Political battles hampering function of important agency

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

The challenging environment at the top cannot help but trickle down to the staff where important technical work and safety oversight is supposed to be the primary task.

Dr. Allison Macfarlane, the current chairman of the NRC, announced yesterday that she was stepping down at the end of 2014 to return to academia. She will become the Director of the Center for International Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University. Instead of engaging in stressful public testimony where people who are supposedly her political allies — I’m looking at you, Senator Boxer — question her integrity, she will return to her chosen profession and spend time teaching students, writing thoughtful papers and organizing conferences on important public issues.

Though it has not been discussed much in public, I suspect that Dr. Macfarlane has received some nasty direct or indirect communications from Senator Reid associated with her inability to find some devious way to stop last week’s release of volume 3 of the Safety Evaluation Report for the Yucca Mountain waste repository.

I’m throwing out a wild guess, but perhaps Reid loudly compared that release to the more successful, albeit illegal, maneuvers that Greg Jaczko initiated in order to halt the license review process in the first place.

Though I was critical of Dr. Macfarlane’s initial appointment based on her lack of management experience and her tangential “nuclear” experience as a geologist interested in final disposal of nuclear material, I’ve been impressed by her ability to create a more productive atmosphere and to repair some of the damage done by her predecessor. She is a straightforward person who approaches issues thoughtfully and independently.

Unfortunately, in today’s virulently partisan political environment, independent thinking is rarely rewarded or even encouraged. Too many of today’s elected officials take the position of “you’re either for me or against me.”

Dr. Macfarlane, please accept my apologies and my best wishes in your future endeavors. You’ve done well under trying conditions that should not exist. Those who should remain outside of the process once appointments have been made seem to be motivated to make an already difficult job into an almost impossible job.

FOE’s manipulative legal strategy for closing nuclear reactors

During a recent discussion on James Conca’s article titled Are California’s Carbon Goals Kaput?, Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear accused Conca of trying to revise history. Gunter’s comment includes a lengthy interpretation of the events surrounding the closure of San Onofre from the point of view of a man who has been a professional antinuclear […]

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Continuing conversation with NRC Chairman Macfarlane

On September 11, 2014, the American Nuclear Society hosted a roundtable discussion for nuclear bloggers with Allison Macfarlane, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The meeting was broadcast as a webinar, but there were also seats available in the conference room from which Dr. Macfarlane and Margaret Harding (the ANS moderator) were running the […]

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NRC Commissioner Candidates Stephen Burns and Jeffery Baran

The Obama Administration, under the direction of influential Senators, has provided the names of two people to fill vacancies on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. One of the vacancies exists already; Commissioner Apostolakis, a renowned expert in the field of nuclear reactor safety and probabilistic risk assessment was not offered a second term when his first […]

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Opportunity to use science to establish radiation standards

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to solicit comments from the general public and affected stakeholders about 40 CFR 190, Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Nuclear Power Operations. The comment period closes on August 3, 2014. The ANPR page includes links to summary webinars provided to the […]

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Markey’s Misinterpretation of NRC Non-Concurrence Process Targeted Survey

BACKGROUND The Nuclear Regulatory Commission values discussion among staff members who suggest alternative approaches or hold differing professional views. Since 1976 it has offered alternative methods of raising concerns including a documented Open Door Policy and a formal Differing Professional Opinions (DPO) Program. In 2006 the Executive Director for Operations issued a draft directive establishing […]

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Boxer allows Markey 16 minutes to grill NRC Commissioners

Yesterday, I posted a video clip showing Barbara Boxer berating the five NRC commissioners for 36 minutes during a hearing that lasted a little less than 2 hours. She used her gavel and power over the committee to dominate the session. The only mention she made of time was when she turned to the time […]

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Barbara Boxer berates NRC commissioners

Senator Barbara Boxer is the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Yesterday, she provided an example of the way that committee chairmen can abuse their power, ignore rules, and tread in areas where they have no knowledge or understanding. Fortunately, the existing members of the NRC are reasonably strong individuals who politely […]

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EPA Carbon pollution emission guidelines – New and preserved nuclear capacity

The EPA has released a 645 page draft document titled Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units for comment. Though several newspaper commentaries about the rule fail to mention the word “nuclear” the EPA draft document includes 76 instances of the word, often in terms of describing it as a […]

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As High As Relatively Safe (AHARS) – Sensible radiation standards

Ionizing radiation is a known, studied and understood phenomenon to which the Precautionary Principle no longer applies. It is time to shift the paradigm that governs radiation exposure limits to a sensible standard of “As High As Relatively Safe” (AHARS). Aside: I’m crediting Dr. Wade Allison with the etymology of the term – AHARS. I […]

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Nuclear energy advocate in a nuclear nonproliferation crowd

On December 11, 2013, Henry Sokolski, the Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), hosted a event titled Avoiding Future Irans: A New Course for US Nonproliferation Policy. The papers offered as background material before the event started, the prepared remarks from Sokolski’s invited speakers, and the post meeting engagements I had with […]

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Associated Press’s slanted interpretation of recent GAO report on US nuclear regulator

While the recent government shutdown was still in progress, Jeff Donn of the Associated Press published a slanted story about a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That report had not yet been released to the public, but it was made available to Mr. Donn. Though Mr. Donn is not […]

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