On Monday, May 21, 2012, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission released Dr. Greg Jaczko’s letter of resignation. The first phrase in the letter jumped out at me as an example of why I have been so strongly opposed to his tenure at the Commission.
After nearly eight years on the Commission, I am announcing my resignation as Chairman of the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, effective upon the confirmation of my successor.
The first seven words of that statement indicate either a basic inability to do simple arithmetic or a fundamental desire to slant words to make himself look better. I say that because I remember that Jaczko was confirmed as a member of the Commission in 2005, and we are not yet half way through 2012. His actual confirmation date was January 21, 2005, so he has been on the Commission for exactly 7 years and 4 months. That might qualify as “nearly eight years” to a politician, but it does not round up to eight years by any math with which I am familiar.
It is about as accurate as his never-apologized-for testimony on March 17, 2011 that the spent fuel pool at Fukushima Daiichi unit four was empty and the fuel was burning, or his testimony that he was completely unaware that he had caused some of his female employees to break out in tears as a result of his intimidating management style, or his testimony that he had halted the safety reviews of the Yucca Mountain license application because the NRC had run out of funds appropriated for that review.
It boggled my mind to read how Congressman Ed Markey and Senator Harry Reid, Jaczko’s political patrons, attempted to spin the story as one in which their boy was being bullied by an overly powerful industry that did not want to follow his unique vision of actions required to ensure nuclear safety. The reality is that Jaczko has no background in nuclear fission technology and has no idea what actions are needed to improve nuclear safety.
He is, and always was, a man who earned a PhD in theoretical physics and then immediately – without publishing any papers in his discipline, teaching any courses as a post doc, or doing any follow on work to the unique contribution to human knowledge that he had developed as a requirement to earning that PhD – took his impressive sounding degree to Washington to begin working on political policy issues that seem to the lightly educated as if they have something to do with the theoretical science he studied.
He chose to work for two politicians who are well known for fighting the beneficial use of nuclear fission, a relatively new energy source that has the proven potential of producing the same kind of affordable, abundant power as fossil fuel combustion, but without moving as much material and without producing any of the noxious air polluting by-products that are inherently part of the combustion process.
Through manipulation of our constitutional democracy, those two politicians have become inordinately powerful compared to the small constituencies that they represent. One is a long serving Representative from a district in a tiny state that just happens to host the oldest liquified natural gas importing facility in the United States, and one is a long serving Senator from a state with only enough people to field three Congressional districts.
Those patrons, made powerful by a broken seniority system and plenty of campaign contributions, used their power to insert Jaczko into a position for which he had no qualifications so that he could slow or halt the development of a power source that could actually take market share and revenue from their powerful contributors.
Jaczko did his best to do their bidding. He took several actions and made a number of decisions that have dented the Nuclear Renaissance. Fortunately, nuclear fission has too many natural advantages over all energy supply competitors to be completely suppressed, no matter what political actions are taken.
Jaczko’s immaturity and lack of technical experience eventually led to his downfall. People who lack confidence but who have been put into a position of authority often resort to intimidation as a way to get their way. People who live inside groupthink bubbles sometimes convince themselves that “everyone” shades the truth to get their their way. Fortunately, many of them eventually discover that telling fibs can lead to embarrassing failure. Right, Scott Thompson?
My guess is that Greg Jaczko was forced to resign because the soon-to-be-released Inspector General report on his management techniques contains damaging evidence of the intimidating way that he treated some of his technically competent female staff when they did not fully support his antinuclear energy agenda.
Like many of my colleagues in the nuclear industry and my friends in the pro nuclear blogger community, I have been engaging in some speculation about the choice of a successor to Greg Jaczko as Commissioner and as Chairman. At least one name that I heard, Allision MacFarlane, would be a poor choice because she knows nothing about the design, operation, or maintenance of nuclear facilities. I interviewed her for the Atomic Show in 2007; I have followed her career and publications with some interest ever since.
Nuclear advocates must pay close attention to the vetting and “trial balloon” process and make use of all available information sources to ensure that the eventual candidate has the experience and knowledge required to lead the 4,000 skilled professionals at the NRC as they perform their vital, technically demanding mission.
We need the NRC to be effective and innovative in order to enable the growth of nuclear technologies that we all need in order to help overcome some of the biggest challenges facing our industrial society. We deserve a nuclear regulator that enables nuclear energy in a manner similar to the way that the FAA enables safe, affordable, reliable commercial aviation. This is not a time to passively allow politicians to make technically important decisions without forceful backup.