Thursday, June 22, 2023

Nuclear disaster is set to upend life in Georgia -- even at the Masters Golf Tournament -- as officials take a "head in sand" approach to a preventable tragedy

Augusta National, home of the Masters

A catastrophic nuclear disaster is 99 percent likely at a power-generating plant in East Georgia, according to a post at It would be the second such disaster, and the most deadly one, in United States history. The epicenter of the impending calamity is the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Waynesboro, Ga. Atlanta-based Southern Company, the nation's second largest utility, operates Vogtle and has stated that its Unit 3 nuclear plant will commence commercial operations in July 2023. A second nuclear plant -- Unit 4, which is identical to Unit 3 -- will go online at an undetermined date.

A disaster at Vogtle even would have a profound impact on the sports world. Augusta, Ga., home of Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the prestigious Masters Tournament each spring, is inside the 40-mile radius that makes up the Vogtle danger zone. Augusta would become uninhabitable, with residents forced to resettle. One might think that the moneyed members of Augusta National could alert authorities to a looming, and preventable, disaster, but it apparently has not happened yet. Could Augusta National become a nuclear-waste dump site? That notion is hard to grasp, but the answer to the question is, "Yes, it could happen."

Watkins, a longtime Alabama attorney, entrepreneur, and civil-rights advocate, has become a leading voice in online journalism on the accounting fraud, racketeering, and defective construction that has plagued Southern Company for years. Under the headline "Warning: To All Persons Living Within 40 Miles of the Southern Company’s Vogtle Nuclear Plant!" Watkins writes:

If you live within a 40-mile radius of the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant owned by Southern Company affiliate Georgia Power Company (and three other utility partners) and operated by Southern Company affiliate Southern Nuclear Operating Company, you are in grave danger of a catastrophic nuclear disaster whenever Unit 3 begins commercial operations. The Vogtle Plant is located near the city of Waynesboro in Burke County, Georgia.

On June 16, 2023, the Southern Company publicly announced that commercial operations at Unit 3 will commence in July.

Unit 3 is unsafe. It is riddled with basic engineering flaws and years of shoddy workmanship. It is enveloped in a culture of inadequate inspections and endless remediation work.

Based upon industry reports, Units 3 and 4 (which is a replica of Unit 3) have the highest pre-operational testing failure rates among the nation’s 92 nuclear power plants.

Unit 3 failed its most recent pre-operational testing due to a defective hydrogen seal. That came on top of another failure earlier this year, in January, due to vibrations of undetermined origins. Watkins paints the situation in stark terms, noting that it is a failure of technical capabilities and political will. He writes:

Units 3 and 4 are "lemon" nuclear power plants and deathtraps of monumental proportions.

Units 3 and 4 should have been scrapped years ago like the Southern Company’s fatally flawed $8-billion coal-gasification plant in Kemper, Mississippi.

Remarkably, the Southern Company's political chokehold on the Joe Biden White House has kept the two "lemon" nuclear projects at Vogtle alive and moving toward commercial operations and a nuclear disaster.

The Southern Company's chokehold on President Joe Biden and his administration makes Southern Company Executive Chairman Thomas A. Fanning and new CEO Christopher Womack smile and beam with pride. In fact, these executives get giddy every time they defeat an initiative that promotes public safety at Vogtle, environmental protections at other Southern Company power plants, and consumer rights for the Southern Company customers -- all while using customers' money to defeat these initiatives.

The political failures have spread beyond the Biden White House to a number of other agencies. If "the buck stops" at the White House, however, Biden could find himself confronting a horror show of unprecedented style and scope in U.S. history. Writes Watkins:

What is worse, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Georgia Public Service Commission have completely abdicated their statutory responsibility to ensure public safety in connection with the commercial operations of Units 3 and 4 at Vogtle. This abdication has been aided by an unprecedented amount of influence peddling by Southern Company officials and paid operatives in Washington and Georgia.

These federal regulatory and oversight agencies have allowed Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear to essentially self-certify the safety of Units 3 and 4, much like the Federal Aviation Administration allowed The Boeing Company to self-certify the airworthiness of its new 737 MAX aircraft, two of which fell out of the sky in 2018 and 2019 and killed 346 passengers and crew members because of engineering flaws in the structural design of the aircraft.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is headed by Christopher T. Hanson, who was handpicked by President Biden to assume the chairmanship of the Commission on the first day of his presidency. Hanson's leadership at the Commission has been woefully inadequate. He is providing the same low caliber of leadership at the commission that contributed to the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979.

Political accommodations and "fixes" in Washington have become the hallmark of the Biden administration. For example, on June 20, 2023, Biden's Department of Justice announced that it had resolved or “fixed” a criminal case against Hunter Biden on felony tax evasion and gun possession charges in a way that allowed Hunter to avoid going to prison.

What is ahead? Watkins answers that question by citing numbers that are terrifying, stating that a nuclear disaster is "99% likely" at Vogtle -- and it could come shortly after Unit 3 goes online, which is due to happen in July:

As a result of the Southern Company’s demonstrated political muscle and notorious “dark money” contributions to powerful public officials and anti-consumer protection political action groups in Washington and Georgia, politics has trumped public safety at Vogtle.

Today, there is a 99% probability that a Level 7 nuclear disaster will occur at Vogtle Unit 3 within 90 days after it becomes fully operational. Level 7 is on the scale of the worst nuclear disasters at Chernobyl in the old Soviet Union in 1986 and Fukushima in Japan in 2011.

Vogtle Units 3 and 4 were built using outdated engineering plans and specifications. They are fatally flawed. No capable and qualified, truly independent panel of nuclear experts has certified the safety and operational soundness of Units 3 and 4.

A catastrophic nuclear power event has occurred only once before in America, and it resulted in the Level 5 nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island.

Vogtle will become the second and most deadly nuclear disaster in U.S. history. The tragedy here lies in the fact that the Vogtle nuclear disaster is completely preventable.

Medical experts expect a lot of people within a 40-mile radius of Vogtle to get sick and die from radiation poisoning when the Level 7 nuclear disaster occurs at Units 3 and/or 4.

More than 350,000 people had to be permanently resettled after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Experts expect that at least 500,000 people living in 11 counties within the 40-mile radius of the Vogtle contamination area will have to be permanently resettled.

Of course, the famous and prestigious Masters Golf Tournament will no longer be played in Augusta Georgia, as the residents of Augusta will have to be resettled. Augusta is located 33.5 miles from Vogtle.

What about the responsible entity, Southern Company. It probably will find a way to stay afloat, Watkins says:

The Southern Company has apparently determined that it is cheaper to pay claims for death, personal injury, and property damages than it is to fix the fatally flawed, highly defective, and extremely dangerous Units 3 and 4 nuclear power plants at Vogtle, which have cost the ownership group more than $35 billion to date. This construction amount is $21 billion over the original project budget of $14 billion.

Units 3 and 4 cannot be fixed to make them safe because the design flaws are structural and embedded throughout Units 3 and 4.

The Southern Company’s only hope of coming out of this financial nightmare is two-fold. First, the Southern Company will make its own insurance claim for property damages at Vogtle after the nuclear disaster occurs. Georgia Power is also a member of Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited, a mutual insurer established to provide property damage insurance in an amount up to $1.5 billion for members' operating nuclear generating facilities.

Second, the Southern Company will seek a “bailout” from Congress to make up for the shortfall between the $1.5 billion in property insurance proceeds and the $35 billion spent on the construction of Units 3 and 4. Remember, Congress bailed out Boeing with $50 billion for the defective 737 Max airplanes under the pretext that the money was needed for COVID relief.

Risk-mitigation experts at the Southern Company have already estimated the amount of losses associated with third-party deaths, personal injuries, and property-damage claims. These third-party claims will be handled within the policy limits of Georgia Power’s nuclear insurance coverage under the Price-Anderson Amendments Act (Act), which provides funds up to $13.7 billion for public-liability claims that could arise from a single nuclear incident.

What about the everyday Americans who live and work in and around the 40-mile radius surrounding Vogtle -- the ones who are likely to suffer the most. Watkins has advice, and it's not pleasant to hear: These Americans must be prepared to fend for themselves because no entity with authority in the matter is likely to take responsibility:

No one at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Georgia Public Safety Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will guarantee the public that these regulatory and oversight agencies took all of the steps reasonably necessary to protect the public and prevent a catastrophic nuclear disaster at Units 3 and 4 at Vogtle.

No head of these agencies will swear under penalties of perjury that his/her respective agency decisions were free of Southern Company influence peddling that might have directly or indirectly impacted final agency approvals.

Allegations regarding the Southern Company's "fitness" to own and operate Vogtle Units 3 and 4 were formally resolved in the company's favor on June 20, 2023, without the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking the separate and distinct complainants to submit evidence supporting their allegations or holding a formal hearing to consider their complaints.

Please notice that June 20, 2023, is the same date that the Department of Justice announced the "fix" in Hunter Biden's federal criminal case.

As such, residents within the 40-mile radius of Vogtle must prepare to fend for themselves in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster at Vogtle. The lessons learned from Three Mile Island have been forgotten. Regulatory decision-making is once again driven by political considerations and corporate money that is injected into a corrupt political system.

First, these residents must read and understand the evacuation plan for leaving the contaminated area after the disaster occurs.

Second, these residents should do their best to enjoy their loved ones and friends, as a lot of them will be dead or dying after the disaster occurs. Life, as they know it today, will take a dramatic and tragic turn after the nuclear disaster at Vogtle occurs.

Third, residents with valuable personal property inside this 40-mile radius should relocate this property to an alternative safekeeping site outside the 40-mile radius -- right now.

Unfortunately, the individual Commissioners on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Georgia Public Service Commission cannot be sued personally for approving the commercial operations at Vogtle's fatally flawed Units 3 and 4. These commissioners enjoy qualified immunity from third-party lawsuits.

At this juncture, our best hope as a nation for seeking justice in this matter is that the Southern Company corporate executives and federal and state government officials who could have prevented the nuclear disaster at Units 3 and 4 will be around to get prosecuted for second-degree murder, reckless endangerment by radiation poisoning and contamination, and the willful destruction of private property within the 40-mile contaminated area.


legalschnauzer said...

A comment from Donald Watkins at his Facebook page:

I am waiting to see if President Joe Biden and the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stand behind the safety of Vogtle nuclear power Units 3 and 4 once they reach full commercial operations. No capable and qualified, truly independent, nuclear power expert will guarantee the safety of these electric power generating units. The national class action lawyers, who special in mass torts, are waiting to see which nuclear expert(s) certifies the safety of the fatally flawed Units 3 and 4 on behalf of the Southern Company.

legalschnauzer said...

More from Donald Watkins at his Facebook page:

Political influence peddling in Washington goes on all of the time. However, I draw the line at influence peddling that kills innocent people. Personally, I have never crossed that line. I saw how Jim Kerr, the Southern Company's racist former general counsel and current CEO of Southern Gas Company, mistreated the company's 4,000 customers in North Birmingham, Alabama several years ago. Kerr condemned these mostly poor black residents to a long, slow, painful death from toxins in the air, ground, and water. From that day forward, I knew that the Southern Company was fully capable of killing thousands of residents without blinking an eye.

legalschnauzer said...

A final thought from Donald Watkins at Facebook:

As and journalist and human rights activist, I have done everything within my power to save the lives and property of the people living within a 40-mile radius of Vogtle Units 3 and 4. My soul is at peace. If you were upset about the train derailment and spillage of hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023, you are going to be highly enraged after the nuclear disaster at Units 3 and 4. This disaster is completely preventable, but corporate greed, corruption, and politics have trumped public safety.