Audit the NRC

Businessweek published an article titled Nuclear Reactor License Renewals May Be Slowed, Jaczko Says that made my heart race and made me (silently) string together a whole bunch of 4-letter words that I learned from my sailors.

One of my favorite candidates has made a lot of headway in his presidential bid by proposing that it is time to audit the Federal Reserve. I am not running for office, but I hope I can gather some support for a proposal to audit the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, another out of control, independent agency charged by Congress with a function that plays an important role in the US economy.

Ever since I started hearing rumors through my grapevine of sources about the NRC’s budget submission for fiscal year 2011, I have been trying to raise red flags about purposeful budgetary manipulations designed to choke down on NRC performance and licensee service. It is harmful to our country’s prosperity to have a key energy supply gatekeeper agency being run by a man who is determined to do all he can to narrow the opening and slow down the flow of successful projects.

In February 2010, I wrote to the Director of Public Affairs at the NRC to find out why the NRC had decided to submit a budget REQUEST to Congress for FY2011 that was $13.3 million LOWER in then-year dollars than the FY2010 budget.

One of my key concerns was the effect on the schedules for new license applications – not only do applicants have to pay $273 for every regulator hour, but they have to pay the staff and contractors that they use to apply for permission and answer regulator questions. Longer licensing processes cost more in salaries and other overhead and they push potential revenue out into the future.

At the time that the NRC Chairman, the principal decision maker in budget submission processes, had determined that he needed LESS money in 2011 than he had in 2010, the president was proposing a significantly expanded loan guarantee program that might increase the work load at the NRC. Here is part of the response that I received from the NRC’s budget office on February 8, 2010.

If you want to get into the details about what’s in the budget for new reactors and whether it would be impacted by the new loan money to NRC, I would need someone from the new reactor office to talk with you. However, I would say that the CFO indicated in our media briefing on the budget that the reduction in the budget is mostly for existing reactors–reviews of license renewals for research and test reactors and license amendments for power reactors.

I believe there is a slight increase in new reactors. However, as the CFO told reporters at the briefing a week ago, more resources will not increase the speed of licensing because there has been slow responses from the applicants to our questions on their submittals and as Eliot has said several of them have told us they are asking for delays in our review due to a number of circumstances. Our FY 2011 budget does have resources for review of small reactors, should we get an application.

If you want to know the amount, I can look that up for you. Eliot also makes a good point that more loan $ to DOE may not directly result in more applications to NRC. Lastly, there is a fair amount of flexibility in shifting our resources where they are most needed.

(Emphasis added.)

Ever since the Fukushima event occurred and the previously budgeted resources were diverted to completely unplanned activities, I have been asking the NRC when it was going to make its presentations to its Congressional appropriations committee to request additional resources to cover the unplanned expenses. The chairman has apparently decided NOT to ask for any additional resources, despite the obvious diversion of a substantial amount of staff and contractor resources to respond to an event that happened 12,000 miles outside of his jurisdiction.

Aside: As a former Navy operations and maintenance requirements officer, I have participated in the preparation of such requests for additional resources when hurricanes, groundings, or collisions resulted in expenses that we had not included in our budget submissions. It is important to understand that Congress does allow agencies to include rainy day funds in its budget submissions – they EXPECT the agencies to come and ask for more resources after an event happens so that the requirements that they recognized and paid for during the budget process are not diverted to pay for unplanned events. End Aside.

In the same article where Chairman Jaczko told reporters that a lack of resources – which is primarily a result of his failure to ask for them – will slow down the process of renewing operating licenses, he sanctimoniously lectured the nuclear industry about his perception that its performance is deteriorating because there were several events that he considered to be almost dangerous.

A priority for the NRC next year will be managing “precursors of declines in performance” at U.S. nuclear plants, Jaczko said. Workers at FirstEnergy Corp.’s Perry plant near Cleveland and Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper plant 64 miles south of Omaha were almost exposed to “significant doses” of radiation due to ‘human-performance-type’’ errors, he said.

(Emphasis added.)

Can you understand why I am still trembling as I think about chairman’s budget restraint strategy and the muted response by the industry?

Of course, the industry leaders are in a tough situation – if they are sharply critical or fight back, the NRC can give them the equivalent of a red card or yellow flag that will add significant costs to their task of operating the most important source of nearly zero emission electrical power in the United States. They might also be thinking about the fact that if they told the NRC that it has a responsibility to request sufficient resources, their annual fees would increase.

You see, the most important thing to understand about the NRC budget for activities like reviewing licenses is that it does not cost the taxpayers a dime. The NRC is required, by law, to bill the full cost of those “services”, at a rate of $273 per bureaucrat hour, to the licensee or license applicant. The ONLY reason for a failure to request sufficient resources is to slow down the process. It has nothing to do with being a good steward or doing its share to reduce expenses in a time of fiscal restraint.


Audit the NRC


And focus on its sole budgetary decision maker.

Additional Reading

Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat has published additional information about the NRC Chairman’s budget based strategy to restrict nuclear energy development.

Update (Posted at 2:35 pm on December 9, 2011) I just learned that Chairman Jaczko had voted to approve the AP1000 Design Certification Application. Coincidentally, that vote was posted to the ADAMS system today, but indicates that it was actually cast on December 6, the day before the above post was published. That does not alleviate my anger at the purposeful squeezing of resources enough to slow down license renewals and new reactor licensing applications.

The letter accompanying Chairman Jaczko’s vote contains a very interesting paragraph that I thought would be worth quoting:

In 2007, I initiated a proposal to create aircraft impact requirements for new reactors. Specifically, I wanted new reactors to be designed and built to limit the damage an aircraft impact could cause and applicants to perform a realistic assessment that would demonstrate that the plant design will withstand an aircraft impact such that no significant release of radioactive materials would occur. Through this amendment, reactors referencing the AP1 000 certified design will meet those requirements.

So now you know – the incredibly expensive aircraft impact rule that only applies to new reactors was initiated by Chairman Jaczko, a man who never met a rule slowing nuclear energy production that he did not like.

About Rod Adams

30 Responses to “Audit the NRC”

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  1. Daniel says:

    One thing that I have learned over the years is that rats don’t like light.

    It is time to put them giant spot lights on the NRC Chairman and those who support him, within the NRC or from outside.

    The NRC has a mission to protect the environment. Having less nuclear power goes against this principle.

  2. Cal Abel says:

    Rod,
    You called it. Thank you for blowing the whistle with only brief pauses to breathe.

  3. Will Davis says:

    During the webinar in October that faced off Dan Yurman of the ANS with Chairman Jaczko, the Chairman came right out and said that with limited funds going forward there might have to be decisions made between money spent on post-Fukushima changes to existing plants, and licensing of new plants. That was his very thinly veiled admission that he’ll hold new licensing hostage to get his changes rammed through. One might hope that an audit would point up the realities of actually licensing new facilities, which would get more money coming in. I’m not saying grease the skids… but I AM saying there’s more than a small amount of evidence that everything can and will be done to hold up new licensing.

  4. Daniel says:

    Of course, yesterday in an article, the NRC Chairman admitted to having solved the waste issue in the US saying that the current situation of on site storing is adequate for the next 100 years. No ned for Yucca.

    Now he has to solve the Fukushima lessons learned. An event that cannot be reproduced here.

    The new licensing will have to wait.

  5. Leslie Corrice says:

    My opinion on Jaczko was a bit negative, but not wildly so, until he declined comment on his Fukushima SPF gaffes after the NRC admitted there never was a dry SPF or one with bundles protruding from the water. After that, I became convinced he was little more than an arrogant, self-agrandizing political shill, with unwavering anti-nuclear sentiments. Confirmed anti-nukes never admit they are wrong. Now, he exploits a convenient opportunity to slow nuclear development in America, and for what reason? All I can think of is “agenda fulfillment”.

  6. donb says:

    The actions, or rather, inactions of the NRC on the various aspects of licensing light water reactors bother me greatly.

    I also look ahead to a time when reactor designs other than the light water type come for review and licensing by the NRC. What will happen then? The NRC has already admitted that they don’t know enough to proceed with licensing. So will potential licensees have to sit on their hands for two to three years while the licensors come up to speed? Then followed by the license review time (first of a kind, certain to be slow)? Will the license applicants need to pay $273 per hour during this time for each of the NRC folks to gain the knowledge necessary? Even if there were no bottlenecks in licensing light water reactors, the ability to hit the ground running on new reactors could certainly justify a budget increase.

    This coming from someone who is seldom a fan of increased government spending. In this case, we are talking about a relatively small amount of government spending to produce large increases in productivity and prosperity. And as Rod points out, the spending on licensing activities is almost totally funded by those applying for the license, not tax dollars.

    I realize that bureaucracies are bureaucracies, but there are some that have a “can do” attitude (the Department of Energy comes to mind), while other like the NRC have a “can’t do” attitude.

  7. John Chat says:

    I’ll read your blog and the comments thoroughly tonight when I have more time, but, what I know so far has me steamed too.
    Having Jaczko lead the NRC makes as much sense as having John Hinkley Jr. head up the Secret Service. Jaczko is a Political hack from the Ed Markey camp. Why isn’t it obvious to *everyone* that he is commissioned to stymie the development of new high power density energy systems?

  8. Brian Mays says:

    Jaczko has friends in high places. If you are going to try to get some accountability out of him, then you had better have some heavy hitters of your own making the demands.

    Personally, I don’t think that anything can be done until after next year’s elections, and possibly not even after that depending on the outcome. Everyone is going to be distracted by the current struggle for the Presidency. Don’t expect anyone in politics to pay attention to such a minor detail as the NRC accountability, unless he or she can use it as an issue or talking point in a campaign.

    • Dave S says:

      Brian – the changes needed in the NRC for nuclear to truly advance aren’t just replacing or otherwise dealing with the Chairman of the NRC – for a real nuclear revolution, you need to remove or significantly undermine the NRC itself. This won’t be delivered by the current pack of Republicans we have, they’re too invested in the fossil status quo. If they help nuclear too much by undermining the regulatory structure and fundamental premises of the NRC, their coal and other fossil interest friends will speak up. So nuclear unchained is a direct threat to their interests. Republicans want to keep nuclear happy but marginal.

      Though the Republicans will put into place commissioners who are more generous to existing plants and will reliably support new large LWRs (though just a few, maybe 10 or 20), they won’t challenge the fundamentals of the regulatory system, which was built to favor large LWRs and large LWRs alone.

      I suppose that if your agenda is to get a few large LWRs built, then agitate for Republican victories. If your agenda is, for example, to dominate the North American electricity industry using nuclear energy (and large LWRs won’t get you there – they’re too limited and costly to build) then you need a different approach then blind support for Republicans.

  9. Paul Wick says:

    On this site, Rod has linked Rep. Markey with liquid natural gas interests. Has anyone discovered fossil fuel interests buying Sen. Reid in some fashion?

    • Brian Mays says:

      You don’t need to. The world is too complicated to assume automatically that every person who stands in the way of nuclear power is a fossil-fuel-industry puppet.

      When it comes to nuclear, Reid is a Single Issue Fanatic. His record has been rather supportive of nuclear power overall (particularly when it comes to supporting the development of new technology) with one exception: Yucca Mountain.

      Tip O’Neill was right, all politics is local, and opposing Yucca Mountain plays well to most of the population in and around Las Vegas, which still comprises over 70% of the population of Nevada.

  10. Kit P says:

    Time to fit Rod with a new tin foil hat! This is another case where I wonder if I am reading the same article that Rod is considering how Rod rants.

    For those who have missed it has been a tough year for the US nuclear industry. Floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes! I think we have responded well.

    There have been a few black eyes like not properly planning work in a high rad area. And gosh, it is the same bottom performers.

    “My opinion on Jaczko was a bit negative, but not wildly so, until he declined comment on his Fukushima SPF gaffes after the NRC admitted there never was a dry SPF or one with bundles protruding from the water.”

    I share these sentiments with Leslie but being an optimist I think Jaczko’s recent operation to remove his foot from his mouth after embarrassing an US friend will temper his rhetoric. I see Jaczko’s visit to Fort Calhoun during flooding is a case of a more reserved remarks. Nothing makes an anti-nuke become less anti than actually see how we do business.

    • Daniel says:

      @ Kit P

      Not a single new plant approved in the last 30 years. The NRC sucks at protecting the environment just on that single point. By not allowing nuclear plants to be built, more coal and gas plants are polluting our rivers, air etc.

      • Kit P says:

        That is a very stupid and ignorant statement Daniel. I was at several new nuke plants that had there operating license approved in the last 30 years. Some of them have now had their operating license extended for 60 years.

        If fact I can not think of one operating permit not approved by the NRC. The last one was Watts Bar 1.

        Utilities build and operate power plants. The NRC regulates nuke plants. We are responsible for doing a good job. The NRC only spot checks. The joke goes, we found the problem, we fixed the problem, the NRC fined us. When the NRC finds a problem it is an indication that we in the industry did not do a good job.

        So blaming the NRC for not approving applications not submitted is stupid.

        Daniel is also wrong about coal and gas plants. Utilities in the US produce power with insignificant environmental impact. Most of my power comes from coal. Replacing it with a nuke plant will not clean up my air because it is already clean.

        • donb says:

          I think the correct statement would be that no plants have been approved using NRC rules 100% from start to finish. I believe that all plants licensed so far have designed and built at least partially under Atomic Energy Commission rules.

        • Joel Riddle says:

          Kit, I realize you are much, much more experienced than I, but there is a MAJOR factor in the decision-making matrices of utilities that you are patently ignoring: UNCERTAINTY.

          While the genesis of the “Shoreham Syndrome” (as Rod has coined it) does not come directly from the NRC (as they granted Shoreham a license), but rather from local regulatory authorities, uncertainty on the whole has quelled plans to build nuclear power plants. Uncertainty affects schedules, which directly affects financing costs.

          You are being intellectually dishonest to ignore the effect that uncertainty has had, although I admit that quantifying this effect would be darn near impossible.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Kit – I do not get the tin foil hat reference in this case.

      Also, I fully recognize that this has been a tough year with lots of unplanned events that required the NRC’s resources and attention. That is why I do not understand why the Chairman has refused to ask for additional resources and has once again decided to request a budget with a decreasing top line – in then year dollars.

      Leaders who have challenges seek the resources required to meet those challenges. They do not just keep accepting fewer and fewer resources and providing less and less service – especially when they are the people who man the only door through which nuclear plant operators can pass to obtain permission to do their important job of building new plants and continuing to cost effectively operate the ones that already exist.

      You continue to claim to be a nuclear supporter, but you sure do not seem to understand much about the business challenges that the technology have been thrust upon the technology. Maybe there is a reason why you are so negative about management – methinks I sense a bit of bitterness there.

  11. Daniel says:

    Putting Jaczko in charge of the NRC makes as much sense as promoting Dracula to be in charge of a blood bank.

  12. Daniel says:

    Here is an interesting bit from the NRC Chairman:

    At two plants, Perry in Ohio and Cooper in Missouri, poor planning or poor adherence to procedure led to a situation where employees encountered unexpectedly high levels of radiation and avoided significant exposures only because their monitoring equipment sounded an alarm, Jaczko said.

    Does anyone know exactly what kind of excessive dosage the workers received ? Does he know what he is talking about ? Is this FUD ?

  13. Kit P says:

    I agree with Joel that ‘UNCERTAINTY’ is an important consideration but think the process of getting a COL is more certain than getting a permit for a fossil power plant these days.

    Over the last 10 years I have seen many permits for badly needed fossil plants denied. I am not ignoring ‘uncertainty’, I am just saying that I think it favors new nukes now.

    As Joel suggests, this factor changes with location but Joel all power plants are local. Some here debate like nuclear is some global resource with a global conspiracy requiring us to wear ‘tin hat’ so that can not read our brain waves. However, all power projects are local. What is the three most important factors in siting power plant?

    LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

    People in the SF Bay area want their electricity generated with wind. Since I sailed there for many years I know there are great wind but those people want to see sail boats not wind turbines. The wind farms got built in the PNW because the local people wanted the jobs and tax revenues.

    There was a conspiracy to close Rancho Seco. We all know that Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden contributed money to the campaign to close Rancho Seco but it was a neighboring nuclear utility that also contributed. While the mechanism to close Rancho Seco was location specific, the primary reason Rancho Seco closed was bad management.

    So yes, I am negative about bad management as Rod asserts because it leads to closing nuke plants and putting a lot of good people out of work. I think it was bad for the local community and the state too. I am bitter about Rancho Seco but that was a long time ago and now I am doing what I want to do which is build new nuke plant rather than shut down perfectly good old ones.

    This is why I disagree with Rod. I see the NRC as a well managed and doing a good job of permitting new nukes. One of the things we keep track of at my company is the cost of non-quality. The NRC says please explain this. Then the NRC says please explain again. The money we have to pay the NRC to ask questions and out internal cost answer the question and implement a design change is a cost of non-quality that could have been avoided by doing a better job in the first place.

    I see the NRC is doing a detailed and thorough job. I see we are doing a good job when the level of comment borders on nit picking. When there is a legal challenge COL process, there is a great deal of evidence the process is not a rubber stamp and public will be protected.

    So what do I expect for the 2012 NRC budget? Since there should be one less DC and two less COL because they have been approved, that part of the budget is going down. It is! Since there will be four more reactors under construction, budget is going up.

    So the budget that NRC staff has proposed is what I expect.

  14. Rick Maltese says:

    Some comments defending the NRC and defending Jaczko are short sighted. To say the NRC is doing a good job is in my view outrageous. Rod has said it and I’ll say it again putting qualified people in a regulator position would be far more efficient when deciding the fate of a new plant and there is the other issue of licensing and application fees that are so prohibitive. Why does the nuclear industry need to be penalized for doing it’s job well, especially such an essential service?

  15. Daniel says:

    This just out:

    Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko has voted in favor of the final certification rule for Westinghouse Electric Company’s AP1000 pressurized water reactor design. His vote, dated December 6, was posted in the ADAMS document system on the NRC Web site, at 9:49 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on December 9; it can be downloaded from ADAMS with the accession number ML113430027.

  16. Daniel says:

    The s***t just hit the fan for Dr J. The other 4 commissioners are officially standing against him. It is being asked of President Obama to act. Like now.

    http://oversight.house.gov/images/stories/Letters/Letter_To_Daley.pdf

  17. Cal Abel says:

    Have you ever heard the quote, “I voted for the bill before I voted against it.”

    Jazcko has the ability to control the docket. There is some real politic going on here. Some political maneuvering. It is odd that the other 4 commissioners would oppose him in this unless Jazcko missed something or is prematurely forcing an issue to raise “faults” when the other commissioners haven’t exercised their due diligence and still have questions. (Please note this is pure speculation on my part, It just seems rotten)

    I trust that man about as far as I can throw him. Well, maybe a tenth of that.

  18. Daniel says:

    Jazcko does not come across as a smart man to me. I like the ‘No Bozos Allowed’ rule to be applied at the NRC.

    Let’s make it stick and have him pay for what he did.

  19. John Englert says:

    New story on Chairman Jaczko:

    WASHINGTON — Four Nuclear Regulatory commissioners from both parties say they have “grave concerns” about the panel’s chairman, charging that the actions of Gregory Jaczko are “causing serious damage” to the commission and creating a “chilled work environment at the NRC.”

    Gregory Jaczko, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chief, Damages Agency, Panel Says

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