Macfarlane is not qualified to be Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Dr. Allison Macfarlane, an associate professor at George Mason University, with a PhD in Geology from MIT, has been nominated by President Obama to be both a Commissioner and the new Chairman of the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency. If the President does not change his mind, that decision alone will be enough to turn me into a fervent supporter of anyone BUT Obama. If the Senate confirms Dr. Macfarlane for the increasingly important post, it will be enough to make me start investigating ways to become a citizen of another country.

The key consideration has nothing to do with stated positions on “issues” and everything to do with my strong desire for the country that I defended for 33 years in the US naval service to return to a seemingly forgotten policy of making informed personnel decisions that result in the selection of competent leaders and managers. If we want our country to be a place where our children have a future that is at least as good as the past that we have had since WWII, we must move past partisanship and toward more mature decision making.

Dr. Macfarlane is a college professor, an author and an activist. Nothing I have read about Dr. Macfarlane indicates that she has ever managed anyone, but the President has nominated her to be the executive decision maker for a federal agency with a budget of nearly $1 billion, a staff of more than 4,000 highly trained professionals and regulatory authority over an industry with a current annual output that is worth more than $100 billion. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency does not just regulate nuclear power plants; it is also responsible for regulating uranium and thorium mining, a substantial portion of nuclear medicine, and use of radioactive sources in a wide variety of industries.

I have nothing against academia; during my eclectic career I spent 2 years as a college instructor and 2 additional years on a campus as part of the support staff. College campuses are wonderful places where it is possible to develop excellent leadership skills, but not through the acts teaching and publishing. Leadership skills develop through both study and experience in being responsible for other people’s output, for facilities, and for budgets.

During Greg Jaczko’s three year tenure as the Chairman of the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he taught people who pay attention just how much power the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 gave the Chairman. When first enacted, the Atomic Energy Act spread the authority over the regulation of nuclear energy among a deliberative body of five essentially equal members with one of them designated as the Chairman to run the meetings.

However, the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 gave the Chairman executive powers over the agency’s budget and gave the person in the position emergency powers that are almost dictatorial in any case where the Chairman decides that an emergency exists – even if situation takes place several thousand miles away from the nearest regulated facility and even if the Chairman never informs fellow commissioners of the assumption of that emergency power.

As a career military officer who attended one of our nation’s finest institutions of leadership training, the U. S. Naval Academy, the importance of demonstrated performance in positions of increasing responsibility has been deeply engrained in the way I look at the world. However, my experience is not limited to the US military; I took a detour in the middle of my career to attempt to become an entrepreneur. My six years in business and as the leader of a moderately sized volunteer organization showed me that both management and leadership are critical, hard-to-develop skills that must be present at the top of any successful organization.

I was disappointed in the immediate, mostly favorable response to the announcement of Allison Macfarlane as Gregory Jaczko’s replacement that was released by the Nuclear Energy Institute and quoted by ANS Nuclear Cafe.. Perhaps the NEI leadership has spent too much time inside the Beltway in recent years where incompetent leaders are too often selected in our broken political process.

My fervent hope is that a groundswell of informed opposition to the appointment rises quickly. It needs to come from people who recognize the importance of competent government executives, especially those who will be serving in key decision making roles in organizations like the NRC, which is the monopoly gate keeper for a vital ultra low carbon energy technology. It needs to come from people who have worked with Dr. Macfarlane and can testify that her PhD in geology does not indicate any technical competence associated with the safe use of nuclear energy or radioactive materials. (Eric, I am talking to you.)

It needs to come from the states who are currently in litigation with the federal government over breach of contract – a decision that was made to serve the political agenda of a single Senator from a state with a population so small that it only rates three congressional districts and five votes in the Electoral College.

It also needs to come from people inside the nuclear non-proliferation community where Dr. Macfarlane has spent much of her time – they need to share what they know about the technical versus political branches of that community and Dr. Macfarlane’s card carrying membership of the latter.

Dr. Steve Skutnik, who blogs at The Neutron Economy, has started the ball rolling from that community with his post titled A closer look at Jazcko’s replacement. Here is a quote from that contribution to the discussion:

Much of MacFarlane’s background has been associated with what I term the “political” wing of the nonproliferation community – the other being the “technical” side (where my background is from). Her affiliations include the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard (not exactly a hotbed of pro-nuclear activity or solid technical analysis at that), home of well-known academic nuclear critic Matthew Bunn, as well as being a regular co-author with Frank Von Hippel (someone also not known for his warm feelings for nuclear energy – although a perfectly pleasant person in real life.)

Nonproliferation tends to get a poor reputation among nuclear professionals and advocates, precisely due to the “political” wing, who tend to focus on opposing any nuclear technology seen as “proliferant,” which in turn lends itself to the anti-nuclear strategy of “bottle-necking” – in other words, “constipate” the nuclear fuel cycle and then complain loudly of the “lack of solutions” for nuclear waste (despite the plethora of available technical options).

Bottom line. This is not a time for cynicism or fatalism. We still live in a great country that has a terrific set of governing documents that include delineation of both executive authority and a system of advice and consent from a body of mature people. We have people in positions of responsibility who do understand the importance of careful personnel selection processes and who recognize the risk of appointing a completely unqualified person to a position of responsibility. (I am talking to you, Senator Carper, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Alexander and Senator Sessions.)

I believe that the Macfarlane announcement was a typical Washington, DC trial balloon that needs to be punctured as quickly as possible so that the President can demonstrate one of the fundamental skills of a good leader – the ability to recognize and correct mistakes quickly and efficiently. No one is perfect and no leader or manager should ever be so vain as to think that they are.

Just in case has either forgotten or never recognized what can happen when an incompetent person is appointed to a position of authority, I suggest that many of Jaczko’s management style issues can be traced to the fact that he was appointed to a position for which he had no knowledge, experience or professional qualifications. It is not uncommon in such circumstances for people to resort to management by intimidation and bullying in order to cover their feelings of inadequacy and enact an ill-informed agenda.

Additional Background Information

The Atomic Show #061 – Allison Macfarlane, Atomic Agnostic (Recorded on June 15, 2007)

About Rod Adams

86 Responses to “Macfarlane is not qualified to be Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission”

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  1. @Rod: First, thanks for the link!

    As far as Dr. MacFarlane’s background goes, I must say that I disagree with your characterization of college professors having no managerial experience. At a tenure-track level, much of a college professor’s most important tasks would easily be classified as “management” – it is their job to conceive of and manage the research output of graduate students and in some cases manage a laboratory space itself. Certainly they deal with budgets, given that they are in the business of applying for and managing research grants to fund their work. So I don’t think this is a role as devoid of leadership or managerial experience as you characterize it.

    That being said, do I think this qualifies MacFarlane to be head of the NRC? No. I would not object strongly to seating her on the commission, given that she does have demonstrated technical chops with respect to waste management geology. (I disagree with many of her conclusions, being also familiar with the subject, but I will not begrudge her technical expertise on the matter.) However, I fail to see where she has been proven in the management of a large organization or having any experience working with a regulatory agency at all. This is key – it’s not that she lacks managerial experience, but that she has little experience working directly with the agency she would plausibly be put to the helm of.

    I don’t think she would do as poorly as Jaczko by simple virtue of the fact that she has had some experience working outside of Washington, including her work on the BRC. That being said, I feel like appointing her and promoting a more experienced commissioner – like Ostendorff or Magwood (or even Svinicki, however unlikely – or Apostokolis) – would have been a better option.

    My concerns with MacFarlane run with the fact that a) She intends to follow Jaczcko to the letter in obstructing the Yucca Mountain licensing process, in clear defiance of federal law (again, assuming her technical objections are valid, these can be vetted in the licensing process), b) She’s anti-reprocessing, and c) She’s spent a good part of her career working with academics hostile to nuclear technology (even if she says she is in favor of nuclear, for which I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt).

    All of that said, it’s clear that NEI is playing the political game here – they want to get Svinicki re-confirmed, and so they’re playing the same game Harry Reid is in endorsing MacFarlane as a package deal – we agree to MacFarlane contingent upon Svinicki also being reappointed. I too am disappointed, but then, it’s not the job of your or I to play the Washington insiders’ game. This is where I see value in independent nuclear bloggers like us who are not constrained to playing “nice” by Washington rules.

    • Brian Mays says:

      I feel like appointing her and promoting a more experienced commissioner — like Ostendorff or Magwood (or even Svinicki, however unlikely — or Apostokolis) — would have been a better option.

      I agree with this, as I have said before.

      Svinicki and Ostendorff are out, because they are from the other party. I don’t think that Apostokolis wants the job of Chair. Magwood would have been the natural choice.

      • Rod Adams says:

        The administration has shown a willingness to take advantage of talent, even if it is from “the other” party.

        Bill Ostendorff is a deeply experienced leader and manager, a member of the bar in the state of Texas, and a well experienced nuclear energy professional. As far as I can tell, he has never worked in the nuclear “industry”.

        It is absurd to overlook his skills just because he happened to have declared himself to be a republican after he finished his 34 years of serving the United States in uniform – which is not a partisan activity.

        http://sites.nationalacademies.org/pga/pga_051826

        I would have NO issue with appointing Dr. Macfarlane as a commissioner who may someday prove herself capable of being the executive of the agency. However, appointing her to be the Chairman when there at least four choices with far more applicable experience who are already available to step in demonstrates a lack of savvy that is deeply regrettable.

        • Jeff S says:

          I saw the announcements popping up on Twitter and Facebook about this yesterday, and after doing a couple minutes of research, my reaction was much the same as Rods – we seem to have an appointee whose field of expertise is only related to one aspect of the NRC’s mission (geology *is* important, don’t get me wrong – for siting nuclear facilities and waste storage sites appropriately, and for regulating mining), but she doesn’t seem to have the background to justify being the *chairman*. As others said, appointing her to be a commissioner and appointing someone else chairman would have probably been an excellent decision.

          But, this just smacks of Obama needing to be seen as appointing someone who is “a critic” of the NRC, and nuclear power in general, to be the chairman. Apparently, the most important qualification to be chairman is being anti-nuclear.

          One can infer, I think, that Obama feels he could not appoint one of the current commissioners as chairman because of their role in undermining (that is to say, standing up to) his last chairman. I don’t think there was EVER a chance that Obama was going to appoint one of the existing commissioners because of that.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Jeff S

            You used the wrong word – “appointee”. Dr. Macfarlane is simply a potential nominee at this point.
            http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/05/24/president-obama-announces-more-key-administration-posts

            The announcement yesterday was that the President intended to submit her name for the position. I do not think even that is official yet. (Update – apparently Macfarlane’s nomination was submitted late yesterday. Here is the link to that press release – http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/05/24/presidential-nominations-sent-senate.)

            There are processes that must take place first.

            Do not give up on this one folks. Do not let the tone deaf “industry” or political leaders make the decisions.

            We live in a country with many guaranteed freedoms, including the freedom of expression, the freedom of the press, the freedom to peaceably assemble, and the freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

            We have a grievance here – the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission must be led by a competent decision maker. It is the monopoly provider of permission to operate vital energy production facilities that compete with coal, oil and natural gas to supply us with reliable, ultra low carbon electricity. That is a product that we need in our modern industrial society.

        • Brian Mays says:

          Rod – Once again, we completely agree.

          I have been very impressed by Ostendorff, and I also agree with your speculation that Macfarlane could possibly grow into the position to which she has been nominated — but only with time. Currently, she is obviously not ready.

          Unfortunately, what seems obvious to us is not what is going on in Washington today.

        • Joris van Dorp says:

          Yes it is deeply regrettable.

          Hopefully, she will begin her first year by leaving the remaining commissioners to take all the decisions, until she learns the current state of affairs better, etc.

          Actually, I was hoping maybe Obama would put you in charge Rod!!

          all the best,
          Joris

    • MikeP says:

      Steve,
      Why I agree that there may be a minor managerial component in some tenured professors’ positions, stating that they have any ‘managerial experience’ is simply an unacceptable stretch.
      It’s like saying a cook at burger joint has the chops to be a chef at a 4-star restaurant.

      In some ways its even worse than a stretch, in that a tenured professor who has close to complete freedom to act like an unquestionable god over grad students and research assistants likely has a fair amount of delusion about their own managerial abilities. Being in an environment where underlings and colleagues will rarely, if ever, raise questions about your decisions does not foster appropriate ‘management’ experience.

      • RDJ says:

        “….tenured professor who has close to complete freedom ….likely has a fair amount of delusion about their own managerial abilities”. So true. Thank you.

  2. Robert Hargraves says:

    The nomination of such a frightened woman seems to go against Obama’s statement…

    “… let’s never forget the astonishing benefits that nuclear technology has brought to our lives. Nuclear technology helps make our food safe. It prevents disease in the developing world. It’s the high-tech medicine that treats cancer and finds new cures. And, of course, it’s the energy—the clean energy—that helps cut the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change.”
    US President Barack Obama, March 26, 2012

    • Brian Mays says:

      Are you in the habit of believing the word of a politician?

      Like smoking, this is a good habit to break.

  3. Brian Mays says:

    I agree with this article.

    I can understand why Obama made Jaczko the chairman in 2009. At the time, he was the only Democrat on the Commission. I can even understand a decision to appoint Macfarlane to the Commission — the NRC has had bad Commissioners before. Who cares? But to appoint her as the Chairman?! I can’t help but think, what the hell is wrong with this administration?

    There’s nothing wrong with appointing an academic to chair the Commission. Former NRC Chair Dale Klein is an academic, but Klein also had experience and credentials that one would expect for someone who will run the NRC. He had been a vice-chancellor, an associate dean, and a lab director within the University of Texas System. He also had some experience in Washington serving as an Assistant to the Secretary of Defense.

    Macfarlane’s only leadership experience, on the other hand, (as far as I have been able to find) is serving as the chair of a board for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. This is who Obama wants to head the NRC?!

    I hope that the Senate will do its job and nix this nomination. I think that it’s time to contact your Senators.

    • Scott says:

      Not likely that’s going to happen, Brian. Most of the major Republican players have already come out and basically said “while she’s not my first choice, as long as Svinicki gets back, I’ll accept it.”. It’s like 2005 all over again where everyone rolled over on Jaczko. So much for the lessons learned from history.

  4. Brian Mays says:

    Jeff S wrote:

    Apparently, the most important qualification to be chairman is being anti-nuclear.

    Well, I guess somebody had to say it. I think that you hit the nail on the head. Bravo.

    • Jason Kobos says:

      To be more correct it seems the most important thing is to be against Yucca Mtn. Which in and of itself does not require one to be anti-nuclear.

  5. John Englert says:

    …inside the Beltway in recent years where incompetent leaders are too often selected in our broken political process

    This says it all Rod. I’m sure you’ve seen this occur within various defense support agencies located around DC. Hope lies with the good people who support these leaders.

  6. John Tucker says:

    This is a political appointment to a highly politicized position. I think we need to contemplate the options with respect to development and public opinion. Specifically the possible futures that a conservative approach to exclusively the uranium fuel cycle, as a industry expert, would probably entail.

    The one thing I dont see is options. Dr. Macfarlane at least seems to have the groundwork for understanding the benefit of nuclear power that I feel a “qualified” energy executive might not have or be able to express properly. That motivation may be the most important factor of all.

    I see a lot with respect to environmentalism clean energy and renewables; people want things to be a certain way so bad they overlook the realistic options in making things the best the can be.

    But really without knowing her stance specifically or the options here its impossible for me to say.

    The most important place to look in her positions may not have much initially to do with nuclear power. Jaczko was a nuclear and environmental saboteur. Many companies, are probably not out to extend nuclear power or make it more viable. On the contrary they seem to rival Jaczko’s success or at least deserve partner standing in sabotage efforts. (The ENRON energy model).

    The fact is that even with the total incompetence of the anti nuke movement – public opinion is what it is now – even facing pollution of fossil fuels, catastrophic climate change and acidification kinda proves this industry has been out to lunch outside its bubble or has conflicting interests with respect to reasonable advocacy .

    What are the real options here with this position.

  7. John Tucker says:

    And from the reference you posted :

    “On the other hand, MacFarlane has been extremely critical of spent fuel reprocessing along with being a tenacious opponent of Yucca Mountain itself; she, along with Frank Von Hippel of Princeton have repeatedly advocated plutonium immobilization of surplus stocks of reactor-grade plutonium from civil reprocessing programs, as well as for weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled nuclear warheads.” ( http://neutroneconomy.blogspot.com/2012/05/closer-look-at-jazckos-replacement.html )

    For me that may be the biggest red flag and deal-breaker proving she is not serious enough about the need for clean energy. (non proliferation with respect to commercial nuclear power in the US being technically and scientifically absurd in most cases.) So all and all I guess I am beginning to agree with you here.

    THAT looks to be a big red flag.

  8. Paul A'Barge says:

    Leave Nevada alone.

    Just because there are not a lot of people there does not mean it’s the place to dump your nuclear garbage.

    Dump it in a deep mine under the ground in New Jersey outside of New York City. Then we’ll know the burden is being spread around fairly.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Paul A’Barge

      I have no desire to spend money to transport used nuclear fuel, which still contains more than 95% of its initial potential energy, to your remote and mostly barren state – which is about 80% owned by the federal government anyway.

      I would much prefer for the recycling plants to be located close to better transportation and an existing well trained work force that does not need to be paid extra to live and work in the desert.

    • MikeP says:

      Err…Paul. You do realize that there are fundamental safety issues about where to bury it? It isn’t about fairness.
      Something must be done or eventually bad things will happen. The Yucca site may not be ideal, but its better than the current do-nothing path we are on. The fact that the opposition is entirely political and not based on a true cost-benefit risk analysis is repugnant.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @MikeP

        I strongly disagree with your implication that we need to do something with the used material in order to prevent something bad from happening. It is perfectly safe in its current containers. When adequately cooled, used fuel can sit in engineered containers indefinitely. If there is any deterioration detected, the containers can be repaired or replaced. I see no reason to suspect that future generations will have any difficulty with the material, especially since I also see no reason to suspect that they will be as stupid as we are with regard to more effectively using the valuable material.

        • MikeP says:

          Rod, I find it strange that you support the current path of leaving hazardous material, harzardous waster for that matter, to accumulate indefinitely at disparate sites across the country. No other industry is allowed to do this because it is considered irresponsible and ultimately unsafe. The world is not a static environment…bad things happen all the time…and your argument hinges on nothing bad ever happening. Why tolerate a situation where rare but potential event, like a large earthquake, will be made quantitatively worse by piles of stored hazardous waste in now compromised containment. Is that fair to the clean-up crews, the emergency responders?. Isn’t the whole point of Yucca is that its in a geologically stable area where there is significantly less risk of these types of issues?

          Just because the material can sit idefinitely is not a valid reason to allow it to.

        • Joel Riddle says:

          Mike, The interim storage containers are designed to withstand earthquakes and many other events. While it is properly contained, it does not present a hazard.

        • Curtis says:

          @RyanP

          At the risk of speaking for Rod..

          I don’t believe Rod has ever wanted to keep the used fuel on site “forever”. Rod has long stated that the best place for radioactive stuff is inside a reactor pumping electrons for our consumption.

          With that said, the “waste” that is destined for some deep hole in the ground, still has much of it’s energy left (some where above 90% it). Rather than just bury this energy source, it makes more sense to keep on using it. Re-Process the used fuel back into usable fuel. Have a wide variety of power plants that all use fuel processed from the waste of the plant before it. This method should provide less waste that needs to be isolated for less time.

          That is my oversimplified answer. I’m sure someone else can provide a more detailed explanation.

    • John Englert says:

      @ Paul – There already is nuclear garbage dumped in Nevada. There were thousands of prompt critical single use nuclear reactors, which operated hundreds to thousands of meters below the surface of the Nevada National Security Site. The only barrier to the spent fuel and minor actinides created by those reactors is the molten rock that pooled at the bottom of the caverns formed by the intense heat and pressures. And, because there are very few people and most of the land is federal property is why Nevada is a good place to store and monitor the stuff.

      Personally, I think Nevada is passing up a really great economic opportunity by opposing Yucca Mt. Nevada could become the world-wide center of excellence for nuclear fuels reprocessing. That way the state wouldn’t be as dependent on gambling or a volatile construction business to sustain the economy. Construct a cluster of PRISM reactors so you can bring in spent fuel from around the globe and push out electricity and other energy products to the rest of the Western US.

      • Atomikrabbit says:

        Fortunes are made when paradigms change. Words matter. The unquestioned cliché that this material is “waste” needs to be continually challenged.

        The fact is there remains vast amounts of energy in this once-used LWR fuel. The decay heat given off by the 3% of the material that are fission products, decreasing exponentially, is reliable and predictable to a fraction of a calorie per gram. In fact it is so reliable that no one knows how to turn it off! This “problem” is in fact a solution to any process that can utilize a constant source of low-grade heat over a period of several centuries. Some of the fission products are rare materials useful for medical diagnostics, radiography, or food preservation. Get the politicians and fear-mongerers out of the way and send in the engineers.

        The remaining 97%, consisting of fissile or fissionable uranium or transuranic isotopes, is capable of producing massive amounts of energy in Generation IV fast-neutron spectrum or LFTR reactors. There is enough fissionable material already mined, processed, and refined in the United States alone to supply this country with electric power for more than a century – if it is utilized properly, and not just buried in a ludicrously expensive desert tomb. Only the tiny percentage of the fission products that are truly unusable should be vitrified and safely stored there, and only a few centuries would be required before their radioactivity has decayed to background levels. Yucca Mountain could supply an all-nuclear America with millennia of storage space used thusly.

        It has been estimated that the value of electricity that could be generated from this “waste”, if utilized in a Gen IV reactor, would be $30 Trillion: http://bravenewclimate.com/about/faq

        If Nevadans are smart, they would not only charge a hefty fee for accepting the “waste”, but would insist on taking legal title to it, thereby positioning themselves as the Saudi Arabia of Gen IV atomic fuel.

        • Brian Mays says:

          Nye County (where Yucca Mountain is located) has always been in favor of the repository. They’re currently suing the federal government to force the NRC to resume reviewing the Yucca Mountain license application.

        • Entreprenuke says:

          In the vein of getting away from the usage of the term “waste”, I feel that getting away from the “spent” part of the term “spent fuel” would be a positive thing.

          Some may have already seen it, but if not, I have posted about this (and about adding the terminology “vault” to spent fuel pools to indicate their sturdiness) over at my blog.

          http://entreprenuclear.blogspot.com/2012/05/12-spent-fuel-pools-more-like-vaults.html

        • Cal abel says:

          The DOE has already shifted the vernacular to Used Nuclear Fuel, UNF, It was done at about the same time of the open modified open and closed fuel cycles came into common usage, I think this was about 2008-2009 ish.

    • John Tucker says:

      Could you tell us that next time BEFORE we spend nearly 15 billion in your state researching it. But yes I can see how that whole area including yucca flats is now utilized as a pristine environmental haven.

    • Steve says:

      @ Paul — As a resident of Las Vegas, I feel compelled to contribute the fact that not ALL Nevadans oppose Yucca Mountain, as is often implied. But Harry Reid has, for political reasons, made Yucca Mountain his primary campaign issue by erroneously scaring the daylights out of voters regarding anything involving the “n” (nuclear) word.

      I will concede one point: If Allison Macfarlane were not hell-bent on removing Yucca Mountain from the list of possible sites for nuclear waste storage, Reid never would have supported her appointment to the NRC.

      The other Commissioners need to prepare themselves for another Jaczko.

  9. John Tucker says:

    Ok im talking too much but one more piece of the puzzle and ill shut up :

    TR: You are known as a Yucca critic. Does this mean you oppose nuclear power?

    Allison Macfarlane: Not at all. From the point of view of climate change, we absolutely, definitely need nuclear power.( http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/22850/ )

    So ehhh, Im not sure here. But we dont have time for surprises, Yesterday:

    Global carbon-dioxide emissions increase by 1.0 Gt in 2011 to record high

    The 450 Scenario of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2011, which sets out an energy pathway consistent with a 50% chance of limiting the increase in the average global temperature to 2°C, requires CO2 emissions to peak at 32.6 Gt no later than 2017, i.e. just 1.0 Gt above 2011 levels. The 450 Scenario sees a decoupling of CO2 emissions from global GDP, but much still needs to be done to reach that goal as the rate of growth in CO2 emissions in 2011 exceeded that of global GDP. “The new data provide further evidence that the door to a 2°C trajectory is about to close,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. ( http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/news/2012/may/name,27216,en.html )

    So she needs to :

    1. State the desire to counter the abundance of public misinformation that exists. (unreasonable fear preferably).
    2. Distance herself from non-proliferation kookiness.
    3. Have a plan to expedite new construction of better technologies. Including “nuclear weapon burning”/fast reactors.
    4. State the overwhelming desire to maintain nuclear over fossil fuels at reasonable performance.

    Then Im on board 100%.

    • John Chatelle says:

      I’d be on board too, but then even Barbara Boxer would vote against her. The Kookiness garners widespread support. Sunshine and breezes will bring us back to the garden….

    • Joris van Dorp says:

      MacFarlane also said:

      “There’s no historical example showing that a lack of a plan for nuclear waste will halt the progress of nuclear energy.”

      Is she for real? She sounds like a naive academic theorist.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @Joris – You’re right. As an academic theorist, I suppose that Macfarlane can completely ignore the history of how the states within the United States have reacted to a lack of a plan for nuclear waste. There are numerous states that have passed nuclear energy development moratoriums that will only end when the federal government has implemented a plan for that waste.

  10. Michael R. Himes says:

    Well, Australia whilst a nice place to live is largely anti nuclear. However, a good supply of Thorium is one of it’s major assets. I believe the time is right for the introduction of LFTR there in a package small enough and clean enough for even an Australian to buy into.
    Dr. Allison MacFarlane is biased as was the former director where nuclear safety seems to be “NO NUKES”.
    It should be noted that last month the Chinese changed their energy policy toward LFTR vs. AP 1000 type reactors. The reason was cost and an abundant supply of Thorium. This fact was not lost in Canberra and recently the Crystal Mine in Victoria is changing the way it handles Thorium. The export of Thorium to China seems more attractive than the coal they now export. After all, the Aussies are “Greenies” and Base Load power needs to change to LFTR with a little help from people like you.

    • Rod Adams says:

      The Chinese are building 4 AP1000s right now and have at least a dozen more in the planning stages. I suspect they will end up building a hundred or more CAP1000s. (Westinghouse sold the technology with the first four, so they will never see another sale. The C stands for the Chinese variant of the technology that was largely developed with a 50% cost share from the US taxpayers.)

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Rod, my guess is that they will build less than 100 CAP1000′s, as they are pursuing development of many other reactor types that would have far smaller LIFETIME fissile requirements, due to their more efficient use of an initial fissile load.

        100 additional CAP1000′s would increase the world raw uranium (and enrichment) requirements by roughly 25% above today’s requirements, thus at somewhere in the 20-50 CAP range, China will have a big, big economic incentive to be shifting to more advanced, Gen IV reactors. China’s sheer population accelerates their NEED to develop Gen IV designs far, far more quickly than we here in America need to.

        Brian Wang recently reported on some of the parallel paths that China is pursuing.
        http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/05/china-plans-to-have-5-megawatt-liquid.html

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Joel Riddle – your concern might be valid on a planet with tightly limited uranium resources. It is not a problem here on Earth.

        • Joel Riddle says:

          Rod, a similar argument could be possibly be stated in regards to supplies of crude oil on a time frame of the next 300-ish years. How economic (monetarily and on an EROEI basis) extraction is is key.

          If China makes sufficient progress on their non-LWR designs over the next 5-ish years, to the point of their capital costs being economical and safety being adequate, I doubt they’ll get to 100 CAP1000′s.

          If China had the supply of DU that the U.S. has stored in UF6 cylinders, combined with the forthcoming laser enrichment technology, their situation would be much different. Super efficient re-enriching of those DU tails may be something we could strategically supply to China if they do get to 100 or more CAP1000′s, I suppose.

      • Jack says:

        Chinese are never going to build a hundred or more CAP1000s. This design will be obsolete in ten more years. The technology keeps on moving along and operating experience will show the weaknesses of the AP1000 design. Cheaper and safer designs will be required and developed because the AP1000 is just too expensive and still unproven in actual operation.

        • Joel Riddle says:

          Jack, I think the reasoning for the Japanese going to more advanced designs will be much more due to better utilizing fissile resources than due to operational issues with the CAP1000. There is plenty of operational experience that the Chinese will be able to glean through WANO from Westinghouse-designed PWRs that have been operating for decades that should almost directly apply to the CAP1000 design.

          I fully agree with you that potentially lower capital costs of more advanced designs will also be a primary reason that 100 CAP1000′s will not be built in China.

        • Joel Riddle says:

          I should have type Chinese there rather than Japanese. My mistake.

  11. DV82XL says:

    Without breaking my personal rule about commenting on political issues of another country, I would like to point out that this clearly illustrates the futility of believing that the path to nuclear energy will be opined with some top down action on the part of government, not only in the U.S. but anywhere that has a powerful fossil fuel sector.

    Too many pronuclear supporters in my opinion still think that politicians can be made to see the light on the basses of reasoned argument alone. The unfortunate fact is that the logic of the fundamentals of any issue is very low on the list of things that drive policy.

    Political change can only come from the bottom up and can only be driven by public opinion and the threat of a mass response from the ballot-box. This is the only power that politicians fear more than money. In fact that is not a fair description; it is more a case of politicians needing to have the support of their constituents at their backs to make the changes many themselves would like to see.

    Recently here in Canada we were treated to a rather astounding candid video posted on YouTube of a conversation between a federal MP and some people from his riding on his support for an unpopular omnibus bill before the parliament (the details of which are not germane to this discussion.) The MP agreed that the bill was a bad one and that he himself did not agree both with its contents and the process by which many issues had been bundled together to effect sweeping changes without detailed debate. He pointed out that, given his low position on the backbench the only thing he would accomplish by his opposition would be to lose his membership in caucus, and not be permitted to run in the next election. This sort of disciplinary measure has in fact been meted out already just recently by the current Prime Minister, so his fears are justified.

    Clearly the subtext of this is that if every voter in the riding stood up and demanded that he vote against the bill, the P.M. would have no choice but to tolerate this because clearly it would be the Party that would suffer the voter’s wrath should he try and punish the member by tossing him.

    The point here being that grassroots support is necessary if we wish to see our elected representatives represent our interests: in other words our responsibility as voters doesn’t end when we mark our ballots. The lesson for nuclear energy is quite clear – without public support we can expect no help from government.

    Rob Gauthier

    • Jonathan says:

      FWIW, conservative or right-leaning voters in the US consistently poll more favorably towards nuclear power (ironic considering their supposed loooove for oil and scepticism towards science in general). Ultimately, conservatives want a strong economy and know that nuclear energy will power a stronger economy.

      Be careful with your message. I don’t think most liberal environmentalists can EVER be convinced of the safety of nuclear energy. But I think a lot of conservatives and independents can be won over if they thought nuclear energy would help the economy, lower home energy prices, and decrease the price of oil for gasoline.

      • DV82XL says:

        Right now in the U.S. and worldwide, support for nuclear energy runs around fifty percent, give or take, depending on the geographic area. And while it is true that among the noisy sectors of America, there is great polarization on political subjects, I do believe that the silent center is likely stronger than ether side is willing to admit, particularly among the young.

        So while it is unlikely that doctrinaire antinukes or NIMBYs afraid of seeing their property lose its value if a plant is built nearby will ever become ardent pronuclear supporters, I believe that in general we are very close to the tipping-point in public opinion where these types of objectors can have an impact.

        What is still an issue, and why nuclear needs more than simple majority support with the public is the deep pockets of the fossil fuel lobbyists. To overcome this, (and again this is not just in the US) public support for nuclear has to become focused and vocal, turning itself into a political force. I believe the potential is there for this to happen. There are several examples of groups that have done just that starting with far less initial support, and far less funding than nuclear already has.

        What is lacking is leadership and will among existing supporters, and when I say will, I mean the willingness to get their hands soiled with the process. Until this attitude changes, and the belief that there is some white knight politician somewhere that will ride in to win the day with a top down solution, nuclear will not make much progress forward

        Rob Gauthier

        • John Tucker says:

          I think you are correct to focus on public opinion. Because of overcapacity in FF energy generation now nuclear power in this country could probably be shuttered on a whim, or it could be shut down faster than new capacity can be built.

          Right or wrong the people that decide nuclear power, on the whole, have the mothballs at the ready.

          Thats the bottom line. Political appointees are never the best qualified for their field, in part that is why they are selected politically. They are expected to advance a political perspective as they govern. Its successful when that political perspective is also reasonable, scientifically valid and beneficial. Its not when that political perspective (anti big government, standoff approach : Michael D. Brown under Bush) causes obvious errors and PR disasters.

        • John Tucker says:

          UPDATE 3-NRC renews Entergy’s Mass. Pilgrim reactor license
          ( http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/25/utilities-entergy-pilgrim-renewal-idUSL1E8GP8GC20120525 )

          Ed Markey seems to have an awful lot of ammunition. Reactors need to be run cleanly and efficiently at top capacity. Anyone that sides with industry in countering any part of that and allows safety to be subverted in favor of profits is worse than a misinformation spewing anti nuke IMHO.

    • PissedOffAmerican says:

      “The point here being that grassroots support is necessary if we wish to see our elected representatives represent our interests: in other words our responsibility as voters doesn’t end when we mark our ballots. The lesson for nuclear energy is quite clear – without public support we can expect no help from government”

      ROFLMAO!!!

      This from the guy that says the grassroots is irrelevent and “doesn’t matter” when he wants to shout down the concerns of the lay community. Its comical seeing him natter on about “public opinion”.

      Cruise on over here….

      http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2012/05/16/spent-fuel-at-fukushima-not-dangerous/#comment-21004

      ….and ask yourself if this is a guy you think has a clue about nurturing or cultivating positive public opinion.

      • DV82XL says:

        POA – Your basic problem is that you cannot read for comprehension because you are a very stupid person and think that most are as stupid as you are. I clearly indicated in both my comment above, and the one you linked to that there will be a minority of those (of which you are one) that will never accept nuclear power. I don’t believe that these people can ever be converted and we shouldn’t waste time on them.

        Looking at the responses of the vast majority of those that currently do not support nuclear in the surveys that I have read indicate that their objections are mostly bases on misunderstandings but they are open to consider alternatives.

        You and other doctrinaire anti-nukes stonewall any attempt at rational discussion by refusing to consider any evidence that does not support their biases, although I have to admit your refusal to do so because of admitted ignorance is unique.

        The lunatic fringe in any domain doesn’t make a difference in the long run even though they can make a nuisance of themselves for the short term. Eventually they are seen for what they are and are forced back to the margins from which they came.

  12. RationalOne says:

    There’s a saying in management circles: “3s hire 2s, 9s hire 10s.”

    The President and his immediate advisors have little collective management experience, no private sector experience, and hire based solely on ideological homogeneity. They are 3s. It should come as no surprise, then, that they hire 2s.

  13. Jagdish says:

    A product is conceived by thinkers and produced by tinkerers. That function went over to East Asians and now to the biggest Asian of them all, the China. NRC was in any case designed to curb the tinkerers. It costs a lot of money, time and patience to get anything cleared. AP1000 was produced in China and by the Chinese tinkerers, not bound by the US NRC and it would have looked ridiculous to keep on opposing it in the US. The new appointment must be in the spirit of the NRC.

  14. Dan Yurman says:

    I’m running a crowd sourcing experiment at Idaho Samizdat about MacFarlane. Setting aside, for a moment, the crucial issues of credentials and qualifications, my question is what happens once she is in the job?

    I ask readers to assume for the sake of discussion they are an adviser hired independently by Allison MacFarlane to provide unvarnished advice on how to succeed on the job assuming she is confirmed as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. What advice would you give her. See the blog post for full details.

    http://djysrv.blogspot.com/2012/05/what-advice-would-you-give-allison.html

    I’ve never met MacFarlane, but I do know the NRC reads nuclear blogs like this one, mine, and others. Stop by and do a little role playing.

  15. EL says:

    Rod … you’re going to have accept the perfectly reasonable fact that you’re not going to get an industry stoolie for this post. You’re article provides ample evidence for why this is the case, and why the post is far too important and won’t be left to someone with a narrow focus on reactor oversight and operations (Ostendorff, Apostolakis, etc.).

    Those in the operations and business development part of the power industry simply have to come to terms (it’s been nearly a half century overdue) with the serious political, public, safety, and environmental challenges of the waste storage issue. It’s been a long-standing issue, it is not going anywhere anytime soon, and if we’re ever going to expand the US fleet of reactors beyond the current status-quo (or even operate our existing fleet for another 20 years), the issue has to be dealt with. Yucca is a non-starter, and Macfarlane gives perfectly reasonable, common sense, politically astute, and scientifically based criteria for why this is the case.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/22850/

    “TR: … Now Obama’s energy secretary, Steven Chu, says Yucca is “off the table.” Is it really unsuitable?

    AM: Yes. The area is seismically and volcanically active. More significantly, the repository would have an oxidizing environment–meaning materials there would be exposed to free oxygen in the air. Neither spent nuclear fuel nor canister materials are stable in such an environment in the presence of water. The United States is the only country that is considering a repository in an oxidizing environment.

    TR: Then why was Yucca Mountain the government’s choice for 22 years?

    AM: Mostly political reasons. Originally three sites were considered: Yucca, and ones in Texas and Washington State. Congress balked at the price tag of characterizing three sites at once. In the ensuing fight to keep the waste program alive, Nevada was the politically weakest of the three and lost the battle.

    Further, when asked about being a critic of the nuclear industry, she categorically states she is not: “From the point of view of climate change, we absolutely, definitely need nuclear power.”

    How much more positive does it get than that! Obama and Chu are clear that their goal is to see an expansion of the industry. This is fully reflected in their policies and funding priorities to date, and the nomination of Macfarlane is consistent with this commitment (and especially with the effort to clear away some of the regulatory hurdles and policy challenges that currently hold back the industry). You’re not going to get to where you want to go by minimizing public and regulatory concerns, you’re going to get there by building bridges and making the best scientific and environmental case for nuclear (as being cost effective, safe, well regulated, and confronting head on the waste storage issue … as they are doing in France, Sweden, Finland, and elsewhere). From this standpoint, the nomination is terrific, and is about as good a start as anybody can expect.

    This is no trial balloon, I believe it has been in the works since Jaczko appeared at his congressional investigation hearings, and performed so miserably. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have a replacement nominated so soon after his resignation announcement, and NEI so quick to give a thumbs up (indicating they were involved with the decision making). These things take months to vette, and usually involve extensive consultations with K street power brokers, FBI background checks, Congressional Committees, NRC permanent staff (especially with so much attention to management concerns), and more. This means everyone has a choice, voice your criticism within the process (and have some influence on the future direction of the agency), or do as you are suggesting and try and shut it down (which may mean become marginalized from future input). I believe the NEI is no fool, and knows which side of the argument it wants to be on (and how to best remain relevant to future policy debates).

    Regarding qualifications, I find no evidence that she is is merely a pointy headed ivy tower intellectual (as you suggest), but is instead a serious professional with a significant degree of common sense, scientific integrity, experience in an established field of NRC regulation and oversight, has significant government experience (National Academy of Sciences, member of “Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future,” and more), and even has a fair bit of political acumen and policy tact (which carries with it a great deal of capital in D.C. to get the job done).

    For an agency in significant trouble (as I see it), and with issues that are not getting solved anytime soon (especially concerning the Federal responsibility over nuclear waste disposal), I think it’s an excellent choice. Perhaps we’ll finally start getting some traction on long standing issues that I think would only enhance and improve public confidence in nuclear, and perhaps the further development of low carbon and cost effective alternatives to coal and other pollution based fuels and industries!

    • Entreprenuke says:

      EL,

      All of the following pre-dates my birth, so I may have a bit of it wrong but the following is my understanding of a very brief summary of the nuclear waste problem.

      The nuclear “waste” storage issue was NOT present in the early days of nuclear power. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act wasn’t passed until 1982 (2 years before my birth). There wasn’t a need for a defined policy prior to that time because reprocessing and breeder reactors had been planned since probably sometime in the fifties. It was primarily Jimmy Carter’s ban on re-processing and the cancellation of the Barnwell Reprocessing Plant that caused the alleged “need” for a massive scale geologic repository.

      There had been a well thought out plan devised by the early nuclear pioneers to ensure energy supplies for centuries, but world events have caused changes that have shifted and delayed pieces of those plans.

      • DV82XL says:

        The nuclear waste issue is largely an American one. Most other nuclear power countries have or are quietly going ahead with long-term storage facilities without all the debate that is happening in the US.

    • Brian Mays says:

      EL – Although I consider most of your posts to be complete nonsense, I have to thank you for providing this evidence of just how out of touch Macfarlane is.

      Her complaints are that Yucca Mountain is “seismically and volcanically active”? Really?!

      So Yucca Mountain is volcanically active? The last volcanic activity in that region was between 12 and 15 million years ago.

      Maybe we should evacuate Las Vegas, because that volcano is about to blow any time now. ;-) Could she be more ridiculous?

      And seismically active? Please point to a region of North America that is not. Where I live, we learned that last year, when Virginia (generally considered seismically inactive) was hit with a 5.8 magnitude earthquake last year. We were hit with a 3.1 magnitude earthquake just a couple of months ago.

      If your objection is that an area is “seismically active,” then where are you going to go? To the moon?! The entire earth is still seismically active. What a dumb argument!

      But it gets worse. She goes on about an “oxidizing environment” — indicating that she hasn’t the first clue about the detailed analysis that has gone into the licensing of the Yucca Mountain repository.

      I suppose that she is comparing Yucca Mountain with the repository that has been designed by Sweden, which has a reducing environment. Well, that is all nifty and such, but in my opinion, the Swedes are wasting a lot of valuable copper and a lot of valuable U-238 and other isotopes that could be turned into valuable fuel.

      But who cares about an oxidizing environment? The work that has gone into the studies for the Yucca Mountain license application already assume that the cladding, the assemblies, the containers, etc., eventually rust away at long times (after thousands of years). The used fuel itself is mostly uranium oxide. That certainly isn’t going to oxidize any further — so who cares about an oxidizing environment?

      Her comments just further the argument that she is not qualified to head the NRC. Her statements are the stuff that can be gleaned off of a quick search of any anti-nuke website. I’m especially disappointed when it comes to her comments on geology, since that is supposed to be her field of expertise.

      I can only speculate that she has spent most of her time in recent years playing the political game rather than refreshing her knowledge of basics of her chosen field. Well, the political game pays huge bonuses, as we can see. She’s now the nominee for the Chair of the NRC, a position for which she is clearly not qualified, in my humble opinion.

      • EL says:

        This is not her opinion, but that of independent and DOE assessments since 1985.

        http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/yucca/ymsum01.htm

        “Yucca Mountain can be characterized as being extremely complex geologically with fast flowing groundwater, an active tectonic environment (subject to earthquakes, fault movement, and volcanic eruptions), an oxidizing environment corrosive to many metals, rocks that are highly fractured and stressed to near failure, and being in a location within a geologic belt of gold and silver production. The Agency has concluded that, under DOE’s own repository siting guidelines (10 CFR 960), Yucca Mountain should have been, and still should be, disqualified as a suitable location for a deep geologic repository.”

        The last volcanic eruption in region was 80,000 years ago (not 12 to 15 million, as you suggest), and five “volcanic centers are located within 10 miles of the site” (here).

        A regulator’s task is usually to seek to establish and take under advisement an objective and independent assessment of an issue or concern. And yes, she has recommended a reducing environment for the long term storage of nuclear waste (and likely would continue to do so with her 1 of 5 votes). Her peers, however, indicate she is flexible and open-minded: “Even when she has a view, she’s open to changing it, if new evidence or new arguments are presented that would convince her to do so” (Albert Carnesale, former chancellor of UCLA, and nuclear engineer). Wouldn’t that be refreshing … after several years of unilateralism and emergency fiat by Jaczko.

        Yucca is a done deal. You’re not going to change three decades of fact finding and independent research on the issue. It’s over … and other countries are moving forward with their interim and long term waste storage plans, and also spent fuel storage in a reducing environment (as the French are doing at Bure). If recycling is next big hurdle, let’s start that conversation too and fund new research and development. Continuing to look back at something that never was (and hopes that anything will change) gets us nowhere.

        • @EL: You asked for a source, I would point you to the definitive one: The Yucca Mountain Science and Engineering report by (now-defunct) OCRWM:

          http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/edg/media/SER.PDF

          Regarding volcanism, a scenario which was considered in the total system performance assessment:

          Collectively, the calderas and basaltic eruptions in the Yucca Mountain region are called the southwestern
          Nevada volcanic field (Sawyer et al. 1994). Approximately 99.9 percent of the volume of the southwestern Nevada volcanic field erupted between 15 and 7.5 million years ago. The last 0.1 percent of eruptive volume of the volcanic
          field, consisting entirely of basalt, erupted since 7.5 million years ago. Considered in terms of total eruption volume, frequency of eruptions, and duration of volcanism, basaltic volcanic activity in the Yucca Mountain region defines one of the least active basaltic volcanic fields in the western United
          States (CRWMS M&O 2000ez, Section 6.2).

          30 basaltic volcanoes that were formed between 9 million and 80,000 years ago. These volcanoes can be separated into two distinct periods of volcanism
          that are separated both temporally and spatially. The older basaltic volcanoes formed between about 9 and 7.3 million years ago (during
          the Miocene epoch). The younger (post-Miocene) basaltic volcanoes erupted between approximately 5 million and 80,000 years ago. As shown in
          Figure 4-158, the general location of the younger, post-Miocene volcanoes shifted substantially to the southwest (CRWMS M&O 2000ez, Section 6.2).

          There is the basis for both claims. The Nevada board is making a claim based on volcanic activity 11 miles south of the proposed site. I would suggest viewing Figures 4-158 and 4-159 for a better understanding of the pattern of volcanic activity in the region. Essentially – the volcanic activity around the ridge formation where Yucca Mountain was proposed has been dormant for millions of years. The volcanic activity discussed is in a volcanic basin 11 miles to the south, in the Amaragossa Desert.

          Further, as to the probability claim:

          The results of the hazard analysis estimate that 1.6 × 10-8 igneous events per year could be expected to disrupt the potential repository (CRWMS M&O 2000ez, Section 6.5.3). This
          translates to approximately one chance in 6,250 of an igneous event disrupting the repository during the first 10,000 years after repository closure.

          If a dike does intersect the repository, analysts estimate about a 77
          percent chance that a volcano would form at the surface with magma flowing through the repository (eruptive scenario) (CRWMS M&O 2000ez, Table
          13a). This translates to approximately 1 chance in 7,700 of a volcano forming above the repository during the first 10,000 years. The annualized probabilities
          for both disruptive events are just slightly greater than the probability cutoff of 10-8/yr; therefore, both intrusive and eruptive igneous scenarios
          have been included in the TSPA.

          Basically, the issue of volcanic activity has been considered in the probabilistic safety analysis.

          The risk-weighed dose for the 95th percentile (i.e., top 5% of exposures) estimated from igneous activity was estimated to be under 1 mrem/year in risk-adjusted dose for the period of up to 100,000 years post-closure, with the median hovering on the order of 0.01 mrem/year. Both of these are far less than background and well within the regulatory limits of the Yucca Mountain facility.

          You can certainly argue there are more appropriate sites available, but these are the findings of the OCRWM with respect to Yucca.

        • EL says:

          Thanks Steve. That’s consistent with the information I have provided below.

          Newer aeromagnetic surveys (with much higher resolution) were conducted after the OCRWM assessment, and suggest the hazard risk is some 40 – 200% higher than previously documented. An extensive drilling program was ordered by DOE to confirm result, and (so far as I know) it doesn’t appear this was ever completed.

          http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2005EO470002

          http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/news2005/pdf/eos20050830.pdf

          So we’re left with an increasingly uncertain picture. Not a good place to be when trying to advocate for a storage program that would be in effect for 100,000 years or longer at an increasingly improbable and controversial site. We could spend more time clarifying this uncertain picture, or we could just chose a better site. I prefer the later (since it is more likely to yield better results, particularly if Macfarlane’s recommendations for a consent-based approach, dedicated funding, new siting and management guidelines, etc., are followed … with WIPP at Carlsbad, NM, as a positive case example to draw on).

      • EL says:

        This is not her opinion, but that of independent and DOE assessments since 1985.

        http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/yucca/ymsum01.htm

        “Yucca Mountain can be characterized as being extremely complex geologically with fast flowing groundwater, an active tectonic environment (subject to earthquakes, fault movement, and volcanic eruptions), an oxidizing environment corrosive to many metals, rocks that are highly fractured and stressed to near failure, and being in a location within a geologic belt of gold and silver production. The Agency has concluded that, under DOE’s own repository siting guidelines (10 CFR 960), Yucca Mountain should have been, and still should be, disqualified as a suitable location for a deep geologic repository.”

        The last volcanic eruption in region was 80,000 years ago (not 12 to 15 million, as you suggest), and five “volcanic centers are located within 10 miles of the site” (here).

        A regulator’s task is usually to seek to establish and take under advisement an objective and independent assessment of an issue or concern. And yes, she has recommended a reducing environment (or salt domes) for the long term storage of nuclear waste (and likely would continue to do so with her 1 of 5 votes). Her peers, however, indicate she is flexible and open-minded: “Even when she has a view, she’s open to changing it, if new evidence or new arguments are presented that would convince her to do so” (Albert Carnesale, former chancellor of UCLA, and nuclear engineer). Wouldn’t that be refreshing … after several years of unilateralism and emergency fiat by Jaczko.

        Yucca is a done deal. You’re not going to change three decades of fact finding and independent research on the issue. It’s over … and other countries are moving forward with their interim and long term waste storage plans, and also spent fuel storage in a reducing environment (as the French are doing at Bure). If recycling is next big hurdle, let’s start that conversation too and fund new research and development. Continuing to look back at something that never was (and hopes that anything will change) gets us nowhere.

        • Brian Mays says:

          This is not her opinion, but that of independent and DOE assessments since 1985.

          Er … no, that’s not the opinion of the DOE. That quote is taken from the group that was put together by the politicians of Nevada specifically to oppose the repository.

          Well, they are entitled to their (obviously biased) opinion based on cherry-picking from DOE and NAS reports, but their opinion alone does not disqualify the repository. Since this group is certain to be one of the many intervenors in the licensing process, they will be able submit their opinion to the NRC for consideration, where it will be judged on the merits of their arguments and the quality of the license application and supporting data submitted by the DOE.

          The last volcanic eruption in region was 80,000 years ago (not 12 to 15 million, as you suggest), and five volcanic centers are located within 10 miles of the site (here).

          A small volcano that is eleven miles away and erupted 80,000 years ago does not make a region “volcanically active.” I’m sorry, but it does not, and it’s just stupid to claim that it does.

          Volcanically active regions are places like Iceland, with eruptions occurring about every 5 to 10 years, or the Hawaiian Islands, with eruptions occurring every 12 to 25 years, or the Cascade volcanoes, like Mount Saint Helen, which was active intermittently during the first half of the nineteenth century and erupted only 32 years ago.

          The DOE has estimated that the odds of an eruption at Yucca Mountain during the next 10,000 years are over 1 in 60 million. The NRC’s job is to look at the data provided by the DOE that led to this conclusion and to check their calculations — not to make ridiculously wrong statements based on … well … a hunch? What her friends told her? Whatever.

          A regulator’s task is usually to seek to establish and take under advisement an objective and independent assessment of an issue or concern. … Her peers, however, indicate she is flexible and open-minded: Even when she has a view, she’s open to changing it, if new evidence or new arguments are presented that would convince her to do so (Albert Carnesale, former chancellor of UCLA, and nuclear engineer).

          You must be kidding me! Her own words (listen to the podcast of Rod Adams interviewing her) indicate to me that she is dreadfully ignorant of many of the issues that are important for good regulation of nuclear power. She doesn’t even get the basic stuff right!

          Far from being “independent,” she is on the record reciting the usual laundry list of complaints (many of which are bogus) that are put forward only by the hard-core opponents of Yucca Mountain. This indicates a clear, deep-seated bias to me, something that you don’t want for a regulator. I notice that even you felt the need to point out that she would just be a continuation of Jaczko’s “no” vote. Is that what you call “flexible and open minded”?

          I would feel far more comfortable if you could provide just one example of where she has changed her mind on a non-trivial issue — particularly one on which she has written books and given interviews. Her experience serving on committees on recycling and so-called nuclear “waste” has painted a very consistent picture: no recycling, no Yucca Mountain, no solutions whatsoever. I don’t care what her friends say, I want to see an example of this supposed flexibility.

          Wouldn’t that be refreshing after several years of unilateralism and emergency fiat by Jaczko.

          She has a brief opportunity to learn and take the advice of the staff and other Commissioners. I’m not going to say anything is an improvement over Jaczko until I see it.

          Yucca is a done deal. You re not going to change three decades of fact finding and independent research on the issue.

          You think Yucca is a “done deal,” because a few politicians, eager to appease a powerful Senator from Nevada, have declared it so. However, it is still federal law, and these politicians don’t have the combined political clout to change that. So they have relied on underhanded techniques, like appointing Chu to head the DOE, who has been little more than a mouthpiece, and appointing unqualified, but useful, tools like Jaczko and Macfarlane to head the NRC, who they know will not raise a fuss about the stalled review of the repository license application, which was submitted almost four years ago.

          If you are so sure of all of this “fact finding” and independent research, then why are you so afraid to let it go to the regulator for review? Let the NRC consider it with all of the other intervenor comments and decide on the fate of Yucca Mountain based on the technical merits. What’s wrong with that?

          Instead you declare it a “done deal” based on the political winds, which leads me to believe that you don’t have the confidence in the “three decades” of BS arguments that you claim to have.

          … other countries are moving forward with their interim and long term waste storage plans, and also spent fuel storage in a reducing environment (as the French are doing at Bure). If recycling is next big hurdle, let’s start that conversation too and fund new research and development.

          Good try, but Macfarlane’s record is that recycling is off the table for the indefinite future — which is not surprising, considering the people she hangs out with. She has been very consistent on this point.

          Do you really think that she is going to take the advice of the French? They don’t whine about needing “new research and development” for recycling; they do it.

        • EL says:

          That quote is taken from the group that was put together by the politicians of Nevada specifically to oppose the repository.

          No it’s not. The group, as you suggest, is the “State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects,” and it’s been operating as a 7 member Nevada State Commission studying the issue, overseeing the process at the local level, and advising the Governor and State Legislature on the repository and nuclear waste storage issues beginning in 1985.

          http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/

          The DOE has estimated that the odds of an eruption at Yucca Mountain during the next 10,000 years are over 1 in 60 million.

          Do you have a source for this unsupported claim?

          “Risk assessments have suggested that the probability of volcanic activity occurring during the 10,000-year compliance period of the repository is around 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000.”

          http://www.agu.org/news/press/pr_archives/2002/prrl0227.html

          From DOE 10 expert panel:

          “This mean value translates to a probability of about 1 in 7000 that the repository would be disrupted by volcanic activity during its 10,000-year isolation period. The panel’s mean value confirmed earlier Los Alamos estimates from DOE-sponsored studies (e.g., Crowe et al. 1995).”

          http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/lanl/pubs/00818055.pdf

          I would feel far more comfortable if you could provide just one example of where she has changed her mind on a non-trivial issue

          The summary of her role on Blue Ribbon Commission:

          http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/op-eds/social-acceptance-and-the-blue-ribbon-commission-positive-experience-national-nuc

          or as Co-Chair of Future of Nuclear Energy Conference:

          http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/op-eds/the-future-of-nuclear-energy-policy-recommendations

          shows a clear willingness to me to be open and inclusive in her approach. She doesn’t appear to have a fixed outlook, but sees regulation and the policy process as an inclusive, responsive, and science based process. She received support from a diverse range of constituencies: “Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, the Energy Communities Alliance, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, and the Nuclear Energy Institute” (and the substance of the Blue Ribbon report evolved on a basis of this input). Her recommendations in Nuclear Energy Conference seem informed and related to objective findings: lessons learned from cost-savings in Finland and France; development of advanced tools for evaluating reactor design, fuel, and siting options; minimization of construction bottlenecks and advanced training in skilled trades and engineers; additional loan guarantees on new power plants to better understand costs and construction times; funding for regional partnerships on waste and proliferation concerns, funding for IAEA, better physical protection of fissile materials at civilian facilities, and more.

          You’ve given no documentation to contradict her own assessment of the consensus position on Yucca Mountain (other than unsupported claims on lower risks, and ad hominem characterization of a local State Commission). If she’s not supposed to base her policy recommendations on objective and comprehensive scientific findings, where else do you recommend she look?

    • Rod Adams says:

      @EL

      Thank you for the unsolicited advice, but I need to let you know that I have no plans for sitting back and accepting another unsuitable Chairman. I might be as powerless as many have told me I am in this regard, but I intend to keep publishing as much information as I can find about the demands of the job and the lack of match between Dr. Macfarlane’s demonstrated experience and those demands.

      As I said in another comment, I have nothing personal against Allison Macfarlane and would not oppose her selection as a Commissioner, but the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 as amended following TMI gave the Chairman executive decision authority over the NRC budget and agenda. It also gave the Chairman emergency powers. Since we have no idea when an emergency will strike, we cannot patiently allow a period of on the job training for the Chairman. He or she has to be fully qualified to lead in an emergency on the day that he or she accepts the role.

      I have spent my career in an organization that gives commanding officers life and death decision making authority. Our success for the past 250 or so years (since before the US was a nation) has been based on an extensive training and experience-gathering period BEFORE selection as the boss.

      I want the senators who are tasked with advice and consent to recognize their responsibility to ensure that the holder of emergency decision making authority at the NRC will not make another egregious, life-threatening mistake like violating the emergency action guides and ordering evacuations in areas where evacuation is unnecessary and dangerous.

      The last guy who did that should be held accountable for killing dozens of people in hospitals and assisted living facilities who could have lived a little long had they and their caregivers not been falsely told that they were being put at risk by radiation. In some of the most egregious cases, there was no increase in radiation levels at all.

      • Reese says:

        “The last guy who did that should be held accountable for killing dozens of people in hospitals and assisted living facilities….”

        That is hideous. Jaczko with his unfounded scary pronouncement killed people.

        My gosh, Rod. You are pointing to the actual bodies (sorry to be so blunt). This is unlike all the scare-mongers who can’t do so.

        I also can’t point at the actual bodies of the people hurt or killed by the mongers. But they exist due to unnecessary scarcity of energy world wide, including (but not limitted to) wars fought over energy. I can’t say what wars, what fatal casualties exactly would not have taken place if nuclear power was more prevalent. I can’t say what industrial accidents related to coal, gas, oil, etc. would not have taken place. I can’t say what cancers due to inhaled radioactivity would not have taken place.

        But they certainly exist. Much more certainly than Jaczko’s allegations implied in 2011.

      • Reese says:

        “The last guy who did that should be held accountable for killing dozens of people in hospitals and assisted living facilities….”

        That is hideous. Jaczko with his unfounded scary pronouncement killed people.

        My gosh, Rod. You are pointing to the actual bodies (sorry to be so blunt). This is unlike all the scare-mongers who can’t do so.

        I also can’t point at the actual bodies of the people hurt or killed by the mongers. But they exist due to unnecessary scarcity of energy world wide, including (but not limitted to) wars fought over energy. I can’t say which wars, what fatal casualties exactly would not have taken place if nuclear power was more prevalent. I can’t say which industrial accidents related to coal, gas, oil, etc. would not have taken place. I can’t say which diseases due to inhaled coal mining dust would not have been manifested.

        But they certainly exist. Much more certainly than Jaczko’s allegations implied in 2011. Lovins, Caldicott, Gunderson, POA, etc. What’s the worst thing I can say about them without being moderated? I say that.

  16. Daniel says:

    Quoting MacFarlane :

    All of this said, MacFarlane herself has gone on the record of indicating the she personally does not oppose nuclear energy itself, arguing that in the face of climate change, we “absolutely need nuclear power.”

    A mixed bag but not as nutty as Dr J’s …. I think she will at least understand the ‘environmental’ mission of the NRC.

  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Mike, The interim storage containers are designed to withstand earthquakes and many other events”

    Yeah. Fukushima was impervious to seismic disaster too, according to you guys. When these containers are damaged and leaking, I can just hear y’ all……….

    “Gee, we didn’t know the ground was gonna shake THAT hard!!!”

    • DV82XL says:

      Isn’t it laughable how this idiot can make remarks like this in the middle of a group of people that do know the events at Fukushima and insinuate that the reactors there suffered direct damage from the earthquakes.

      You might be able to peddle such nonsense on an antinuclear site among your sycophants and fellow travelers, but it only make you look like a fool here.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @DV82XL

        Gentle reminder – please do not call ignorant commenters “idiots”. Pointing out their demonstrated lack of knowledge or stubborn insistence to continue a pattern of refusing to learn basic tuths is fair game, directly passing judgement on their mental capacity by name calling is not.

        I happen to think it is wonderful to be able to host a discussion where false assertions are met with a deluge of facts that disprove the false assertions for all but the most dogmatic antinuclear activists.

        There is a small, but stubborn and vocal, coalition that opposes the safe use of nuclear energy as the most powerful tool in our fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Atomic Insights is my admittedly small contribution to exposing the members of that opposition for the closet fossil fuel pushers that they are.

        • DV82XL says:

          My apologies Rod, please feel free to delete the offending remark. In my defense I can only say that this word is considered a rather insipid one in French, and I had no idea it carried such weight in English.

    • John Tucker says:

      “Yeah. Fukushima was impervious to seismic disaster too, according to you guys.” – specifically though that is an idiotic comment as it references a opinion and gross generalization that was and is not widely held.

      I would like to see that statement verified since it is still here. Who said it. When?

      I would also like a comparison of pollution/emissions data of various energy production technologies to know what POA is basing his arguments on.

  18. Eric L. Hanson says:

    I thought this was a good commentary about MacFarlane’s nomination and its significance.

    http://canadianenergyissues.com/2012/05/25/irony-rules-in-the-u-s-anti-proliferation-community/

  19. Jaro says:

    Am I the only one puzzled about Allison Macfarlane’s supposed expertise in things geological, based on her PhD ?
    Or is it just that seismology is considered separate from geology per se ?

    I am referring to Macfarlane’s March 17, 2011 article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, “An explosive mix: Uncertain geologic knowledge and hazardous technologies.”
    http://thebulletin.org/web-edition/op-eds/explosive-mix-uncertain-geologic-knowledge-and-hazardous-technologies

    Macfarlane’s article is one of many that play up the importance of the Tohoku earthquake’s Magnitude 9.
    According to Macfarlane’s statement in the BAS article,
    “ earthquakes in that zone did not exceed magnitude 7.8 in the twentieth century ”

    From USGS data on Japanese major seismic events on the east side of northern Honshu Island, I count at least four: 1923/09/01, 1953/11/25, 1960/03/20 and 1968/05/16.

    Macfarlane then concludes that,
    “ Unfortunately, the Fukushima crisis is clear evidence that they got the probabilistic analysis wrong. Why was it wrong? In part because the “credible event” — one that was “reasonably expected to occur” — was thought to be an earthquake of magnitude 7.9 “

    ….which completely misses the point that all the nuke plants on the east coast of Honshu, including Fukushima-Daiichi, performed as designed following the Tohoku earthquake – until the tsunami struck.
    That’s because Macfarlane is ignoring the effect of distance to the epicentre, and the effect that has on the local shaking intensity.
    NPP seismic design takes distance and geology into consideration, not just magnitude.

    As is the case with most of the large northern-Japanese earthquakes, the epicenters tend to occur quite far off the coast – some 130km in the case of Tohoku.
    The resulting local shaking does not threaten heavy structures like NPPs.

    Another interesting aspect of earthquake magnitudes is that they measure TOTAL energy release during the event:
    For the great earthquakes, larger magnitude doesn’t necessarily mean greater land displacement or shaking.
    That’s because the increased friction energy release is simply due to motion along a greater LENGTH of geologic fault – in the case of Tohoku, along a greater length of the Pacific Plate subduction zone.
    For example, one seismic event might involve a slip of 4m along 1,000m of fault, while a second quake slips 4m along 50,000m of fault: Obviously the second quake releases roughly fifty times as much energy – which on the non-linear magnitude scale would be 1.6 magnitude larger ( say 8.6 instead of a 7.0).

    http://db.tt/WSYPe2fJ

    • John Tucker says:

      “Geologic knowledge is incomplete and imperfect. And we rely on it perhaps too heavily when making policy decisions about siting hazardous technologies such as nuclear power plants”…

      “If the “credible event” is viewed as a risk assessment, as the crisis grows at Fukushima, we now face the question of whether nuclear power in unstable areas was worth the risk. “

      In short – broad unreasonable statements – geology and nuclear power cannot be trusted anywhere.

      Extreme statements to pander to a particular audience? Still overall its an indicator of unreasonable bias as it doesn’t mention mitigating safety. – it goes decidedly into the red flag column.

      It certainty smacks of a motivating agenda and what is looking more like the accredited academic equivalent of a concern troll.

  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “….which completely misses the point that all the nuke plants on the east coast of Honshu, including Fukushima-Daiichi, performed as designed following the Tohoku earthquake – until the tsunami struck”

    Omly if you ignore TEPCo’s assertion that the loss of cooling in reactor #3 occurred BEFORE the tsunami struck.

    • Brian Mays says:

      One thing that we don’t ignore is your predilection for just making things up.

    • John Tucker says:

      What? According to the multiple error riddled “ENENEWS” scam ? The Fairewinds EasyBake™ reactor expert??

      Post a link after you fulfill the other link requests summited to your garbage posts.

  21. jeg3 says:

    Constructing structures for the expected seismic & tsunami worst case scenario is generally not impossible or cost exorbitant from an engineering perspective but usually due do to poor policy choices (excuse of budgets). Whether nuclear plant, levees in New Orleans, bridges in California, etc.

    Here is someone who forced the right policy decision and this nuclear plant survived the tsunami. I used the Slashdot reference because the original Japanese article has been taken down and the wiki page reference was deleted.
    http://slashdot.org/story/12/03/31/1955231/why-onagawa-nuclear-power-station-survived-the-tsunami

  22. JasonC says:

    When I first heard the news that Macfarlane was chosen as the nominee, my thoughts swirled around the question, “What was Obama thinking- choosing someone with no engineering background, no nuclear background, AND no management experience?”

    Having listened to Rod’s podcast with her sometime back, I was appalled at this woman’s lack of intrigue about nuclear energy and extreme silly attitude about the world of energy.

    My speculation is that Obama did not do any thinking about this appointment whatsoever. Either this given to him as a recommendation from Jaczkos, some other staffer, or she was on an existing shortlist in a database for possible candidates.

    Sad to say, but I think Obama’s energy story will be the same-old story as every other president when it comes to energy – hardly any changes with no effective policy. Let’s face it, when it comes to energy policy, the USA’s Presidents just plain suck at it, no matter who’s in charge.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @JasonC

      Judging the success or failure of USA energy policy depends on your point of view. If you, like most Americans, want a land of abundant energy that does not require us to kowtow to dictatorial regimes that just happen to sit on top of extractable hydrocarbons licensed for extraction to multinational petroleum companies, then you are correct. Our energy policy is a complete failure.

      If you happen to be a manager or owner of one of those multinational petroleum companies, involved in banks that supply the capital that those companies require, a supplier of the equipment or engineering services required for the massively material intensive supply system, or one of the dictatorial regimes that likes keeping American consumers addicted to one of the few competitive products that your country exports, then you are pleased as punch with the successful influence that you have had on American presidents and their attempts at changing the de facto energy policies that we have been following since the Johnson Administration.

      (Eisenhower had a pretty good grasp of what our policy needed to be, and Kennedy seems to have been following through with that policy until the gas industry backed Johnson replace him.)

      • JasonC says:

        When it comes to Presidents and energy, I’m only holding them to account for the promises they made but did not keep. They’ve promised clean energy, energy independence, foreign oil independence, bullet trains and whatever else. Rarely if ever, did anyone of them deliver on those in my lifetime.

        The Jon Stewart video of this history is in my list of viral classics.

  23. Eric L. Hanson says:

    Does it even matter is the Yucca Mountain area is seismically active? I am not saying it is a seismically active area, but even if it is, so what? There is not going to be a reactor there. The spent nuclear fuel that was (is?) planned to be stored there has already spent its time in the cooling ponds and is in dry storage, requiring no pumps to circulate cooling water or any such thing. So you have already cooled spent nuclear fuel in dry storage and there is an earthquake. So what? It can’t go anywhere. The worst thing that could happen is that an access tunnel collapses and has to be re-dug. Doesn’t sound that serious to me.

  24. Swain says:

    Rod, maybe you could highlight your top 5-10 alternative choices in a follow-up article rather than simply poo-pooing MacFarlane. I’d only ask that you put Obama up against the same standards you’d hold any president to,

    I might agree with “Not the Best Choice to run the NRC” – but don’t you think “Not Qualified to Run the NRC” is a teensy weensy bit hyperbolic? It seems like you’ve taken some legitimate concerns and inflated them into a breathless OMG-WTF case against MacFarlane.

    Her CV doesn’t appear to be materially different from other past chairs of the NRC. No, she hasn’t ever run a nuclear reactor, but only 1 of the 5 current commissioners has. She’s a scientist, a policy expert (if not a nuclear technology wonk), she’s by no means anti-nuclear or pro-fossil. She’s a woman and by all accounts attempts to play well with all the kids on the playground – two qualifications that have suddenly become important at the NRC thanks to the outgoing chairman. It may be easy for observers to waive these factors off as being frivolous, but there are political realities at work in any large organization that can’t be ignored and require the ins an ‘outsider be brought into help heal the wounds.There are also political realities at work in this country where people are jittery after Fukushima. (And let me stop me before you rip that apart – it doesn’t matter if their jitters are justified or not folks….no president can be expected to make an appointment that appears to fly in the face of that sentiment.) It’s not her fault, nor Obama’s fault, that the NRC has poorly designed ‘emergency ‘ power provisions due to the 1974 law.

    Kicking the Yucca Mountain can down the road seems like a valid choice right now. It keeps other options open for the future, is less expensive, and doesn’t open the political hornet’s nest of moving the fuel around the country. (If spent fuel is safe where it is, what problem does Yucca solve?) – I don’t necessarily agree with the choice on balance, but I don’t find what she’s written about it to be somehow beyond the pale.

    As for ‘leadership’ qualities, the military offers one path to prove leadership skills, where you move stepwise from a platoon to a company to a battallion etc. That doesn’t protect you from bad Generals or Admirals as you know. Nor is it the only way to identify good leaders. The Chair of the NRC doesn’t have to be an administrator any more than Steve Jobs was an administrator of Apple. She has an operations director for executing policy (see the org chart http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/organization/nrcorg.pdf ). MacFarlane’s role is the public face of the agency – she’ll be in press conferences, senate hearings, giving speeches, etc. and only in the broadest sense does she have the power to set the agenda for the agency.

    I’d love to see Obama change the game on nuclear power – lead from the front…change people’s minds rather than go with the flow. We’d probably see a different appointment if Jaczko had resigned after the election. But getting upset at the political context is really pissing into the wind.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Swain – among people who can do something with the information, I have provided a starting point list of about a half a dozen names.

      Please do not compare a college professor who has rarely stepped out of the classroom or library to someone like Steve Jobs who built a massively influential company from scratch.

      I never said that the head of the NRC needed to be an administrator. I said that the Chairman needs to have management and leadership experience. TOTALLY different skill set.

      As you pointed out, the NRC has an operations director for executing policy, but the Chairman has a major role in SETTING the policy, determining budget priorities, and even setting the agenda of the Commission.

      Here is one example – the technical staff at the NRC finished their Final Safety Evaluation Report on the Westinghouse AP1000 rev 17 (the current one) in August. The Chairman did not bring it up to a vote until late December. The Vogtle and Summer cost clocks were ticking away at about $1-2 MILLION per day/unit during that delay because their ability to move forward was dependent on the NRC issuing a design certification for the system that they had used as the basis for their combined operating license applications.

      That delay was unilaterally imposed by the Chairman.

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