With quite some joy, I just penned the following wikipedia update under Westinghouse Electric Company LLC:
On March 24, 2017, parent company Toshiba announced Westinghouse Electric Company was filing for bankruptcy because of US$6 billion in losses from nuclear reactor construction projects. The nuclear projects responsible for this loss are mostly the Vogtle reactors in Georgia and the Summer reactors in South Carolina. 
This bankruptcy might halt the construction of every reactor being built in the US at the moment, at least for some period of time. Without a bailout from a likely reluctant Trump administration, these reactors might never be completed though over $10 billion has been spent on them. Before you doubt these projects might be abandoned, remember that half of the reactor projects started in the US were abandoned, many because of cost overruns.
Despite having followed this story intensely for some weeks now, I am still surprised at this result. I thought the Koreans would want to buy this reactor company for both its contracts and its technologies. Westinghouse has active construction projects and solid leads in many countries including the 4 nearly complete reactors in China. Russia and China were never serious suitors because they are unlikely to be approved by the US federal government for the sale of this sensitive technology.
My first anti-nuclear protest was at the Westinghouse reactors at Diablo Canyon in 1981. I fought Westinghouse at the Temelin reactors in the Czech Republic through the 1990s. Westinghouse developed the first 3rd generation reactors including the AP 1000 which is currently under construction in more locations than any other Gen 3 western design.
What went wrong? There is a pretty standard formula for building nuclear power plants in the US. The reactor vendor comes in and underbids the contract, while still seeking a huge amount of money. The regulators accept this low bid on behalf of the state. Not long into construction inevitable delays and cost overruns begin. The nuclear construction company turns to the utility and says, “Please pass these extra costs on to your rate payers (or in some states the tax payers.)” Historically, the regulator has obliged. This way the frequently exploding costs of nuclear construction, typically over 200% the initial contracted price in the US, do not bankrupt the construction company. But even this formula was not good enough to restart nuclear construction in the US.
Beyond this the AP 1000 was Westinghouse’s new design. It was simpler, more safe, better simulated and tested than any other reactor Westinghouse had ever built. And it was testing the future of reactor construction: Modularity. Historically, reactors are built on site. There are too many custom pieces, many of which are huge, to be built in a factory. But Westinghouse was a forward thinking company. They knew they need to change the ways reactors were built to keep costs down. They presumed, as did many in the industry, that standardizing designs and building components in factories like giant legos, which were then fastened together onsite would make it easier and less expensive. Turn out reactors are not like legos, and this modular strategy was central to Westinhouse failure at Summer and Vogtle.
The Bush/Cheney administration attempted to boot strap the “nuclear Renaissance” with a generous aid package, which included:
- Government-preferred equity investment facilities
- $18 billion of subsidized federal loans
- Tax-exempt financing
- Federal power purchase agreements at above-market rates
- Taxpayer-backed insurance
Despite this generous program, only 4 reactors began construction, two in Georgia at Vogtle and two is South Carolina at Summer. A disappointing yield for an industry that at its high point (2009) had 30 applications in for new reactors.
To land these 4 contracts, Westinghouse (which was acting as the general contractor) had to require that the construction subcontractors bid fixed price contracts. Chicago Bridge and Iron (CBI) was working on the Vogtle reactors and ran into serious difficulties working with Westinghouse and sued them. Counter-suits which further delayed construction followed. Ultimately, Westinghouse would purchase CBI for $229 million to avoid going to court for $1.5 billion.
But once Westinghouse owned most of the construction responsibilities for these reactors there became no way to pass on the cost overruns. The nuclear utilities had protected themselves from this old trick by requiring fixed-cost contracts. It is telling that once the cost overruns could not be passed on, this scam no longer worked, and it promptly bankrupted the nation’s largest nuclear construction firm.
I’ve been fighting Westinghouse my entire adult life, and I did not expect to outlive it. There will be some hard won celebrations by clean energy advocates across the land this week.
This post originally appeared on CommuneLife Blog.
We got to Binghamton via MIT. It was one of the first presentations of the Communities in Crisis materials. It was a small crowd, perhaps half a dozen people not affiliated with the Point A project in the room.
“But they are the right people,” Raven said, and not knowing much about the Boston coop scene, I was happy to defer to him. Turned out he was right.
Rachael from the audience said we had to talk with Maximus and put Genome Collective on our agenda. And with Genome came our growing connection to Binghamton University and David Sloan Wilson and the birth of the Chloroplast Research Institute.
It is from these connections that we have started seriously exploring the thesis that living in community is more sane than not and that people who join heal with time. A radical, if not obvious, notion. There is quite some chance that Maximus’s PhD thesis will be working with the income sharing communities in an effort to prove this. Which would be wonderful for us.
We have been working with Genome Collective in Binghamton for over a year, with several Point A visits. We did some strong group process work in our early visits to Genome and, at one point, even hoped they would morph from being a group house into being an income sharing community.
The house itself has a number of positive attributes. A large separate meeting space over the garage called “the temple” is ideal for workshops, meditation or yoga classes. The house has the beginnings of a thriving culinary mushroom business. Genome has both numerous bedrooms and a top floor which can host several sleepover guests.
Maximus gave us a full schedule of classes and workshops while we were there. We presented on a number of topics including climate change, polyamory, income sharing communities and sustainability. Our classes spanned the range from large freshman lectures to small grad student seminars. What was universal was that we got thoughtful and insightful questions from every group of students and several students interested in visiting and/or studying our cultures.
It is also clear that, while we are welcome in Binghamton to do more speaking gigs at the university and to stay at Genome, the house has decided that they will be a group house instead of an income sharing community, and will not be needing the services of Point A to help them go in that direction. Our future visits will be more connected to the Twin Oaks Academic Speaking Tour (TOAST) instead of Point A work.
[This story originally appeared on the CommuneLife.org blog]
It’s been too long since we have organized a Point A trip, and it’s fun to be on the road again. Tufts University, outside of Boston is proving a worthy first stop on our adventure. I am lucky to have a capable fun group of people to be presenting with:
Long experienced communard and construction wizard, Nina is not the chatty type, but what she says is more than worth listening to. She was the principal presenter of the Community as the Solution to Climate Change workshop on Saturday.
Skylar is Nina’s strongly bonded partner. Twin Oaks brought them together and they are enjoying a long honeymoon. Most people who meet Skylar don’t believe she can actually be as happy as she appears, but I know better. Optimistic, fanciful, quick to comment and engage, Skylar is, in a positive way, Nina’s mirror image. Skylar navigated the workshop on Transcending Jealousy and Building Compersion that we did at the Tufts LGBTQ center.
Raven is my steady ally on the prolonged roller coaster ride of the Point A. He tries, with some success, to catch all the flying pieces of wreckage hurling from my poorly organized multi-city trips. He is making sure our crew gets fed (me: people need food?) and that local organizers know what to expect from our small invasion of commune activists. When I neglected to secure housing in Somerville, Raven tapped his deep Boston co-op roots and found us all places to sleep. He is the wrangler in chief for the commune life blog.
Maximus from the Genome Collective in Binghamton, NY has been the godfather of this trip. Getting dates months in advance so they fit into the several classes we are doing at Binghamton; finding us honorariums for presenting; finding us amazing venues and local support at Tufts (where he went to school). Specifically, he hooked us up with the fine folks from Crafts House, who have an adorable college collective living situation, combined with stewardship of the well stocked student art space at Tufts, the Craft Center.
Telos did not think he was going on this trip. He made the mistake of calling me for advice on rides to Virginia, after he was disqualified at the last minute from a medical study that his community, Cambia, was doing in Baltimore. He ended up going North instead, where he joined this intrepid crew with his organizing and writing skills, and experience from previous Point A trips with the Genome collective, who we are advising later in the trip. Moral: I am happy to help find you a ride, it just might not be to where you think you were going.
The way these trips work, ideally, is we work with a group house (Craft House in the case of Tufts, or the Genome Collective in the case of Binghamton) and give them a collection of workshops to choose from.
Elise from Craft House consulted with her coop and choose three:
- Polyamory Principals: Transcending Jealousy and Crafting Compersion
- Intentional Community as the solution to Climate Disruption
- Community Communication: Clearnesses and Transparency Tools
Craft House itself has been supportive and hospitable. When our team grew in size with Telos arrival and needed another place for someone to sleep, Craft House gave us a luxurious closet to sleep in. It is currently their small costume commie clothes. I jumped at the chance to sleep in their fine closet, even before i found out it’s august history. It also turns out to be the closet the be off the room where Tracy Chapman lived while she went to Tufts in 1987.
The audiences to our workshops have been growing steadily since we started presenting at Tufts. A number of people are interested in coming to the Virginia communes to visit and dozens of fingerbooks have been distributed on various topics. We have several solid offer to host us when we return next semester and well as Tufts students and area residents who want to explore the path from dorm to student coop and then from coop to egalitarian community. It feels like important beginnings.
On to Binghamton.
Update March 2017: Crafts House is coming to visit the communes over spring break! 12 members of Crafts House will be coming down and staying at Simple House (a property near Twin Oaks controlled by Cambia) for 4 days and visiting the communities and working at income sharing farms in Louisa.
In the time of Trump, it is critical to seek high functioning alternatives to the mainstream culture. Twin Oaks and the surrounding cluster of egalitarian communities could be a model for new behaviors of sharing technologies and cooperative culture. But perhaps our most daring export, because many default culture citizens think they are expert in this, is how to be a father.
Keegan and adder (sic) are two young fathers living in a rural income sharing egalitarian commune. But if you are willing to listen, i think their advice might be applicable for your world as well.
Other articles about communes and families:
- Parenting in Community – It takes a Village
- Negligent Parenting Magazine
- Wrong from word 2 – Yahoo Parenting discovers the Commune
- Utopia Child Rearing – by Keenan (not Keegan)
- Momentarily Viral – Don’t Read the Comments (on Yahoo Parenting article)
- Being a “Yes”
This is a rich topic. Your comments are welcome.