No intrigue at NRC regarding Stephen Burns

On September 16, 2014, Stephen Burns and Jeff Baran were confirmed as Commissioners at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the Senate. Thirty days later, on October 14, 2014, Jeff Baran was sworn in and began serving out the remainder of the term of William Magwood, who left the commission to take over as Director-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s(OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). That term expires on June 30, 2015.

Several Atomic Insights readers have noticed that the The Commission page on the NRC’s web site lists four members, and does not include Stephen Burns. They asked if I knew why. There is a note on the NEI web site indicating that Burns would be seated in early November. My guess was that it was taking Burns longer to join the commission because he was still working in Paris at the NEA at the time that his nomination was confirmed.

I contacted the NRC public affairs office to confirm my guess. Here is the response I received.

Yes. He needed to unwind his NEA job and work on a move back here. No intrigue about the timing.

Another blogger for Nuclear Energy – Evan Twarog

Atomic Insights is expanding. I’d like to introduce our newest writer, Evan Twarog. Some of you may recognize his name; in the friendly world of pro-nuclear bloggers, Evan has made a name for himself as a bright young man who started learning the importance of public communications about nuclear energy when he was just 14 years old.

Evan was 16 when Entergy had announced that it planned to close Vermont Yankee despite the fact that the plant operates in one of the highest priced — and potentially lucrative — electricity markets in the United States. At the time, Evan’s father was a shift manager in the operations department at the plant.

According to the owner, the facility does not make enough money, a situation that I believe is driven by refusal by a subsidiary of Gaz Metro to sign a power purchase agreement, an unfavorable revenue sharing contract, special taxes, and intense public scrutiny that makes every plant event or modification into a costly battle. Entergy’s decision was not driven by “the market” as some observers repeat in simplistic terms.

Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee has featured Evan’s writing and discussed his participation in public meetings in the — so far — unsuccessful battle to save the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant from early retirement. Evan contacted me several weeks ago with a proposal I could not refuse. We’re not sure how much time he will have as he works through his final semester of high school and the college admissions process, but I expect that each of his columns will bring fresh insights from a unique perspective.

Here is Evan’s self-introduction. After this, he will have his own by-line.

By Evan Twarog

If you read much about my generation, “Generation Y”, one of the major things you’ll observe is that we’re extremely mission driven. We want to make an impact. We look for challenges and opportunities to push ourselves. I’m not all that different from this picture of the “average” Generation Y-er. As a senior preparing to head out to college, I’m in the process of applying to schools and planning for after I leave Keene High School. The plan is to become either a mechanical or civil engineer and eventually work in the energy field.

In the past few years, I’ve had a few opportunities that have led me down the path of becoming an engineer. From an internship at a civil engineering firm, to CAD courses, to trips to India and El Salvador, I’ve been lucky to see many facets of what life is like as an engineer. The most defining has been my experience surrounding the future of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. For the past fifteen years, my father has worked there and risen through the ranks as an operator to a shift manager. In the time since Entergy bought the plant in 2002, a legal battle over its future has divided the state of Vermont. Early on in the battle, my family became vocal supporters, and I involved myself alongside them. I had the chance to write editorials, attend support rallies, and speak before the Public Service Board. Eventually I had the opportunity to work as an intern for the Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project. Coupled together, these opportunities have shown me the impact that engineers can have on humanity, its development, and the environment.

Looking at the problems that face the world, the energy field offers incredible potential to make a huge impact on the development of the world. Hundreds of millions of people are going to be lifted up and out of poverty over the coming decades, and this rise is going to be driven by cheap, reliable energy. As Robert Hargraves put it, “Access to cheap energy is one of the limiting factors to the economic development of any nation”. Giving people in the developing world the opportunity to lift themselves up and out of poverty is a truly beautiful thing. Every person deserves that one chance to create a better future for themselves, and cheap energy offers that opportunity.

Cheap energy, however, doesn’t necessarily mean clean energy, as most of the world’s “cheap” energy is derived from the combustion of fossil fuels. The environmental impacts of their combustion creates numerous problems. Ultimately, it will be up to engineers to lower the cost of generating clean, reliable energy in order to preserve the environment for future generations to come. The challenge of lowering this cost of clean energy deeply intrigues me.

Growing up in a house supported by the nuclear industry has arguably biased me towards nuclear energy. In all reality though, it is the only clean, scalable, reliable form of energy available to man. Because of this, it has the most potential to make a meaningful impact on the reduction of carbon emissions of any energy form. Renewables are intermittent, largely unscalable, and they lack power density. While nuclear energy has issues that face its growth ranging from poor government support, high market-entry costs, slow innovation, relatively high costs and waste issues, these are all issues that have readily available solutions.

For me, a career as an engineer offers opportunities to make an impact that will last centuries. One of the things I’ve learned in the past few years is that it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on them. While one person cannot do the job admittedly, they can certainly make a measurable difference. We must live for the future of the human race, and not for our own success or comfort.

From the HPS President – Health Physics News November 2014

This is a reprint of an article published in HP News, an official publication of the Health Physics Society ( Neither the Health Physics Society nor the author of the article have any affiliation with Atomic Insights. Barbara Hamrick, CHP, JD, HPS Fellow At 2:46 p.m. Japan Standard Time (JST) on 11 March 2011, the […]

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Lockheed’s fusion sales pitch

Please count me as an extreme skeptic on the possibility of anything useful coming from the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works fusion project described in the below commercial. The only explanation I can think of for the recent hype and attention given to this project is that there is a competition that I do not know […]

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Arnie Gundersen tells tall tales to 1600 chiropractors

The email introducing the below video included the following description. The attached film is so ridiculous and the author is an idiot. The second clause of that sentence is not quite true; the author is an intelligent man who has created a few tall tales for a nefarious purpose. I’d like to crowd source an […]

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Neural network analysis “unequivocally” reveals threshold dose response in atomic bomb victims

Low dose radiation suppresses cancer. Note: Low dose in this case is defined as being below a threshold value of somewhere between 100 – 200 mSv depending on exposed organ. That bold, conventional wisdom-challenging statement is supported by an incredibly important paper titled Cancer risk at low doses of ionizing radiation: artificial neural networks inference […]

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Corvallis to Richland and back


After an informative tour of the NuScale facilities in Corvallis, OR on October 20, I continued my quick visit to the Pacific Northwest. I had originally arranged my travel plans to fly into Portland, OR instead Richland, WA — which was my ultimate destination — for a variety of reasons. It enabled the visit to […]

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Purposely imposed fear prevents properly using radiation benefits

On October 21, 2014, I was invited to be a speaker at the Eastern Washington American Nuclear Society Meeting. That talk was recorded and produced by volunteers at the section. Perhaps as a result of jet lag or nervousness, I neglected to provide proper credit for borrowed slides. Though the words were mine, the slides […]

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New England Clean Energy Council hopeful about nuclear – ten years from now

An article in the Berkshire (MA) Eagle News titled New England Clean Energy Council hopes for renewable energy push from candidates appeared in my Google News Alert on “new nuclear power plants” this morning. If you follow that link and begin reading, you might wonder how Google found this article. The story headline and most […]

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Tour of NuScale control room and test facility

Jose Rod Test Facility

Disclosure: I have a small contract to provide NuScale with advice and energy market information. That work represents less than 5% of my income for 2014. On October 20, 2014, I had the opportunity to visit NuScale’s facilities in Corvallis, OR. Though the company now has offices in three cities, Corvallis, the home of Oregon […]

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Political battles hampering function of important agency

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is supposed to be an independent regulator with the mission of regulating the use of radioactive materials to adequately protect public safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment. Unfortunately, the Commission has become a political battle ground that makes life difficult for the people appointed to lead […]

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