Posted by Diane Farsetta on March 26, 2009

Wisconsin law sets two conditions that must be met before new nuclear power plants can be built in the state. One is that there must be "a federally licensed facility" for high-level nuclear waste. In addition, the proposed nuclear plant "must be economically advantageous to ratepayers."

Nuclear power plantIt's a law that the nuclear power industry doesn't like. Given the near-death of the planned waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, and the estimated $6 to $12 billion cost (pdf) of building one nuclear reactor -- not to mention the lack of interest from private investors and the tanking economy -- Wisconsin's law effectively bans new nuclear plants in the state, for the foreseeable future.

Earlier this year, the major U.S. industry group Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) registered four lobbyists in Wisconsin.

NEI is lobbying state legislators on issues related to "nuclear generation ... engineering education and other issues related to state policies on energy, job creation, and environmental law," according to disclosure forms.

It's the first time that NEI has had lobbyists in Wisconsin since at least 1996, though the group has organized public and media events here, especially in recent years. As it does on the national level, NEI argues that building new nuclear power plants would bring good jobs to Wisconsin while helping reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions, especially from coal-fired power plants. NEI's foray into Wisconsin politics is logical and not at all surprising -- until you compare it to the group's apparent lack of interest in other states with similar laws.

Moratorium nation

Wisconsin passed its moratorium on new nuclear plants in 1983, the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar measure in California. While the federal government decides "how to build and operate nuclear plants," the Supreme Court found that California's restrictions were allowable, as "Congress has not required States to 'go nuclear.'"

California still bans new nuclear plants, until there is "a demonstrated technology or means for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste." The size of the state and its growing energy needs led the trade publication Nuclear News to call California (pdf) "critical, not just for the economic prospects of the nuclear industry but for the environmental impact on and energy supply adequacy for the nation's most populous state."

Yet NEI doesn't have a single lobbyist in California. There are local people and groups who want to repeal the state ban. Assemblyman Chuck DeVore has tried repeatedly, through the legislature and through a ballot initiative campaign, even setting up a group called Power for California. However, NEI's involvement has been minimal. When the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group held its first public event in 2007, NEI's high-profile spokesman, former Greenpeace activist turned industry PR consultant Patrick Moore, was the main attraction.

It's not just California and Wisconsin. More than a dozen states effectively ban new nuclear power plants. Minnesota law simply says the state will not approve "the construction of a new nuclear-powered electric generating plant," though a bill to repeal this language has been introduced. Connecticut has a moratorium similar to California's. Before West Virginia can consider a nuclear plant, there must be a waste facility "proven safe, functional and effective" over two years, and nuclear power must be "economically feasible." In Oregon, voters must approve all nuclear projects, and no nuclear plants can be built until there is a federally-licensed "adequate repository for the disposal of the high-level radioactive waste."

Aerial view of Yucca MountainKentucky not only requires a high-level nuclear waste facility "in actual operation" by the time the new plant would require it, but also wants to know "the cost of [waste] disposal ... with reasonable certainty." (A bill to remove these restrictions is working its way through Kentucky's legislature.) Maine and Massachusetts also require an operational waste facility. Montana voters must approve building a nuclear power plant, its "radioactive materials" must "be contained ... with no reasonable chance of intentional or unintentional escape or diversion," and its owner must post a bond worth 30 percent "of the total capital cost of the facility," to ensure adequate funds to close the plant. Illinois requires either a federally-approved waste disposal strategy or the state legislature's approval for the project. New Jersey law necessitates a "safe ... proposed method for disposal of radioactive waste material." In Pennsylvania, a nuclear plant can only be built if it provides a cheaper alternative to coal plants, or if the energy needs cannot be met by coal.

Of all these states, NEI has lobbyists in just three. Michael McGarey, of NEI's Washington DC office, is registered in Kentucky, where he reported lobbying expenditures in March 2008 and February 2009. McGarey's also a registered lobbyist in Pennsylvania, where he was active in early 2007. Then there's Wisconsin, where NEI recently registered four lobbyists: McGarey, two other DC-based employees and a Madison lawyer. That's not bad for a state where, even if the moratorium were repealed, "its [energy] demand growth may still be too modest to encourage new reactor projects," according to Nuclear News.

Madison's pro-nuclear environmentalist

NEI's man in Madison is Frank Jablonski, an attorney who specializes in environmental and consumer issues. He recently testified before two state legislative committees, urging them to repeal Wisconsin's moratorium. "Jablonski is the former general counsel of Wisconsin's Environmental Decade, the group now known as Clean Wisconsin," reported the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. At the same hearing, the current "head of energy policy" for Clean Wisconsin, a local environmental non-profit, "cautioned against expanding nuclear power in the state."

Jablonski readily fits the "environmentalist who just happens to support nuclear power, much to the chagrin of their environmentalist colleagues" framing. NEI knows how well this storyline appeals to reporters. It's been wildly successful in presenting NEI consultants Patrick Moore and Christine Todd Whitman as environmentalists who just happen to support nuclear power, and the NEI-funded and Hill & Knowlton-organized Clean and Safe Energy Coalition as "a large grassroots coalition that unites unlikely allies." (To its credit, the Journal-Sentinel described Moore, who also addressed the joint committee hearing, as the head of "an energy coalition funded by the Nuclear Energy Institute.")

Jablonski registered as an NEI lobbyist in February 2009, but previously supported nuclear power. At a March 2008 conference in Madison, Jablonski gave a talk titled, "Changing climate and changing understandings: Paths to new opinions on nuclear energy" (pdf). His profile for the event describes Jablonski as "formerly a member of the Sierra Club" who "recently crossed from the 'anti' to 'pro' side of the nuclear power debate." While still an "anti," Jablonski wrote in a 1995 op/ed column that "Wisconsin's low [electricity] costs were achieved largely because of laws and regulatory actions that the utilities adamantly opposed, such as the nuclear power moratorium."

Nuclear power plant"Back in the early 2000s or thereabout, I decided that it was necessary to at least think about whether nuclear should be a possibility, given the circumstances that we're facing and what the scientists have told us about climate [change]," Jablonski told me. After three years of research, "I now favor the use of nuclear energy, its expansion and its further development." His relationship with NEI began at the March 2008 conference where Jablonski gave a pro-nuclear talk. "At that meeting, there were people from the Nuclear Energy Institute, and I hooked up with them," he explained. As an NEI lobbyist, he's met with state legislators and staffers "on both sides of the moratorium issue, to provide my perspective as an environmentalist who changed his position on nuclear."

Asked how he discloses that he's an NEI lobbyist, when speaking publicly about nuclear power, Jablonski got defensive. "The NEI stuff is public record," he said, referring to Wisconsin's online registry of lobbying records. Although he describes himself as "an environmentalist who changed his position on nuclear," Jablonski speculated that "the reason that people focus on that environmental angle is because that's what makes it more arresting or interesting." With regards to the recent legislative hearing, Jablonski said, "When I did my testimony, it was invited. ... Did they mention that I was with NEI, in their list of stuff? I didn't even look."

What about his 1995 contention that Wisconsin's moratorium on new nuclear plants helps keep state electricity costs low? Jablonski says that's no longer true, because "the cost overruns that nuclear facilities experienced in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when things went to hell for the business" are a thing of the past. That may be news to Finland, where work on a major nuclear reactor is more than three years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, leading to legal disputes.

"We're not lobbyists"

Yet Jablonski's and his colleagues' lobbying is only one facet of NEI's efforts to change Wisconsin's law. Patrick Moore has visited the state at least twice, in the past four months. While in Madison for a November 2008 energy conference, Moore told me that the state's moratorium is "a bit too stringent and restrictive. ... I really do think it needs to be reworded, so that what we have is a requirement that the used nuclear fuel is safely and securely managed into the future." That can be achieved, he argued, by storing waste at nuclear plant sites for up to 300 years or until it can be reprocessed -- or, as Moore called it, "recycled" -- and again used to fuel reactors.

Moore also met with local media, resulting in two anti-moratorium editorials from the Wisconsin State Journal in less than a week. "It should already be clear to lawmakers that the state can no longer afford to rule out the construction of nuclear power plants in Wisconsin," began the first column. The editorial went on to praise Moore, who it simply identified as an "environmental policy consultant."

Patrick MooreMoore must have been pleased. "I don't think it's a problem" when media outlets don't disclose his paid work for NEI, Moore told me. "Really what matters is that my support for nuclear energy is communicated." (Moore also told me he supports developing Alberta's tar sands, a particularly dirty source of oil, but that the extraction should be powered by "small nuclear plants" instead of natural gas, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.)

In late February, NEI sent another branch of its PR arsenal to Milwaukee and Madison. Clean Energy America is "a group of nuclear energy experts who volunteer their time to raise awareness about the benefits of nuclear energy as a clean, reliable and affordable source of energy," according to its website. The site discloses that Clean Energy America is an NEI program. However, describing its participants as "volunteers" is a bit of a stretch. As Clean Energy America's Darren Gale and John Williams explained to me, they're paid for the time they give to the program by their employers, while travel, lodging and other expenses are covered by their employers or NEI.

Like Moore's and Whitman's Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, Clean Energy America is funded by NEI and coordinated by a public relations firm. In Clean Energy America's case, the firm is Smith & Harroff. The Virginia-based firm has long worked for the nuclear power industry. In the 1980s, it set up a "nuclear industry speakers bureau" for Westinghouse, which later became NEI's "Energy America Program." The PR firm's website describes that program as "'truth squads' of scientists and engineers ... trained by Smith & Harroff to work with the media, then dispatched all over the country." Darren Gale drew a direct line from that earlier effort to Clean Energy America. "They did this twenty-five years ago," he told me. "So this is really the second time that the industry has set up a speakers program like this."

Clean Energy America speakers visited six states in the program's first six months, including Florida, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. "The timing [of the visits] is usually associated with issues that a state might have, or a region might have," especially in "places that are actively discussing the new plant potentials," according to Gale. "The timing with Wisconsin is really around the moratorium," he said, but "please don't confuse us with lobbyists." Williams added, "When an issue [about nuclear power] pops up in the news, we like to be there to provide answers to questions." During their Wisconsin visit, Williams and Gale went on talk radio shows, met with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and spoke on the UW-Madison campus.

Wisconsin as stepping stone?

Legislative attempts to repeal Wisconsin's moratorium on new nuclear plants in 2003, 2005 and 2007 all failed, but the political ground on the issue has shifted. Last year, Governor Jim Doyle's Task Force on Global Warming came out in support of modifying the law. Their proposed changes would allow new nuclear power plants, if they meet "Wisconsin needs at a cost that is reasonable and advantageous to customers in comparison to alternatives," considering the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the nuclear waste plan is "economic, reasonable, stringent, and in the public interest" (pdf).

A bill to implement the task force's recommendations, including the changes to the moratorium language, is currently being drafted. Since it will be part of a package supporting energy efficiency and renewables, and isn't an outright repeal, it's likely to enjoy wider support than the earlier bills.

There are also new players lobbying to repeal or amend Wisconsin's moratorium. Not only will NEI be actively involved for the first time, but a new industry coalition called "Clean, Responsible Energy for Wisconsin's Economy" recently formed to lobby in support of the task force's recommendations. Its members include Alliant Energy, the Wisconsin Energy Corporation and Xcel Energy. Then there are the usual suspects who lobbied in support of the previous moratorium repeal bills, such as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group and labor unions representing electrical and construction workers.

NEI may see Wisconsin as its best chance to finally get rid of a state moratorium. Madison-based NEI lobbyist Frank Jablonski speculated that the industry group may be focusing here because "the politics are more polarized in California," while the Wisconsin legislature has "a number of either open-minded or pro-nuclear Democrats." Moreover, NEI considers Wisconsin a "favorable" state, because it has "legislation in place that helps secure financing." However, its annual Wall Street briefing, delivered on February 12, 2009, did not place any potential new nuclear plants in the state (pdf, page 17).

If Wisconsin amends or repeals its moratorium, it may help the nuclear industry convince other states to relax their restrictions, whether or not new nuclear plants are built here. But first, the people of Wisconsin will have their say, and the debate may be more contentious than NEI anticipates.


Diane Farsetta is the Center for Media and Democracy's senior researcher.

Many of the links in the above article are to articles on SourceWatch, the Center for Media and Democracy's collaborative online encyclopedia (which has special sections on climate change and nuclear issues). You can help update, expand and improve these or any of the other SourceWatch profiles of people, issues and groups shaping the public agenda. It's free to sign up, and we'd love to have you join us.

Comments

The need for a Federal "repository for high level nuclear waste" is a last ditch
effort by anti-nukes. I read an article called "There is no such thing as nuclear waste" and was impressed that France has no need for storing nuclearwastes - they reprocess and continue using the fuel until there isn't any radiation to speak of still left to worry about. And as for high costs, those costs can easily produce
sub 5 cents per kilowatthhour power or less. Nuclear fuel costs are running at less than .4 cents per kilowatthour and the charge to ensure plenty of funding for decommissioning is less than .2 cents per kilowatthour. I notice that no one is funding the decomissioning of windmills or solar farms. Apparently those 80,000 ton blocks of base concrete will remain there forever. Wisconsin has a reputation of being fraidycats and cowards about just about everything. I hope they don't build a nuclear plant and try to use wind power. You'll get just what you deserve.
Vermont has plenty of nuclear and some hydroelectric andthey produce just 5 pounds of carbon per megawatthour of power produced. I see that filthy Wisconsin produces 1925 pounds (!!!!!) of carbon dioxide per megawatthour, making it far and away one of the dirtiest emitters on the planet. India and China are far cleaner. Shame, Wisconsin, shame. And you jerks are worried about nuclear waste storage!!!!!

Yes, it is true that France reprocesses spent fuel, but you get it wrong after that -- what is left over is much denser and more dangerous than what they started with, there is just less mass to it. It poses even more of a storage problem because of that.

I was under 500 meters of clay in a laboratory near Nancy (eastern France) where they are doing experiments to justify creating a nuclear waste dump there. They are far from having the problem worked out.

"...what is left over is much denser and more dangerous than what they started with, there is just less mass to it. It poses even more of a storage problem because of that."

Just shred it up and put it in cigarettes. Smokers will defend to the death their right to suck it in.

Unlimited clean energy, waste disposal practically takes care of itself -- what's not to like? ;-)

There is already radioactive waste in typical (VERY non-organic cigarettes) because US Legislators and regulators still permit use of mined phosphate fertilizers on tobacco....despite the contamination with PO-210 rads.
Search up terms like "tobacco radiation" for plenty.

Our "concerned" officials dare not condemn, warn about, or prohibit those carcinogenic fertilizers lest the firms responsible (including cigarette makers themselves) get hit with astronomical liabilities and significant criminal charges.
It's So Much Easier to blame the victims for "smoking", and to blame an unpatented, public-domain, conveniently 'sinful' natural plant for all the deaths and diseases caused by the Industrially-Contaminated-Cigarette industry.

There is no law prohibiting even the most deadly industrial substances in cigarettes...nor is there any law to require listing such things or warning about them.
Google up "Fauxbacco" for more....w/ ample references.

If the cigarette manufacturers would just make their products with nothing but clean, natural tobacco, smoking would be okay?

Thanks, I'll take it under advisement.

Nothing on earth is perfectly risk-free, if that's what "okay" means. But, to all appearances, the risks and harms of smoking plain, unadulterated, natural tobacco have not been determined. No matter. It's to be banned anyway, essentially without a trial.
No studies that are findable, or which have been used to make laws, or to determine causes of a seemingly endless litany of "smoking related" diseases, have so much as described or analyzed the "tobacco", the "cigarette", or the "smoke" they supposedly studied. They may say "tobacco", but they mean Highly Contaminated, Highly Processed Smoking Products. That is "Spiked Tobacco", to use John leCarre's term, not "tobacco".
Such research ignores brand names, and ignores whether or not the tobacco (or other filler material) is highly adulterated with industrial toxins and carcinogens. Such research even fails to be clear if the smoke even comes from tobacco...or from reconstituted tobacco (a form of paper)...or from "tobacco substitute material" made entirely from industrial waste cellulose.
We Do Not Know What They Studied.
If researchers planned to study, say, Chlorine-Contaminated Cigarettes, the chances of them getting a cent of grant money from chlorine industries like pharmaceuticals or big chemicals or the like would be below zero.

It is a good guess, though, that a study of use of plain tobacco would show not only the benefits (re/ stress, appetite suppression, digestive relief, alertness, etc.) but such minimal risk or harm (as compared to typical products) as to constitute an earth-shaking indictment of not only the makers of such contaminated cigarettes, and the suppliers of those non-tobacco things (pesticides, dioxin-producing chlorine, the rads, etc.), but also the complicit public officials who've gone AWOL on their sworn and paid duties to protect the public from exactly such risks, harms, and frauds. Those entities, certifiably psychopathic if you think about it, now wear the halo of "anti tobacco" to keep themselves out of prison, and the complicit 'too-big-to-fail' businesses out of bankruptcy.

We are to let the chlorine, pesticides, fertilizer industries, etc., and the cigarette makers, evade massive criminal and liability hooks by unjustly putting the blame, absurdly in many cases, on the natural public-domain tobacco plant...and on those who think and are still told they are just smoking tobacco.

Dump it off the shores of a third-world failed state:

"As soon as the [Somali] government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died."

The author of this story, Jeremy Scahill, quotes that paragraph from another source. His story is about Somali pirates; it gives wider context to that subject while challenging any thoughtful person to think further about "safe disposal," "reprocessing," and the like.

Diane - first of all, thank you for a well researched and informative piece about the public relations efforts associated with one side of the nuclear fission technology debate. Perhaps sometime you will take an equally hard look at the economic arrangements on the other side of the discussion - the groups that actively oppose the use of nuclear fission power to produce electricity in competition with coal, oil and natural gas.

Though I have some acquaintances at NEI and have engaged in several discussions with them over the years, no one has ever offered to hire my services - perhaps because they realize that my opinions and public information efforts are not for sale. Perhaps it is just because my "story" is not a man bites dog story of a former anti-nuclear activist turned cautious supporter. I have been a fission fan since I was a young child and my father showed me the difference between an atomic power plant the oil burning power plants that his company was gradually shutting down as the new nuclear plants at Turkey Point and St. Lucie were coming on line. (Dad was an electrical engineer for FP&L; we used to regularly attend the annual company picnic at the Cuttler plant, one of the oil burners that got shut down.)

In my professional life, I learned the details of the technology as a US naval submarine officer and eventually served as the Engineer Officer of the USS Von Steuben for a 40 month tour. Since that time, I have been writing and talking about fission to anyone who would listen - when you have lived and worked within 200 feet of an operating plant for months at a time, you learn that most of what the public knows about the technology is often misleading.

As a businessman with a habit of reading about economics and trade over time, I have also learned that there are enormous rewards for fighting nuclear power that are accruing in the bank accounts of the established fossil fuel interests. By restricting the availability of a formidable competitor, the individuals, companies and government bodies that are involved in the finding, exploiting, processing, transporting, and marketing of coal, oil, natural gas, wind turbines, solar panels, emissions control equipment, and emissions certificates are able to maintain their market dominance and increase the market price for their products and services. Those products and services would be significantly less valuable in a world where fission could compete on a less restricted playing field.

There are plenty of us on the web and in the blogosphere who are not lobbyists, not paid by the nuclear industry and are truly volunteers in the battle to get rid of the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that has been spread wide and deep for the past 50 years in opposition to the commercial use of atomic fission. (A good place to start if you are interested in building a list of active blogs that cover the topic is in the right column of the Atomic Insights Blog.)

We are a diverse bunch and often argue with each other about the details of one technical solution over another, but in general we agree that fission beats combustion hands down in terms of safety, reliability, security, growth potential, and overall cost to society.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast

"...[T]he individuals, companies and government bodies that are involved in the finding, exploiting, processing, transporting, and marketing of coal, oil, natural gas, wind turbines, solar panels, emissions control equipment, and emissions certificates are able to maintain their market dominance and increase the market price for their products and services."

Interesting, the way you mix wind turbines and solar panels in with coal, oil and natural gas. Are we to get the impression that there's no such thing as clean wind or solar power?

As for "overall cost to society"--

http://nukefree.org/news/peoplediedatthreemileisland

I'm sure you're also aware of the nuclear industry's new approach to reactor decommissioning as well - set up a dummy corporation with government approval and transfer ownership and liability to that "independent corporation". It's only possible because the nuclear energy commission is loaded with industry insiders, just as with the FDA and the DOE.

Let's take Exelon and their nuclear decommissioning spinoff, EnergySolutions Inc.

Breaking news as of Mar 24 2009:
"An investigation on behalf of current investors in EnergySolutions, Inc (NYSE: ES) over possible breaches of fiduciary duty by the board of directors announced."

http://www.pr-inside.com/energysolutions-inc-investor-investigation-r1137251.htm

The story begins back in 2007 when Exelon, the large midwestern coal-and-nuclear utility, set up a deal with a Utah-based company, EnergySolutions Inc. to decommission its Zion reactor. The key factor was that ownership of the plant wast to be transferred, making EnergySolutions responsible for all costs.

"EnergySolutions has secured additional financial assurance for the unlikely event that the cost exceeds that amount. Conversely, any funds remaining in the trust fund after decommissioning is completed would be returned to ComEd’s ratepayers in accordance with a 2000 agreement with the state."

Exelon is trying to claim that this is an example of environmental stewardship, but it in reality what they've done is transferred their liability to a tiny company that is likely to fail, leaving taxpayers and ratepayers stuck with the cleanup bill - because you can bet that Exelon's shareholders don't want to pay it. Similar issues are going on with Exelon and Three Mile Island, where the ownership is also being shuffled around prior to decommissioning.

Obviously, Exelon and the other nuclear operators view aging nuclear reactors as "toxic assets" that they want to get off their balance sheets - who knows, maybe they'll end up selling them to the taxpayer with government assistance, just as finance is doing today.

Exelon's future plans all revolve around expansion of coal and nuclear, with no plans for solar or wind expansion. Their major shareholders are British and U.S. commercial-investment banks (Barclays, State Street, Vanguard, Fidelity), and they were also the biggest lifetime supporter of Barak Obama before Goldman Sachs, the University of California, JP Morgan, Harvard, Citigroup , Microsoft and Google passed them up.

They've latched on to the PR theme of "clean energy", repeated in every forum, as well as in the Presidential speeches. That’s the coordinated response of the coal, tar sands and nuclear industries - relabel themselves as “clean”. Notice how Obama refused to say “dirty tar sands” while in Canada?

Solar, wind and biofuels are the only real renewable energy sources (plus various hydro/geothermal strategies, which are not very productive) - uranium is an exhaustible resource.

The advantages of wind, solar and biofuel-based economy over one built on nuclear, coal and petroleum are many:

1) No fossil CO2 emissions, meaning no change in atmospheric CO2.

2) With wind and solar, there is no need for cooling water, saving large quantities of water for farm irrigation and other uses (important in the arid West).

3) Nuclear power plants can cause Chernobyls, and are susceptible to attack and sabotage - if the planes had flown into the Hudson river reactors, the whole region would still be highly radioactive. Nuclear power plants are also a source of plutonium for nuclear weapon production.

4) Nuclear power is ridiculously expensive - that's why investors won't put money in to plants without huge loan guarantees from the federal government. They also require laws that limit their accident liability - the Price-Anderson act.

5) Waste disposal and decommissioning costs are proving to be much greater than ever estimated in the past (no surprises there), and if those costs were honestly included in the up-front price of a nuclear power plant, you'd never see another one built.

6) We currently get 20% of our electricity from nuclear, and we can easily get another 25% from solar, and another 25% from wind - thus, we should be able to entirely replace coal with wind and solar while maintaining nuclear electricity production at current levels, and gradually phasing it out as reactors are decommissioned and more renewable energy is brought online.

That will have to be done anyway; the world only has a 30-year supply of uranium at current consumption rates, and uranium prices have increased 10-fold in the past few years.

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