By Michael Mariotte

Exelon’s Clinton reactor nearly bankrupted the small utility and rural co-ops that originally built it. Despite being bought for a few cents on the dollar by Exelon, it still isn’t economic and Exelon is “threatening” to close it. Photo by

While some potential legal challenges remain, the approval of the Exelon-Pepco merger by the Washington, D.C. Public Service Commission means that Exelon is now not only the largest nuclear powered utility in the U.S., it is the largest electric utility period. And with that steady stream of regulated, and non-nuclear, Pepco money filling its coffers, you’d think that Exelon’s continuing “threats” to close up to three of its Illinois reactor sites unless it obtains more bailouts from beleaguered Illinois taxpayers and ratepayers would fall on deaf ears. Or maybe Exelon is now trying to achieve “too big to fail” status?

That Exelon’s “threats” to close these reactors are considered by the utility–and its backers–threats at all is an indication of how perverse the discussion in Illinois is (and really, wherever Exelon operates, where such threats to close reactors without bailouts are commonplace). After all, these reactors (the single reactor at Clinton and the two-unit Quad Cities) are demonstrably uneconomic–they just can’t compete with gas or wind, or solar for that matter. They also are aging and increasingly unsafe; the two Fukushima-clones at Quad Cities especially so, although Clinton too has a weak GE pressure suppression containment system. And, given the large amount of wind power available to the region, and the potential for large amounts of solar power if Exelon didn’t keep trying to shoot it down, they aren’t needed for power supply reasons, nor to ensure low carbon emissions. Whatever of their power actually needs to be replaced, and it’s not like Illinois is facing imminent power shortages, can be done so economically and quickly with renewables, efficiency and storage.

None of this is a big surprise to GreenWorld readers: we’ve been telling this story for more than two years. The song remains the same.

Enter the pro-nuke “environmentalists.”

Specifically, renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen and industry-oriented Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, came to Illinois this week to weigh in on the Exelon bailout debate. And no, they didn’t support renewables or other clean energy technologies. They didn’t question whether the nation’s largest electric utility really needs to gouge Illinoisans for another $300 million to keep aging, money-losing reactors open. Their message was pretty simple: in an open letter to Illinois legislators they, and several dozen others (most of whom are long-standing nuclear advocates) urged them to “do everything in your power to keep all of Illinois’s nuclear power plants running for their full lifetimes.”

Sometimes Dr. Hansen just makes you wonder if he isn’t undertaking some bizarre experiment to see how far he can undermine his own credibility before it all blows up in his face.

Back in November 2013 he and three colleagues wrote an open letter to us nuclear opponents urging us to reconsider …read more

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