Protests in Puerto Rico: How it impacts our efforts for advanced nuclear?
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
Many people have reached out to The Nuclear Alternative Project (NAP), asking about the impact of recent protests in Puerto Rico on our efforts advocating for advanced nuclear for the Island. Since its inception in late 2015, NAP has operated independently from any affiliation to the local leadership in Puerto Rico. For that reason, NAP’s ongoing efforts in Puerto Rico are not impacted by the political situation and our plans remain focused on executing the feasibility study and community engagement. Further, we’ve decided to provide a quick summary that covers three key aspects: (1) a brief background on the protests in Puerto Rico, (2) the impact on Puerto Rico’s energy sector, and (3) how NAP’s grassroots strategy and ongoing efforts are navigating through these unprecedented times.
(1) The Protests
On July 13, 2019, the Center of Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico released about 900 pages of a private chat involving the Governor of Puerto Rico and his close advisors. The publication is filled with profanity, constant mocking of underrepresented groups, and discussions regarding media manipulation to suppress political rivals. Add to this the fact that, just two days before the release of this chat, the FBI arrested two of the Governor’s top officials in a scheme of corruption – a scheme showed to take place while the people of Puerto Rico were struggling to recuperate from Hurricane Maria. We (our executive team) are angry as I am writing these lines and I imagine you are too. Just imagine the anger of those in the Island among the people that are suffering the direct impact of government mismanagement in addition to a scandal filled with inhumanity for its people. This situation has affected all of us Puerto Ricans, both in the Island and in the diaspora. All of this comes in an environment of stress and discontent from the public, resulting in the mobilization of over a million people in Puerto Rico and across many cities in the U.S., claiming for change in local leadership.
(2) The Electricity Sector
These recent developments in Puerto Rico will have direct effects for the Island’s energy sector. Just this week, it was announced that one of those arrested in the recent FBI probe was the managing director of the accounting firm, BDO Puerto Rico, which in the last 2 years has accumulated $2.6 million in contracts with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to provide financial consulting and auditing services. These services are critical to the accurate presentation of PREPA’s current financial position, which underlies the representations made to the Federal Oversight Management Board (FOMB), the bidders in PREPA’s privatization process, and to the bankruptcy court regarding PREPA’s debt restructuring. Further, while no PREPA officials have been implicated so far, the chat messaging scandal forced the departure of one official with substantial ties to the company - Christian Sobrino, who was a member of the PREPA board, as well as the governor’s representative to the FOMB and the executive director of the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority, which advises PREPA. These are critical changes that NAP is following very closely as we move with our laser-focus target on community engagement and feasibility study, which brings me to my next point – how our grassroots approach is navigating such changes in Puerto Rico and how our analytical work remains independent from recent events on the Island.
(3) NAP’s Strategy, Vision, and Activities
Since we started NAP in late 2015, our strategy has been focused on the long term: as the political field reshapes in Puerto Rico, we stay laser focused on community engagement and developing the technical basis through a feasibility study for SMRs and micro reactors in Puerto Rico for future policy consideration. Therefore, when the time is right, our parallel efforts will lead to a population that is more open to the nuclear option, and policymakers will have the necessary technical background for well-informed policy decisions with respect to advanced nuclear. Our next major activity is in direct collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and independent from local political affiliations. The nature of NAP is grassroots, operating on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico. Our independent and technically objective nature has allowed us to be impervious to the changes in Puerto Rico. As a former PREPA executive recently told me: “…what you guys are doing, no Puerto Rican politics will be able to affect, because you’re out of their reach…” Of course, we are working closely with champions in Puerto Rico, who, since the very beginning of NAP’s efforts, have opened the doors to NAP, like House Speaker Hon. Gabriel Rodriguez Aguiló, author of resolution 1189 and Mayor Javier Jimenez, the first mayor to open the discussion of advanced nuclear for Puerto Rico.
In closing, my colleagues and I started NAP with one goal in mind: to create transformational impact in Puerto Rico through the education about the promises of advanced nuclear energy. We know what nuclear energy has been doing in the US, and with SMR's and Micro Reactors, we could do the same for Puerto Rico. Such promises -- economic empowerment, direct community participation, ultimate energy reliability and resiliency, transparent governance –are core principles and practices ingrained in our U.S. nuclear industry DNA. It is an industry to which my colleagues in NAP and I have dedicated our engineering careers. These promises embody traits that the people of Puerto Rico have been demanding for a long time, and advanced nuclear power checks all boxes. As I have described here, winds of change are coming to Puerto Rico, and NAP, with its laser-focused strategy, will soon be well-positioned to ride the wave of change and bring the promises of advanced nuclear power to Puerto Rico. Therefore, to our families and young generation in the Island we say: Keep fighting for what's right. From our side, we are working hard for more alternatives to power the future Puerto Rico we all want. A bright new future awaits us.