially with regard to the adoption of renewable energy technology by utilities, commercial customers and homeowners, and strategies to benefit from it. Hemphill is also the author for two business travel books, Stories From the Middle Seat: The Four-Million-Mile Journey to Building a Billion Dollar International Business and Dust Tea, Dingoes & Dragons: Adventure in Culture Cuisine & Commerce from a Globe-Trekking Executivehttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/energy-giant-turns-90-knocks-off-another-nuke_us_590b56eee4b046ea176ae8a8

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May 5, 2017 - Posted by | opposition to nuclear, PERSONAL STORIES

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