Agencies should not allow creation of a hostile environment at public meetings
On February 19, 2015, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) transported a substantial contingent of regulators to Brattleboro, VT to hold a public meeting about Entergy’s Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR) for the permanently shutdown Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Brattleboro Community TV produced a video record of the event.
Watching that video is a disturbing, stressful way to spend nearly 4 hours. It should have ended at 9:00, but the last speaker didn’t get the microphone until nearly 10 when the room had to be vacated. Quite a few of the people who signed up to talk had gone home by the time the moderator called their name.
The meeting was frequently disrupted, with some hostile and intimidating actions by a large tribe of people sharing a specific point of view. That tribe had a designated warrior named Gary Sachs who was often cheered and congratulated for his disruptions. The meeting moderator not only tolerated the disruptions, he enabled them in the same way as a parent who only pays attention to the child who is acting out while virtually ignoring the one who is behaving.
Because I know that most people don’t have the time or the stomach to watch a four hour marathon, I produced a clipped version that focuses on Mr. Sachs’s actions and the actions that respond to his presence. Even with that filtering criteria, the clip is still 26 minutes long.
It distresses me to see how many people have forgotten certain key components of our revered 1st Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion or prohibiting free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I support that entire statement and recognize that it puts a burden or responsibility on all of us when we remember that its delineated rights apply to all Americans. Each of us has the right of free speech, but our right to say what we want or need to say fades out when it intrudes on the rights of other people to say what they want or need to say. At a public assembly, we would not want our government officials shutting us out of the conversation, but we must recognize that those officials have a responsibility to protect the rights of everyone else to participate.
We do not live in a country where the person with the loudest voice, the largest bank account, or the most intimidating demeanor gets to dominate a public conversation and shut everyone else out. We cannot have a peaceable assembly when bullies insist they they own the turf and we cannot petition the Government for a redress of our grievances if an individual backed by a mob shouts us down in a public forum specifically designated as a venue for speaking to Government representatives.
The responsibility to protect everyone’s rights falls on the shoulders of the designated government officials and law enforcement officers assigned to hold a public meeting. They have the equivalent of a judge’s gavel and should use it to maintain order. In situations where stakes are high, emotions are charged up, and tempers may flare, keeping order requires early and effective action.
Meeting ground rules should include procedures for peacefully escorting people out of the meeting when they have proven that they don’t respect the rights of others and escalation responses that might include a recess or complete adjournment.
When people learn that their government officials have abdicated their responsibility and developed a habit of holding raucous meetings where disorder and hostility prevail, some of them will avoid participation. Many good and thoughtful people walk away from conflicts, but that means that their voices aren’t heard and their thoughts are not shared.
I have been following the long-running public discussions about the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station for at least five years. There is a history of meetings hosted by the NRC where uncontrolled outbursts and hostile actions were tolerated. There is also a record of special, almost encouraging meetings with groups that have a habit of disrespecting others. Those meetings have often excluded responsible individuals and groups with a different point of view.
I’ve written about this issue in the past, but haven’t always had such good visual evidence of the interruptions and the way NRC meeting leaders have tolerated those interruptions, almost to the point of subtle encouragement.
After watching the four hour video of a meeting that should have only lasted three hours, I contacted the NRC Public Affairs office to ask why they had let the meeting be dominated by disrupters. Here is the first response in what turned out to be a rather lengthy exchange.
Gary Sachs is a longtime opponent of the now permanently shutdown Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. When the Seven Days publication ran a story on the closure of the plant last December, Mr. Sachs and his wife were among those featured: http://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/gone-fission-assessing-a-future-without-vermont-yankee/Content?oid=2484782 .
We knew going into the meeting that Mr. Sachs might be interested in seeking to disrupt it. This was based on his behavior at past NRC meetings regarding the plant. Our decision was to not exacerbate the situation by having him removed from the meeting. Instead, our facilitator, Chip Cameron, repeatedly reminded Mr. Sachs that his interruptions were unacceptable; were doing a disservice to audience members there to learn more about the decommissioning process for the plant; and that eventually he would have an opportunity to speak at the microphone, which he did. The lack of Mr. Sachs’ removal should not be considered in any way an indication that the NRC condones such behavior. We would also note that Vermont has a high threshold for the removal of citizens from public meetings.
The NRC always tries to strike the right balance between allowing members of the public to express their views – and all of the passion accompanying that for some – and creating an environment in which other audience members can gain information without distractions. As we always do, we will seek to learn from the Vermont Yankee meeting and further refine our meeting protocols going forward. In the meantime, we will continue to encourage attendees at our meetings to be respectful and to strive for civil discourse that serves everyone’s best interests.
(Note: From an older email with a more complete signature.)
Director, Office of Public Affairs
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Mr. Brenner and I then exchanged some short, philosophical emails about ways to run a meeting, with me pointing out that appeasement doesn’t work. Here is another important response from him.
Rod: We have been in the process of fleshing out a plan to improve NRC public meetings, including guidance for the conduct of meetings. As that work unfolds the experience at VY will be taken into account.
While we want to be inclusive, we do not want that to impact those who are at our meetings to listen and learn, regardless of their perspective.
With respect to the VY meeting. There have been other VY meetings that were more challenging and we did not seek the removal of individuals. That includes a case in which manure or compost was thrown at and on members of the NRC and the licensee. There is every chance that seeking to remove Mr. Sachs would have been the story, not the information being presented. And the act of ejecting someone could have led to further disruption, given the composition of the audience. Additionally, there is a very high legal threshold in Vermont for ejecting someone from a public meeting and, as I understand it, it could bring the hearing to a halt. Beyond that, we had a good facilitator who has dealt with this individual before and who was working politely to rein in the person.
That said, we are working on this issue with the aim of developing a more structured way to permit the public to better be able to participate, comment, ask questions and learn, and to better deal with, and if necessary remove, those who would disrupt meetings.
As I think I said earlier, we regret that the behavior of one individual detracted from the experience of others at this meeting.
After letting Brenner know that I would be writing about this topic in hopes of encouraging continued efforts to ensure that all people have their rights respected, I responded with the following email.
There is every chance that seeking to remove Mr. Sachs would have been the story, not the information being presented.
Why are you so concerned about what “the story” about the meeting would have been?
The purpose of a public meeting is to provide information and an opportunity for comment to the responsible citizens who take the time to attend the meeting and who behave themselves.
Additionally, there is a very high legal threshold in Vermont for ejecting someone from a public meeting and, as I understand it, it could bring the hearing to a halt.
Vermont may have a high threshold for ejection, but the conduct that is clearly visible on the recorded video is illegal. One is not allowed to call someone a “scumbag” (twice) or to snatch the microphone from the hand of someone else, or to physically threaten someone by intruding on their space.
Walking out of or stopping a disruptive meeting is an appropriate response that has been used at certain regulatory agencies, including one to the north of us.
With respect to the VY meeting. There have been other VY meetings that were more challenging and we did not seek the removal of individuals. That includes a case in which manure or compost was thrown at and on members of the NRC and the licensee.
The NRC’s tolerant responses to incredibly nasty behavior like the “manure or compost” incident in previous meetings did not help to establish good order and peaceful assemblies. It encouraged worse behavior, in the same way as purchasing a candy bar for a child who is acting out in the grocery store encourages future misbehavior.
Beyond that, we had a good facilitator who has dealt with this individual before and who was working politely to rein in the person.
I disagree with your judgement about the skills of your chosen facilitator. Being nice to problem children is unfair to the adults who are there to engage in an important civic duty.
At least in this tiny corner of the internet — which reaches many people who care deeply about using atomic energy to improve public health, safety and prosperity — the “story” about the meeting is the way that the NRC failed in its responsibility to provide a peaceful assembly so that all people — including those whose lives will be harmed by the successful actions that helped to force the plant closure decision — could petition the Government for redress of their grievances.
The current commission is not the same one that enabled the protesters in Vermont to establish a pattern of behavior that discouraged nuclear energy supporters from participating fully in the public dialog. Fortunately, the NRC has a well-deserved reputation of being a learning organization that recognizes that self-criticism and focused efforts to improve based on extracting lessons from operating experience will result in improved performance.
NRC leaders also know the value of learning from the best practices of others, so I hope they find some good examples of agencies that run effective meetings that allow peaceful participation by people of varying points of view. They probably have some internal examples of more successful approaches to habitual disrupters.
Canadian Energy Issues – Free speech, Monty Python, and Civil War reconstruction: anti-nukes are not funny
Neutron Bytes – NRC must do more to insure civility at its public hearings
Yes Vermont Yankee – UPDATE; Bullying at the NRC Meeting: Rod Adams, Dan Yurman and Steve Aplin
Preview of things to come: Yesterday I watched the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee hearing on the NRC’s FY2016 budget request. It was a refreshing example of our government at work. My Twitter feed has a number of comments about the hearing.
For those who don’t have time or interest in watching the full hearing, I have produced some highlights of the event and summarized some of the major discussion topics.
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Let them rant.
In civilized discourse, the party resorting to hostility is generally viewed as having an untenable position. If one can’t defend their position with facts submitted with manners – they likely are offering an indefensible thesis.
Let me ask something.
(1) Are these kinds of emotional rants and disruptions permitted at FCC hearings? Or FAA hearings? Or FDA hearings? Or EPA hearings? Or whatever? Truly I do not know the answer. But consider that if this is the norm for discourse at any agency public hearing regardless of the area – nuclear, communications, airlines, medical, environmental, etc – then what we are witnessing are the consequences of our society’s disrespect of authority and disdain of law. It is one thing to question the action of authority or the wisdom of law. It is another thing entirely to behave without regard or respect. I am reminded of the Occupy Wall Street movement, or the pillage, burning and looting that occurred in Missouri late last year.
(2) On the other hand, if this is something unique to the nuclear power industry, then let us ask ourselves why agencies and commissions for other industries do not tolerate this behavior, but the US NRC does? Simply put, why would the FCC or FAA or FDA or EPA NOT tolerate this kind of behavior, but the US NRC does tolerate it? Has the regulator for nuclear been given an agenda to provide credence and voice to disruptors opposed to the industry being regulated? And if so, then who has the power to give it that agenda? I think we know the answer to that question.
(3) By the way, can you imagine the IRS tolerating this behavior at a public meeting?
Ranting is okay if done within the rules. Illegal and threatening behavior falls outside the rules of almost every civilized society. Throwing potentially harmful materials (animal feces) at people is generally accepted as a criminal act (attempted assault).
A long time ago (so it seems) in this country bad behavior was dealt with swiftly and firmly and was not tolerated. When I was in (public) school if a student disrupted class they were thrown out. There was an understanding that we were there to learn and if there were those who were determined to prevent that then they were removed. Our government officials should learn from the past. If the NRC truly is a “learning agency”, then this is one lesson, before any others, they should learn.
Dang it! This is what tasers are for.
Google Brattleboro and taser. Very sensitive issue in Brattleboro. Not condemning the police in any way just a lot of history.
Well, that’s good. Gary couldn’t claim that he didn’t know what to expect.
I don’t understand this “high threshold for the removal” in Vermont business. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong and what’s unfair is unfair anywhere, including Vermont. What, is it written into their state Constitution that citizens get to act like jackasses at public meetings and get away with it? The bottom line is that the NRC is running the meeting and they are being paid to run it in such a way that everyone who has a thoughtful contribution to make to the public discourse should be able to do so without threats and intimidation. Those who work for the NRC are professionals working in a technically advanced field and they should uphold their responsibility to serve the public interest in a way that allows for civilized discourse. If they don’t, if they allow and do not prevent their meetings from devolving into a chaotic, unproductive, and dangerous circus act, they bring dishonor and disrepute to themselves and the agency they serve.
These guys really should smoke more pot before one of these meetings. It’s supposed to mellow you out, you know.
That may have been the problem, they might have run out and sat there cold turkey in the meeting!
Then they’re not very competent stoners. That’s what ziploc bags of brownies are for.
As you must know, I can’t possibly thank you enough for writing this post. You watched the whole four hours and abstracted something that regular people can watch in less than half an hour! You emailed the NRC and shared their responses. (Hey, we’re proud that we don’t even throw people out when they commit assault!)
Thank you again and again.
It’s amazing how much mindless hate there is towards nuclear energy technology in any shape, size and form. The hate appears to disregard any facts and engineering such as the proven robustness of dry casks.
Nuclear energy is one of those subjects where most people are as negative as they are totally clueless. The more clueless they are about engineering, behavior of materials and generally science and technology, the more negative they are.
So this is in my opinion and also in my personal experience, a knowledge problem. How do we get people to become interested in the technology? It seems to me we should give people something to read that will make them think and start the process. This is a hot potato that needs to cool down a little. For me one of the main reads that made me change my mind about nuclear energy was the late professor Cohen’s book, “the nuclear energy option”. It is a bit dated now but it is mostly a timeless gem. It is available online:
How do we get millions of people to read books like that?
I recently purchased a hardback copy through Amazon.
Ok I checked it is $23.
Is there some billionaire available to buy, say, every North American household a book like this and distribute it to them?
“It’s amazing how much mindless hate there is towards nuclear energy technology in any shape, size and form. The hate appears to disregard any facts and engineering such as the proven robustness of dry casks. ”
Yes, you’re right — but look at how the unwashed general public sees nuclear. introduced to it by terrible bombs and WWIII fears fed by follow-up end-of-the-world nuke movies and nothing or no one openly speaking up for nuclear’s virtues — which hints that are none and so nukes must be very very bad. Simplistic, sure, but fear is largely rooted in ignorance, and antis are very happy to fill the void with their own public “education”. The public doesn’t need (less read) a book; if not a aggressive nuke education-ad campaign, they need a pop nuclear figure out there extolling nukes. The nuclear community get the public perception they sow.
“… why would the FCC or FAA or FDA or EPA NOT tolerate this kind of behavior, but the US NRC does tolerate it?”
Maybe because the NRC is mindful of the, uh, nuclear preferences of the two chairs who preceded the current one and of those of certain members of the congress (e.g. Markey, Boxer, Reid). Do those paragons of civic virtue really care if their supporters throw cow dung around at public meetings?
Precisely my point, Steve.
Gary Sachs looks like he got his training from Westborough Baptist Church.
Cross posted URL with extensive additional information and comments at Neutron Bytes
Vermont is unique even in the anti-nuclear area. I’ve been to almost every public meeting in the past 15 years. Nothing of any substance is ever discussed nor is there really any expectation that there will be.
I have seen people simulating sex (nuclear industry w/NRC), Gary Sachs strutting, twitching and shouting his way around the room and I have seen the people stand behind the NRC presenters with signs, costumes and threatening poses. In that case the NRC stopped the meeting.
In all of these cases the police were there and did nothing. I’m sure the officers were upset by what was going on but I suspect they were only there to react to a physical confrontation and nothing more.
If you go in with your mind on free entertainment and not with the idea that this is a serious event than you can tolerate it until maybe 9:00 pm. After that it is time to go home and get ready for another day.
Although still employed at VY I no longer go to public meetings since they represent nothing and will have no impact on SAFSTOR going forward. As I said, I went for entertainment and to be a friendly face for anyone at VY who was presenting. Rod is right to highlight this but the NRC’s goal is to get the meeting over with and not draw flack from Vermont’s distinguished congressional delegation.
Ah yes, the simulating-sex couple! I remember them. She wore one of those gorilla costumes with the fake bare breasts, right? Or was that a different meeting?
Just a note that Steve Aplin also has an excellent post on this meeting, so I thought I would cross-post it.
Please don’t anyone be offended and remember that I am also a senior citizen. This was a very bad example of senior sex and not the type of thing anyone wants to see!
Compared to normal people it has always seemed that Gary Sachs has a medication problem when he comes to the meetings. The only good thing about shutting down was I no longer feel I need to go to these pointless and useless meetings. I really admire your persistence in going.
Wow, I could only stand to watch 7 minutes of that non-sense. Doesn’t anybody stand up and tell that nut case to shut the hell up? If the NRC and the police are going to allow that circus atmosphere to continue, then others should respond in kind until they discontinue the meetings altogether. It only appears to be an opportunity for crackpots to grandstand.
The old “civility” and “free speech” trumps logic and reason thing. Ill spare you all my standard rant on this only to say that in official public policy discourses the Founders very much maintained and enforced a standard of very strong reasonable argument(s) and protocol in open discussions.
I dont think you even need that “I believe in free speech” thing in there Rod. But, perhaps you do as the NRC management doesn’t seem to get their obligations; roles and duties in providing and maintaining a reasonable forum. Its not performance art.
That people like that can hijack some discussions, and do, just makes me think that those discussions are a total waste of time. Or even worse, negative setbacks to reasonable outcomes and resolutions.
Incidentally looking more closely at the First Amendment the Founders probably put that emphasis on reasonable, logical argument in there:
Petition – “…the facts therein contained are true as far as known to the petitioner, and that those facts which he states as knowing from others he believes to be true…” – Bouvier’s Law Dictionary.
I think they figured this out already.
Totally agree with what’s been already said.
My additional two cents: NRC officials come across as incredibly unprepared and unable to simply explain what can and can’t be done with decommissioning trust funds–for both regulated and deregulated reactors. (Or that Maine Yankee refunded the unused money in its D&D fund when D&D at the plant was done.)
A few pages of horrifically bad slides with bullet points that quote regulations doesn’t cut it.
It isn’t enough to say, “That’s a commercial/legal/financial agreement between Entergy and the state of Vermont.” The agreement has details about VY decommissioning that are germane to NRC regulatory decisions.
NRC also bungles explaining that putting spent fuel into casks is one of the things that CAN be done and usually IS done early after a plant shuts down, SAFSTOR or not. NRC bungles explaining that a lot of D&D activities do take place in early days, despite a SAFSTOR status.
Lastly, NRC should make it clear that there is no national waste management policy and that’s why Entergy can’t give firm dates about exactly when the site will be completed D&D’d. I’d also suggest they point out that the Obama administration, which presumably many of those in attendance at the meeting voted for, is responsible for that.
I’d like to suggest that those of you who live in Vermont and NH contact your federal, state, and local elected officials and let them know how frightened or dismayed you were. They actually do listen to constituents.
PS I voted for Obama twice. I am also responsible.
PPS Some of the citizens are so disrespectful it’s disgusting. Carol’s snide comment about Chip’s vest comes to mind. And Sachs calling Mike Twomey a scumbag? Unacceptable.
“We do not live in a country were the person with the loudest voice, the largest bank account, or the most intimidating demeanor gets to dominate a public conversation and shut everyone else out.”
From what I saw reality differs from this ideal.
Not at all. Documented evidence of exceptional misbehavior by an individual or small group should not be generalized to apply to a nation with 300 million residents.
Unfortunately some people tend to generalize what they see on a screen – TV or now computer – to believe it is representative of reality. Even when the actors are real, they are not a sufficiently large or randomized sample of a population to support the drawing of any conclusions.
OT Rod – feel free to delete it – but I am taking huge offense in your “bioaccumulation” discussion on twitter. There is no significant and/or widespread issues of “bioaccumulation” linked to any species or normal human consumption in relation to the japan reactors or NPPs. There is certainly no threat to humans, the environment or any species.
Not so with other heavy metals, industrial toxins and acidification. Not so with dams, reservoirs and significant habitat encroachments.
Sorry but I cannot express how offensive that exchange was.
Basically that is what your meeting discussed here devolved into. A human twitter reenactment.
@John T Tucker
I hope only one side of the exchange was offensive to you.
BTW – the really scary part is that the other side of that exchange is a high school biology teacher.
noooooooooooo….depressing. I was kinda irritated you were not more aggressive. But I doubt it would work.
Interesting that there are videos of public meetings (school boards come to mind) circulating where even mild criticism of the “system” or of public officials by conservative speakers is ruled out of bounds by the chair.
Let’s face facts and agree that the willful suppression of free speech comes from the Left and targets any who oppose them.
@ Joseph Somsel
Yes, those facts are quite evident.
But, the point really is somewhat of a sidetrack here, isn’t it?
“Gary, I’m gonna give you the microphone back”
What a joke. Many civic-minded individuals wish to speak and raise real issues and they allow this buffoon to control the room. Absolute embarrassment. I would be furious if I invested my time and money to travel to this meeting to ask questions or to learn about the process and instead had to witness this clown railroad the meeting and overpower the spineless NRC and local authorities.
After that display, I’m wondering: maybe VY could be the site for some pyroprocessing of slightly used nuclear fuel? Name the facility after Gary Sachs, too.
Several things made this situation happen. One when the anti-nukes chain or handcuff themselves to the fences at VY and get away with it no jail time or fine. When they burn down VY’s emergency building and get away with it. Really how hard did the Brattleboro police try to find out who did it? It sends a message of entitlement to the anti-nukes. I can do whatever I want to Entergy and get away with it! Also I go to these meetings for Indian Point they don’t behave much better. I have been told quite a few times don’t stoop down to their level. I don’t believe in that all the time. There comes a time when you have to fight fire with fire. When the Nazis killed millions of people. When the war was over we stooped down to the level of executing the people responsible for this crime. Someone pro nuclear at that meeting should have grabbed the mic out of Gary Sachs’s hands and asked him about his credentials in nuclear power or decommissioning of a nuclear power plant. Then rebut his statements. Yell at him while he tries to make his points . Sorry but you can be nice for only so long. Just look at it personally He took jobs from people, he made electric rates and taxes higher. And he thinks he is right
IMO we must not back down and allow tyranny by the obnoxious, but I think more effective action is to force the responsible people to do a better job of establishing a peaceful assembly.
Government agencies tend to grease the squeaky wheels; it is high time for people who know and appreciate the amazing natural gift of atomic energy to make sure that the agencies know we exist. We have power; we need to be better at using it. A person skillfully wielding a keyboard and having a well-developed address book is mightier than a shouter.
Rod’s approach has much to commend itself, but Tom has a point. A bully at the VY meeting threatened Meredith, a 60+ year old woman and her crime was being pro-nuke. Sometimes a bully has to be forcibly confronted before he will back down. Bullies after all are cowards. Should the police do their jobs? You bet! But when the elected govt is anti-nuke, they have no motivation to protect the pro-nuke from aggression. I cannot believe what I read at Neutron Bytes about how Meredith was bullied. And NO ONE defended her! Where is our manhood? God knows what I would have done had I been there. I won’t tolerate a lady being bullied.
I appreciate this, but I think there was little that anyone except the moderator could have done.
I appreciate these comments very much.
Finally had a chance to watch the clip that Rod put together.
There is too much familiarity between the moderator and Mr. Sachs. The moderator is there to maintain control of a public meeting, not have a discussion with people who are there to disrupt the process. Attempting to be on a first name basis with a known agitator may sound like a good way to defuse the hostility but I have yet to see good results when that approach is used in this type of forum.
This not the first time I have seen this behavior in NRC meetings from their moderators. The NRC must maintain neutrality in these meetings to allow everyone, both pro and anti’s to have space to make their points. However when the NRC meeting leaders are on a first name basis with known anti-nuclear individuals and use those first names during public meetings, the appearance of neutrality as well as neutrality itself will never be achieved.
Sachs hijacked the meeting at every turn because he was allowed to do that. The minute he stepped up and physically confronted the Entergy official, he should have been escorted from the meeting. That behavior should never be allowed, but it has been with the VY meetings both due to the local culture and due to the NRC allowing their meetings to be hijacked.
If a person’s behavior is aggressive in any way during a public meeting leading to participants to believe they are in danger from another person and then the person initiating the intimidating behavior is supposed to be removed from a public meeting. It appeared to everyone during the initial part of the meeting where Sachs confronted the Entergy official that Sachs was exhibiting aggressive behavior. Even the police officer stepped into frame just in case Sachs became physical with the individual. Sachs should have been removed at that point and not allowed to come back.
To repeat my point. Physically accosting or intimidating people as Sachs did during that meeting should never be allowed. It isn’t allowed on the street in the general public and it definitely should never happen in a public meeting where people are there to voice their opinions on the status of the decommissioning process. His physical presence, not just his outbursts, became a distraction from that point onward. That just cannot be allowed.
A possible strategy to defuse the situation, if the NRC did not want to have Sachs removed, would have been for the moderator to hand over the meeting to an alternate in order to peacefully remove Sachs. That way the moderator could escort Sachs out to another room if the police were not able to do that based on the bylaws of how public meetings should be conducted in Vermont or the NRC did not want police involvement. Sachs was obviously not in control of his emotions and he was monopolizing the meeting to the detriment of the agenda. Sachs basically needed a time out and the moderator was responsible for ensuring that happened one way or another.
Speaking of an agenda, the clip did not indicate a formal introduction of the meeting agenda. If that did not occur then the ground rules for meeting conduct were never established. The meeting agenda serves to keep everyone on target and can be used to lay out the ground rules for the meeting itself. This is the responsibility of the moderator to inform every one of the agenda and then ensure the agenda is maintained. The fact that meeting went longer then scheduled and that was directly attributable to Sachs’ outbursts is an indication the meeting was not conducted in an organized manner. It is one thing for a public meeting such as this one to go long due to a larger than expected turnout. However to go over the allotted time long due to one individual who successfully monopolized the meeting and was physically intimidating should not be considered a successful outcome.
I see that Mr. Cameron has extensive experience in public meetings and this wasn’t an easy meeting to maintain control so I did not envy his position. However the fact that Sachs became physically intimidating should have been anticipated based on past meetings at VY. A strategy developed with the local officials in the room on how to handle that possibility, not just one of attempting to defuse the situation by using conciliatory conversations and mannerisms.
Last point to note is the response from Mr. Brenner to Rod’s emails. Yes removing Mr. Sachs would have made headlines but there are times when headlines can be used in a positive manner. The minute Sachs became physically intimidating a headline was inevitable assuming the meeting was being held in accordance with standard protocols expected of public meetings. Knowing meetings with Mr. Sachs in the room are going to be contentious then an assertive strategy is needed on how to deal with that behavior. Other participants in the room need to have the necessary space to safely state their points either positive or negative.
The unofficial protocols and headlines from these meetings remains that Sachs, and any group he is affiliated with, will be allowed to continue intimidating and monopolize future meetings until the NRC enforces meeting protocols. I would not be surprised if local police involvement becomes necessary at a future VY meeting to ensure this behavior is stopped since it has been allowed to continue for so long. Otherwise we will see more meetings like this which will only allow the rabid anti-nuclear contingent to have their points heard to the detriment of the general public who are looking for coherent answers to the decom and storage process.
Sachs should never have been allowed to rip the microphone out of Mr. Cameron’s hands.
He should have been escorted from the room at that point since he was out of control.
And an self edit:
A sentence above should have written as “A strategy should have been developed with local officials….”
Thank you for your detailed response and suggestions. There is a decent probability that they will reach people who can and should take some of the recommended actions.
“We do not live in a country were the person with the loudest voice, the largest bank account, or the most intimidating demeanor gets to dominate a public conversation and shut everyone else out.”
We do live in a country *where* the “person” with the largest bank account does get the loudest “voice,” and does get to dominate the public conversation. Intimidating, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If you found energetic, frustrated, “clown” behavior to be intimidating, then you might not be a redneck. You might be a thin skinned wuss wearing a suit.
If you’ve been on the opposing side of mandatory public hearings, or Freedom of Information requests, then you might know how the promoting side controls the conversation, delays and uses roadblocks. If you’ve been on the opposing side of this website, then you might know how the promoting side deletes comments and controls the conversation.
If you’ve read Toms River, then you might know how serious, detailed, open investigation of pollution (dumping) problems only began after a very heated public meeting, where the moderator lost control. You also know that cluster studies and epidemiology studies are flawed methods that almost never find causation with cancers, even for known cancer causing chemicals and extensive pollution.
Regarding Cohen’s book, it should be updated to include the human radiation experiments that were made public after the book’s publishing in 1990. Cherry picking of data is not to be trusted.
First of all, thank you for noticing the typo. I’ve added the missing ‘h’ to correct “were” to “where.”
As a matter of fact, the person who was intimidated by the tall, shaggy “clown” that you described was a small, grey-haired grandmother who has a master’s degree in physical chemistry, knows a thing or two about both nuclear energy and renewable energy, and chose to make Vermont her retirement home in order to be close to her grandchildren in NYC.
Regarding the human radiation experiments to which you refer, did any of them produce findings indicating that exposure to low dose radiation was actually dangerous? I’m not familiar with all of them, but I have a dim memory that at least one of them came to light because people who were considered terminally ill at the time the dose was administered lived for several decades instead of dying soon.
@ Name Withheld,
It is one thing for a moderator to lose control of the agenda and a meeting where everyone is shouting at each other.
It is a different issue when one person or more at the meeting are being physically aggressive and intimidating toward other participants.
As a former NRC executive, I’ve learned that headquarters people are particularly bad at public meetings. The Regions have much more experience with disruptive people. I agree with the comments that the NRC staff was unprepared for this meeting. I also agree that the ground rules were not stated and enforced. One method for dealing with disruptive behavior is to allow the police to make the decision to remove someone, not the NRC. Provide the police with the meeting expectations and have them make the decision. They are the enforcers of civil law, not the NRC. Otherwise, have the city mayor there as a moderator and have him/her enforce the expectations.
I led public meetings in brattleboro. What I witnessed is that many of the public arrived at the meeting angry and after the NRC finished with the meeting they were furious. The NRC just can not get these meetings right. It’s a shame. Good news is that VY is almost over and it’s the most troubling area for the NRC.
Welcome to Atomic Insights. I hope you continue to visit and engage in discussion.
I liked your comment all the way up until the end when you wrote, “Good news is that VY is almost over and it’s the most troubling area for the NRC.”
From the perspective of disruptive public meetings and their burden on the NRC, perhaps. However, it is certainly NOT good news for the Northeast, the climate, or the US’s dependence on imported hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas) that Vermont Yankee has been shut down at least 18 years too early and that the perfectly situated site is going to house a completely non-productive industrial facility for many decades to come.
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