The plan itself made news as yet another half baked business idea trying to attract attention a few years back. This would build 20+ nuclear power reactors in the middle east. With claims that it would somehow create peace and prosperity if you squinted at it just right the concept seemed doomed for the waste bin.
This plan resurfaced briefly during the last US election and again as part of the Trump – Russia scandal now under investigation by Congress and a Robert Mueller’s investigation. What we found among this political news described a plan that would have not just created world wide proliferation risks but would have done all of this at the expense and on the backs of various populations in the US.
But first some background on this whole mess.
General Mike Flynn who is now rumored to be cooperating with Mueller’s investigation played a significant role in trying to make this middle east reactor program happen. He and some other people through a series of companies were making deals with the Russian and Saudi government (and their allied business interests) to build reactors in a group of middle east countries. The entire plan was known to be in total an unprofitable program. They claimed the “peace” this would create would benefit more than the paltry profits from selling electricity. It would also turn Saudi Arabia into a nuclear state and create lots of business opportunities for various parties to sell security services and nuclear related consulting.
From the Washington Post:
“In June 2015, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn took a little-noticed trip to Egypt and Israel, paid for by a U.S. company he was advising. The company hoped to build more than two dozen nuclear plants in the region in partnership with Russian interests.”
“Congressional Democrats say that Flynn may have violated federal law by failing to disclose the Middle Eastern trip in his security clearance renewal application in 2016. A top House Republican declined the Democrats’ request for a congressional inquiry but referred the allegations to the special counsel.”
“Flynn served as an adviser to two Washington-based companies pursuing efforts to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East: ACU Strategic Partners, which proposed a partnership with Russian interests, and IP3/IronBridge, which later launched a separate endeavor that initially proposed working with China to build the infrastructure, according to federal documents and company officials.”
“The idea: to build several dozen “proliferation-proof” nuclear power plants across Persian Gulf states. The plan relied heavily on Russian interests, which would help build the plants, as well as possibly take possession of spent fuel that could be used to build a nuclear weapon, according to people familiar with the project.
ACU’s managing director, Alex Copson, had been promoting variations of building nuclear facilities with Russian help for more than two decades, according to news reports. Copson did not respond to requests for comment, and ACU’s counsel, Don Gross, declined to comment.”
In another Washington Post report more information about Flynn and this proposal came forth. Newer information shows that after he took a job in the White House as part of the National Security Council Flynn used that role to peddle this plan. He took this Russia-Saudi govt. plan and attempted to inject it as federal government policy through his role in the NSC.
“The week after President Trump’s inauguration, national security adviser Michael Flynn forwarded a memo written by a former business associate and told his staff to fashion it into a policy for President Trump’s approval, according to two people familiar with the exchange.
The proposal — to develop a “Marshall Plan” of investment in the Middle East — was being pushed by a company that Flynn said he had advised during the 2016 campaign and transition. The firm was seeking to build nuclear power plants in the region.
His advocacy for the project in the White House surprised some administration officials and raised concerns that Flynn had a conflict of interest. From August to December 2016, he said he served as an adviser to the company, IP3, reporting later on his disclosure forms that he ended his association with the firm just weeks before joining the administration.”
This crazy plan involving two foreign governments and a secretive list of private investors was now seeking to become US government policy. Flynn was their “in” to make it happen. It also appears that other prominent White House advisers may have been involved in trying to sell this plan to foreign leaders after the Trump administration took office.
ProPublica further details that this plan has still had an active life within the Trump administration that is now considering giving Saudi Arabia nuclear technology and allowing them to enrich and reprocess nuclear fuel without objection. This report includes a long list of questionable former government officials and long time Trump friends as being involved with this push to sell the Saudis nuclear technology. It includes the now indicted Robert Gates.
Also cited by the Washington Post as a member of this consortium was Thomas Cochran. He is mentioned as being ACU’s senior scientist. Cochran has worked for the NRDC and as a nuclear energy advisory committee member to the US Department of Energy. His writings at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists seem to show someone who was not in favor of new nuclear power projects. A deeper biography of Dr. Cochran can be found here. Dr. Cochran on the surface appears to be a serious scientist. He seems to have a habit of picking some questionable business partners.
The ACU executive mentioned by the Washington Post, Alex Copson, has worked on projects with Cochran before. Copson’s reputation as a slightly unhinged peddler of ill advised ideas is well known among the circles that have had to deal with him. Copson’s projects include a 1999 project that would have taken the world’s nuclear spent fuel and given all of it to Russia for long term storage. The plan came with an assumption that Russia would then always do the right thing and not neglect this stash of nuclear material or let it fall into the wrong hands. Cochran was also involved with this odd plan being championed by Copson. In another of Copson’s projects he wanted to store nuclear spent fuel in the Marshall Islands. When the local government balked at the idea he called them ‘fat, lazy, fucks’.
With this background of who is who we looked into the deeper part of the plan and where it went beyond a really bad international idea to a really bad idea planned for the US itself.
Copson, while touting his connections to the Trump administration via Mike Flynn, attempted to get the Tennessee Valley Authority to “transfer” to ACU, two unfinished nuclear power plants in Alabama. Keep in mind that ACU is largely funded and partnered with the Russian and Saudi governments. This plan may have run up against US laws that prevent foreign ownership or domination of commercial power reactors. What is more concerning is the idea that the TVA, a federal owned company, would be in business with two foreign powers with questionable relationships with the US. TVA has a long history of working for federal government interests including military and national laboratory goals. TVA provided the electricity needed to enrich uranium at Oak Ridge for the Manhattan Project and was involved in some of the later nuclear reactor projects there. The ties between the TVA and Oak Ridge are numerous and deep. Tying foreign governments into the operations of TVA’s power reactors would have been foolhardy if it had been approved. The TVA declined ACU’s proposal and instead sold the unfinished Bellefonte plant site to another group of investors.
This project also included a foreign owned uranium enrichment plant just outside of Oak Ridge National Lab.
“In Phase 1 of the project, IPG will form new partnerships among the U.S. and participating Mid-East countries to build and own a state-of-the art enrichment and fuel fabrication facility in Tennessee near Oak Ridge as well as a heavy nuclear component manufacturing plant in Virginia near Hampton Roads.”
Such a facility would be considered privately owned and would have limited accountability to the local community or the national population who is ultimately responsible for dealing with disasters or abandoned nuclear sites. Most people would balk at the idea of a foreign government operating a uranium enrichment facility in their community. Any final product produced in the US would go only to the reactors in the middle east while turning about a $200 billion profit for those involved. The nuclear waste involved would be a gift to the local community.
All of this would be private sector agreements between private sector US businesses and foreign governments.
The Bellefonte deal fell through and the US based uranium processing plan also appears to have luckily died out with the Trump administration now considering allowing Saudi Arabia to do their own enrichment.
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