By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on July 24, 2023
[Late Breaking News: Last Friday, engineers with the Southern Nuclear Operating Company tried to raise the power at Vogtle Unit 3, again. At 32 percent power, the reactor coolant pump speed started decreasing and the operators had to perform another scram (or emergency shutdown) of the unit. Unit 3 is back to zero power, as of this morning. This is the second time since July 9, 2023, that Unit 3 has almost experienced a nuclear meltdown.]
American companies often choose corporate greed and cost savings over public safety. When this choice occurs, people usually die.
This choice occurred at Ford Motor Company in the 1970s. The Ford Pinto was so defective that it was a rolling deathtrap. The Pinto’s gas tank would explode upon impact when hit in the rear by another vehicle, thereby condemning the driver and passengers in the Pinto to a fiery death.
By all accounts, the Pinto was a “lemon”car.
Ford knew the Pinto was fatally flawed but decided it was cheaper to pay death claims than it was to recall and fix the car’s exploding gas tanks.
Ford's lapse in business ethics and reckless disregard for human life are back in vogue. Both despicable traits have been fully embraced by the Atlanta-based Southern Company, its former CEO/current Executive Chairman, Thomas A. Fanning, its former general counsel/current president of Southern Gas Company, James Y. Kerr, II, and its Lead Independent Director, David J. Grain.
This time a lapse in business ethics and reckless disregard for human life will kill up to 60,000 people in a single industrial disaster that is completely preventable.
Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant Units 3 and 4 are Deathtraps
The Southern Company has constructed two fatally flawed deathtraps at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Waynesboro, Georgia (which is 33.5 miles from Augusta, Georgia). In automobile terms, we would call them “lemons.”
In nuclear power circles, these "lemons" are called Vogtle Units 3 and 4.
Southern Company internal documents acknowledge that Units 3 and 4 are riddled with design flaws, engineering defects, shoddy workmanship, and poor construction management. The amalgamation of these factors (and many more) virtually guarantees that a Level 7 nuclear disaster will occur at Vogtle within 90 days after Unit 3 becomes fully operational.
A Level 7 nuclear event is on the scale of the worst nuclear disasters at Chernobyl in the old Soviet Union in 1986 and Fukushima in Japan in 2011. Over the course of time, up to 60,000 people within a 40-mile radius of Vogtle will die from radiation poisoning and related illnesses.
Based upon industry reports, Units 3 and 4 have the highest pre-operational testing failure rates among the nation’s 92 nuclear power plants. The testing failures at Units 3 and 4 are non-stop.
With $35 billion in construction costs on a project that was originally budgeted for $14 billion, the Southern Company is now too deep in a financial “hole” to abandon Units 3 and 4 like it did in 2021 with the company’s $8 billion debacle with the Kemper, Mississippi coal gasification plant.
The principal owner and operator of Units 3 and 4 (i.e., Southern Company, acting through affiliates Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear Operating Company) have successfully hoodwinked, gaslighted, and flat-out lied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) repeatedly and relentlessly since construction started on these units in 2009. Their nefarious activities, coupled with influence peddling and strategic “dark money” contributions to federal and state political entities, have kept these construction projects alive.
Thus far, NRC chairman Christopher T. Hanson has exercised extreme caution in his dealing with the Southern Company and Executive Chairman Thomas Fanning because the company's reputation for business ethics is in the toilet.
New CEO Christopher Womack does nothing to enhance the company's tarnished reputation for business ethics. Womack came to the job with his own set of personal problems. Internally, Womack is viewed as a "light-weight" who is not taken seriously by Fanning and the Southern Company's Management Council.
Because the Southern Company has not been profitable since 2017, and because the company pays quarterly dividends from borrowed money, the Southern Company is committed to bringing Units 3 and 4 online -- at all costs. The company, which desperately needs the anticipated revenues from Units 3 and 4, has engaged in a "fake it till you make it" strategy for years. The company's game plan today calls for fixing the fatal flaws in Units 3 and 4 "on the fly" after these units go into commercial service.
As late as June 2023, Southern Company contractors were still falsifying test results at Unit 3.
On July 9, 2023, Southern Nuclear Operating Company had to perform an emergency shutdown of Unit 3 during testing to prevent it from melting down.
The safety of Units 3 and 4 has been hopelessly compromised so many times that a Level 7 nuclear disaster is inevitable. The latest safety lapse was publicly revealed on July 18, 2023.
On July 21, 2023, Southern Nuclear Operators tried to raise the power at Unit 3, again. At 32 percent power, the reactor coolant pump speed started decreasing and they had to perform another emergency shutdown of the unit. Unit 3 is back to zero power, as of the date of this article.
The Southern Company is Highly Skilled at Ignoring Thousands of Deaths Caused by Industrial Nightmares
As we reported on July 13, 2023, the Southern Company, public officials, and community leaders in Alabama condemned more than 4,000 residents of North Birmingham and the City of Tarrant to a long, slow, and painful death from toxic pollutants and the air they breathe and the ground underneath their feet. These polluted neighborhoods are 92.5% black.
The Southern Company and its Alabama Power affiliate teamed with five industrial polluters -- U.S. Pipe, Alagasco, KMAC, ABC Coke, and the Drummond Company -- and other business alliance partners to: (a) create a fake 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, (b) funded it with more than $360,000 in bribery money, and (c) bribe a former state legislator to lobby against an initiative by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up the polluted neighborhoods.
A six polluter -- Walter Coke, Inc. (now known as Bluestone Coke) was tagged by the EPA early in the cleanup initiative.
The Southern Company used an environmental justice suppression apparatus built and operated by Alabama Power to kill the EPA-initiated environmental cleanup of North Birmingham and Tarrant that targeted all six of the industrial polluters listed above and cost an estimated $900 million (in 2013 dollars). The cleanup cost today is $1 billion.
The Southern Company's environmental justice suppression apparatus killed this EPA cleanup project, from 2015 and the present, by simply distributing less than $1 million in total to a cadre of thirsty entities and individuals, many of whom are depicted in the chart below. The chart was prepared by Balch & Bingham, the Southern Company’s longtime law firm.
The industrial polluters have been spewing cancer-causing toxins in these neighborhoods since 1933. The death count from this pollution since 1933 is now in the tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. All of them were Southern Company customers.
The Southern Company is Prepared for the Vogtle Unit 3 Death Count to Reach 60,000
The Southern Company is prepared for the death count from the expected Level 7 nuclear event at Vogtle 3 to reach 60,000 people, most of whom will be white. When it comes to industrial accident-related deaths, the Southern Company is an equal opportunity killer.
The company’s preparation for the Level 7 nuclear disaster is explained in greater detail in my June 29, 2023, article.
Unbelievably, the Southern Company has performed the same kind of internal risk analysis on Vogtle-related deaths that Ford Motor Company performed on the Pinto exploding gas tanks.
Like Ford, the Southern Company has decided that it is cheaper to pay claims for death, personal injury, and property damages from its $13.7 billion nuclear insurance policy than it is to fix the fatally flawed, highly defective, and extremely dangerous Units 3 and 4 nuclear power plants at Vogtle.
The contamination from a Level 7 nuclear event will cause the shutdown of Vogtle Units 1 and 2, as well. More than 500,000 homes and businesses serviced by Units 1 and 2 will be without power for a significant period of time.
This event sets up a scenario where the Southern Company expects to ask the White House and Congress for a $100 billion emergency "bailout" package to own, build, and operate four nuclear power plants elsewhere -- at taxpayers' expense. According to our inside sources, this is the Southern Company’s calculated strategy for getting out of the financial "hole" created by its failed development of Vogtle Units 3 and 4.
According to our "inside" sources, the Southern Company sees no other way out of its Vogtle debacle. As far as the company is concerned, the lives of the 60,000 residents who are living within a 40-mile radius of Vogtle are dispensable, much like the lives of the company's 4,000 or more residents in North Birmingham/Tarrant were deemed dispensable.
The Southern Company’s Apparent Lock on Regulatory Bodies, Law Enforcement Agencies, and Courts
The Southern Company has an office in Washington, D.C. that regularly “captures and controls” federal oversight and regulatory agencies, regardless of whether the president in the White House is a Republican or Democrat. Bryan D. Anderson, a man with a checked past, heads the company’s Washington office.
The Southern Company appears to have a lock on President Joe Biden, the Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Whether the company has a lock on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is an open question.
Here are a few examples of this lock:
On November 17, 2022, the Department of Justice “fixed” a False Claims Act fraud case involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in connection with a $1.3 million sole source contract awarded to PowerSecure that mysteriously mushroomed to a whopping $523 million (via highly suspect post-award contract modifications) for the repair and restoration of Puerto Rico’s power grid following the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
Joe Biden's Department of Justice allowed PowerSecure, a Southern Company affiliate, to escape civil liability in this case by paying the government a mere $8.4 million. To date, the DOJ has failed to prosecute any Southern Company or PowerSecure executive who participated in this $523 million fraud scheme.
In April 2023, the Southern Company successfully shutdown a criminal investigation into allegations that Jay Town, the former Donald Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney in Birmingham, Alabama, “fixed” the Oliver Robinson/North Birmingham bribery case in a way that shielded the Southern Company, Alabama Power Company, former Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite, and other Southern Company executives from criminal exposure in the case. The Department of Justice now uses Jay Town as a pit bull to attack Trump in the national news media on the cases Special Counsel Jack Smith is pursuing against Trump.
These were not the only times the Southern Company benefited from “fixed” federal criminal cases in Birmingham involving its top executives and business alliance partners. In 1979-80, the Southern Company “fixed” a federal RICO, price-fixing, fraud and bribery case involving Alabama Power, the Drummond Company, executives from both companies, state legislators, and others. The Southern Company reportedly bribed the trial judge with the offer of a high-paying general counsel’s job at one of its networking partners if the judge would gut the prosecution’s criminal case against the defendants, which he did.
Frank McFadden, the trial judge, had a reputation for seeking and receiving “gifts” from litigants with cases pending in his court. McFadden's reputation for grifting rivals the grifting reputation earned by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
At the conclusion of the case, Judge McFadden retired from the federal bench and accepted his promised job as general counsel of Blount, Inc.
Presently, the Southern Company has captured Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Tamara Johnson within its sphere of influence. Last week, Judge Johnson blocked public access to court filings and proceedings in a civil case brought by one of the co-defendants in the Oliver Robinson/North Birmingham bribery case against the Drummond Company and the Balch & Bingham law firm.
The Drummond Company, a coal mining/coke manufacturing company, is a longtime business alliance partner of the Southern Company. Drummond owns and operates ABC Coke, Inc. in Tarrant. This company is one of the largest industrial polluters in the North Birmingham/Tarrant area.
Balch & Bingham is an integral part of the Southern Company's suppression apparatus for killing EPA-mandated environmental cleanup initiatives and all perceived or real political adversaries.
Balch & Bingham set up the fake 501(c)(4) non-profit organization that was used to bribe former state representative Oliver Robinson. It was funded with donations from Alabama Power Company, the Drummond Company, Balch & Bingham lawyers, and five other Southern Company networking partners.
The Southern Company's dictatorial grip on Judge Tamara Johnson is obvious, extreme, tight, and debilitating. It is designed to instill fear in Judge Johnson, as well as the Alabama's other circuit court judges.
Unfortunately for the residents of Georgia and South Carolina who will be killed by the nuclear disaster at Vogtle, the Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners and Georgia Public Service Commissioners 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.
After the Level 7 nuclear event happens at Unit 3, our best hope as a nation for seeking justice in this matter will occur if and when all Southern Company executives and top federal and state government officials who could have prevented this nuclear disaster get indicted and 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 surrounding Vogtle.
To achieve criminal justice in this case, the Department of Justice will have to overcome its long and distinguished track record of “fixing” federal criminal cases involving major corporations (e.g., Wells Fargo Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, First Republic Bank, the Southern Company, PowerSecure, Drummond Company, The Boeing Company, etc.). Additionally, state prosecutors will have to step up to the plate on the murder charges.
It is highly doubtful that any American corporation will be able to get away with the mass murder of up to 60,000 innocent men, women, and children within 40-miles of the Vogtle nuclear plant where the cause of their deaths was preventable, unmistakably visible, and resulted from a cold and calculated disregard for human life.