Congressman Upton to Chairman Jaczko: Should NRC Issue “Chilling Effect Letter” to Itself?

Another Friday, Another Episode of “As the Chairman of the NRC Turns”

On Friday, April 27, 2012, Congressman Fred Upton, Chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, released a letter addressed to Chairman Jaczko of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That letter, cosigned by 23 fellow US Congressmen, asked Chairman Jaczko to explain the processes that the NRC has in place to ensure NRC employees feel free to raise concerns without fear of reprisal.

The second paragraph of the letter begins with the following:

The NRC requires its licensees to maintain a culture of safety and subjects them to inspections and enforcement against a “chilled work environment.” The NRC Inspection Manual defines a “chilled work environment” as “one in which employees perceive that raising safety concerns to their employer or to the NRC is being suppressed or is discouraged and can occur because of an event, interaction, decision or policy change.” Allegation Guidance Memorandum 2012-001 provides guidance to agency staff regarding the use of “chilled effect letters” to ensure licensees are taking appropriate action to foster a safety conscious work environment (SCWE).

Near the end of the 7 page letter, you will find the following paragraph:

When we compare the examples listed above to the factors that contribute to a chilled work environment, it appears that the Commission would receive a Chilling Effect Letter if it were subjected to the same scrutiny as it imposes on its licensees. However, there doesn’t appear to be a similar procedure under which the NRC would hold itself accountable. To help us understand the implications of this situation, please respond to the following questions or request for information by May 11, 2012.

May 11 just happens to be another Friday, so the next episode of the saga will retain its position as a story that gets released just in time for the commercial press to take off for the weekend.

Most of the time, bloggers with day jobs, like yours truly, have more time during the weekend to dig into such matters and keep the discussion going. Of course, sometimes, real life gets in the way and we end up delaying our “scoop” until weekend activities have wound up. Even though this letter sat in my inbox for the past two days while I spent some quality time with my lovely wife and two year old granddaughter, it seems as if the commercial press is still unaware of its existence.

Not a single hit turned up in a Google News search with the words “Jaczko Upton” or “Jaczko Chilled” or “Upton letter to NRC”. Perhaps I am just not using the right terms?

There is not a word about the April 27 letter in an LA Times column published in the Sunday edition of that paper. Of course, I have no idea what the deadline might be for turning in a Sunday column at a major newspaper. Why is safety a divisive issue for Nuclear Regulatory Commission?. Speaking as someone who knows a bit about the professional background of the other four commissioners, I will testify that the division is not about nuclear safety; those professionals are at least as concerned about ensuring that the American public remains well protected from nuclear incidents as the Chairman is.

The real issue is a lack of technical maturity and leadership. Leaders of large, complex technical organizations cannot develop their skills by serving on Congressional or Senate staffs with fewer than a dozen people, none of whom are actually assigned to accomplish any productive or protective tasks. They have to work their way up in positions of increasing responsibility, demonstrating their talent, their knowledge, their ability to make good decisions under pressure, and their ability to manage ever larger teams of people doing ever more complex tasks.

Note: I say that as someone who served on several selection boards for far more junior positions during my Navy career. In the nuclear submarine force, we have learned that it takes at least 12-16 years to grow a commanding officer. People who run squadrons and fleets must have successfully served as commanding officers. (For the record, I never even made it to be an executive officer.)

About Rod Adams

4 Responses to “Congressman Upton to Chairman Jaczko: Should NRC Issue “Chilling Effect Letter” to Itself?”

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  1. James Greenidge says:

    Re: “… those professionals are at least as concerned about ensuring that the American public remains well protected from nuclear incidents as the Chairman is.”

    I would honesty have to say that Jaczko has that concern only because he’d be derelict of duty otherwise. He has hardly shown himself a supporting steward of nuclear energy, and I’ll go out on a limb to say that the shut-down craziness in Japan and Germany could largely be traced to the wildly provocative off-the-cuff remarks this guy issued which only exasperated the misery and fear of almost hundred thousand displaced people. The man is a green mole moron in my book.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. SteveK9 says:

    If the votes continue 4-1, 4-1, etc. Maybe Obama will take notice, but I’m not hopeful. Jaczko seems to be prepping himself for a long career as an anti-nuke when he is finally out of there. Got to admit being ex-NRC-chairman is going to be helpful in that regard.

  3. Rod Adams says:

    @SteveK9 – I agree. That is one of the reasons why I think we need to keep working to expose his lack of professional knowledge and experience. Americans need to understand that a PhD in particle physics does not have anything to do with nuclear energy production.

    If we do not work hard to make sure that Jaczko is understood to be simply a political appointee, we will be faced with a highly credentialed antinuclear activist for a very long time. Despite his premature baldness, Jaczko was only 39 years old when he moved up to the position of Chairman and he looks like he takes the time to stay in shape.

  4. Bill Rodgers says:

    Rod,

    There are several key points in Congressman Upton’s letter that jumped out at me which I believe will be challenging for Chairman Jaczko to respond.

    The first are several of the quotes from Billie Garde. I had no idea who she was until this letter. Looking at her resume though, she definitely has the credentials to understand and provide testimony on what a “chilled environment” at a nuclear power plant is and can do to the safety culture required to safely operate our nuclear power plants.

    The one quote that jumps out at me was where she states:

    It’s just not okay in 2010 and 2011 to say, well that’s just the way he or she behaves so we all just have to adjust to those types of unacceptable behaviors, because professionals and people we want to pay attention to safety, don’t

    After watching and listening to some of the issues that have transpired leading up to and after the infamous committee hearing in December 2011, key congressional members defending Chairman Jaczko are basically do the exact opposite of Ms Garde’s testimony. Those congressional members are stating that the ends justify the means and that everyone of us, whether we work in the nuclear industry or not, should accept Chairman Jaczko’s behavior since it is for the greater good. That is just not the case as Ms Garde points out and it never should be.

    The other item that jumped out at me was one of the requests for information at the end of the letter.
    Congressman Upton asks that Chairman Jaczko if he receives reports on which agency staff visited the four other commissioners and what topics were discussed.

    This is a very specific question which implies the answer may already be known. But whether the answer is known or not, if Jaczko is receiving regular reports on who visited the other commissioners and why the meetings took place that is just monumental. Talk about setting the tone for not just a chilled environment but an Arctic winter like condition in the workplace. Who would bring any concerns to the commissioner level if they knew not only their meetings but also the topics were being recorded and handed over to the Chairman? That is setting a very, very bad precedent at the NRC if true. It could potentially also violate the intent of the NRC’s own allegation process:

    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/allegation-process-bg.html

    Which states in part that:

    The NRC’s regulatory process seeks to prevent nuclear industry employees from being subjected to retaliation for raising potential safety concerns to a licensee or the NRC. Discrimination against an employee for raising safety concerns in prohibited by the Commission’s regulations (Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 19.20, 30.7, 40.7, 50.7, 60.9, 61.9, 70.7, 72.10, and 76.7).

    The manner in which Chairman Jaczko addresses the issues raised by Congressman Upton’s letter will say a lot about Jaczko’s leadership abilities. Will Jaczko do a mea maxima culpa move or will he stay the political course which put him in the chairman’s role in the first place?

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