IEEE Spectrum recently published an article titled Former NRC Chairman Says US Nuclear Industry is Going Away that included a few choice quotes about Greg Jaczko that put me into a feisty mood. As regular Atomic Insights readers know; I have no love and virtually no respect for the man. He has spent at least a decade and a half misusing his apparently impressive brain power in destructive ways by focusing it on halting the beneficial use of nuclear energy.
The occasion for the IEEE article was an interview conducted after Jaczko’s participation in an antinuclear event held in New York City called The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident: Ongoing Lessons. Here is the passage that fired me up:
Jaczko bases his assessment of the U.S. nuclear industry on a simple reading of the calendar. The 104 commercial nuclear reactors in the United States are aging, and he thinks that even those nuclear power stations that have received 20 year license extensions, allowing them to operate until they’re 60 years old, may not see out that term. Jaczko said the economics of nuclear reactors are increasingly difficult, as the expense of repairs and upgrades makes nuclear power less competitive than cheap natural gas. He added that Entergy’s recent decision to close the Vermont Yankee plant was a case in point.
“The industry is going away,” he said bluntly. “Four reactors are being built, but there’s absolutely no money and no desire to finance more plants than that. So in 20 or 30 years we’re going to have very few nuclear power plants in this country—that’s just a fact.”
First of all, “cheap gas” is not a world-wide phenomenon; natural gas in Japan or Europe costs at least three times as much as it does in North America. It is also not something that is going to last; even the most optimistic assessments of the natural gas resource base in North America indicates that we have less than 100 years of supply if we make sure that we do not increase the current rate of consumption. If the gas industry has its way and grows its current market from 25 trillion cubic feet per year to something larger, the same optimistically estimated resource base of 2400 trillion cubic feet will last less than 100 years.
Secondly, Jaczko is being too modest by not claiming credit for his own role in making the economics of nuclear reactors increasingly difficult. He personally threw a huge wrench into the process of renewing licenses for existing reactors and for awarding licenses for new reactors with his illegal manipulation of the process of reviewing the Yucca Mountain license application. He was the driving force behind the aircraft impact rule for new reactors; he pushed as hard as he could to add more requirements for design changes after Fukushima; and he used his power as Chairman to set the Commission agenda as a way to significantly delay the approval of the four new reactors that are under construction.
Every day of delay at the NRC in producing the final COLA approvals for Vogtle and VC Summer after the staff had completed its review added at least a million dollars to the cost of each approved unit. Five months of delay for four units added at least a half a billion dollars of unplanned costs for the rate payers in Georgia and South Carolina. Those additional costs and the unpredictable delay associated with obtaining a license from the NRC is part of the reason customers have been discouraged from placing new orders.
Here is a comment that I submitted to IEEE Spectrum in response to their article:
Greg Jaczko is apparently continuing the profession that he was hired into when he began working for Ed Markey in 1999. He began his professional career as an antinuclear activist after being awarded a PhD in particle physics. His university course of study had nothing to do with nuclear energy production; his thesis described his research into the low energy behavior of baryons and mesons.
By 1999, Markey had already spent more than 20 years in Congress helping the natural gas industry to expand its already lucrative markets in New England. He performed that constituent service (Markey’s congressional district was the home of the only LNG importer that functioned in the US during the 1980s and 1990s) by doing everything in his power as a congressman to slow or stop the use of nuclear fission to produce electricity and heat. Atomic fission is a formidable competitor to natural gas; its heat is cheaper, costing about 70 cents per MMBTU compared to somewhere between $2-$30 per MMBTU for natural gas. Fission heat is also much cleaner; it produces about 20 grams of CO2 for every kilowatt hour, compared to about 500 grams per kilowatt hour for natural gas combustion.
Markey knew that Jaczko had experience as an antinuclear campaigner; he had practiced that “profession” while he was a student at the University of Wisconsin. (Note: I have friends that were involved in the student chapter of the American Nuclear Society at U of W in the same years that Jaczko was a student on “the other side” of the campus. Though they never saw him in any nuclear engineering or radiation physics classes, they knew they could call him any time they needed a nuclear opponent for a public debate on the use of nuclear energy.)
Jaczko served Markey well, but when it was time for a promotion, Jaczko moved on to serve in his chosen profession for Senator Harry Reid. That service positioned Jaczko to be ready to be forced onto the NRC. As a senator, Reid had the unilateral power to hold up judge appointments. In order to convince President Bush to appoint Jaczko, Reid had to stop the confirmation process for more than 100 federal judges, but he kept pressing until he achieved his goal.
As described in Mark Leibovich’s “This Town”, Reid played an important role in President Obama’s early decision to run for office. He pushed a lot of support to Obama from his position as Senate majority leader. After he became president, Obama made a payment on his political debt by firing Dale Klein as the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and promoting Jaczko into the position. Jaczko was, at the time, the only available “Democrat” on the NRC. That commission is supposed to have 5 members — at least 2 from each major political party — but Reid had maneuvered Obama into having no choice but to pick his former staffer. Through several maneuvers during the lengthy 2008 presidential campaign, he created a situation where there were only three commission members (2 Republicans and 1 Democrat) at the time that President Obama took office.
The rest of the story is also interesting, but this comment is already too long. Please visit Atomic Insights and search on Jaczko to read more about the man’s career as a professional antinuclear activist in the service of the multinational natural gas industry.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Yes, I know that this entire post can be considered an ad hominem attack. However, it is an appropriate response in a situation where a man uses his resume as having had an appointed role in a position of nuclear responsibility to add credibility to his statements. It is important for people around the world to understand just how Jaczko ended up in the job, what he knows about nuclear energy production, and what his motivations might be for the statements that he makes about the technology.
Jaczko’s statements must not be taken at face value and he must not be allowed to give the impression that he is a disinterested observer who knows what he is talking about. He is not neutral and not knowledgable about his subject matter when it comes to nuclear energy technology development or the economics of energy supply choices.