On May 4, 2011, the Subcommittee on Energy and Power and the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy conducted a hearing titled The Role of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in America’s Energy Future.
Watching that hearing and digesting what I heard has resulted in several sleepless nights. I have been struggling with how to share the knowledge that comes from combining the experience of watching that performance with the experience gained in a 33 year long career as a presidentially commissioned leader serving to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
I have determined that although Gregory Jaczko may be a personally honorable man who is doing the best job he knows how to do, he is a domestic enemy to the Constitution of the United States. He is serving as the chairman of a presidentially appointed commission that has been granted significant decision making authority based on a presumption of expertise in a highly technical field. He is ruling that commission in a unilateral (almost royal) manner based on a broad reading of legislative language that grants authority normally assigned to the full commission to the person occupying the appointed position of chairman.
Here is the language of the statute on which Chairman Jaczko is basing his assumption of full commission authority.
Sec. 3. (a) Notwithstanding sections 1 and 2 of this Reorganization Plan, there are hereby transferred to the Chairman all the functions vested in the Commission pertaining to an emergency concerning a particular facility or materials licensed or regulated by the Commission, including the functions of declaring, responding, issuing orders, determining specific policies, advising the civil authorities, and the public, directing, and coordinating actions relative to such emergency incident.
I have carefully checked and determined that there is no material and there are no facilities that are regulated by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission that are located anywhere near Fukushima, Japan. There is thus no basis on which to assume that an emergency situation exists that prevents the full commission from exercising the intended give and take to arrive at technically solid decisions. There is no justification for unilateral action and no pressing need to exercise it. Chairman Jaczko has a very talented and experienced Commission that could help him develop better decisions, but he is ignoring their advice in order to implement his own agenda.
The full hearing is about 2.5 hours long, but here is a clip that provides a the flavor of the questions and answers that combined with previous knowledge to lead me to my distressing conclusion and declaration that I believe Jaczko is an enemy of the Constitution.
I describe my declaration of Jaczko as an enemy of the Constitution as distressing because the NRC plays an important role in the continued operation and future development of atomic energy. It is the gatekeeper for the only available technology that has the proven ability to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans by producing vast quantities of emission free, reliable, affordable electric power and heat.
Having the NRC led by a dictatorial leader who is both the most lightly prepared commissioner in decades and an opponent of nuclear energy development reminds me why monarchies governed by leaders chosen by the accident of birth or as a result of success in battle have had such a poor performance histories. I struggled with the decision to write and post this article because I know that turmoil at the NRC has the very real potential of doing exactly what nuclear energy opponents want – it can add delay and cost to all nuclear projects.
However, I am pretty sure that I am not the only source of turmoil and controversy at the agency, so I decided that my thoughts and information are important enough to share. (See, for example, Dan Yurman’s excellent response to a critical New York Times article about the NRC in which Jaczko is portrayed as something of a white knight fixing a broken agency. You might also enjoy Meredith Angwin’s comparison of the NRC to Japanese regulators. )
Jaczko has been the subject of a lot of print, video and electronic text during his service as a Commissioner and as Chairman. Many of the articles have mentioned that he used to work for Representative Markey and others have mentioned that he also worked for Senator Harry Reid. What most articles fail to highlight is that Jaczko has ONLY worked for those two avowed critics of nuclear energy. Here is his complete professional resume at the time that he was put on the commission as part of a political maneuver to convince Senator Reid to remove a hold on several unrelated judicial appointments:
That’s all, folks. That exceedingly light professional experience base is all that supports Jaczko’s decision making skills. It literally makes me weep to think that the byzantine rules of the Senate have contributed to a political process that puts such a weakly trained person in a position where he is assumed to be the expert. He is even assumed, by the entire world, to know what he is doing when he recommends that all Americans within 50 miles of six already shutdown nuclear reactors evacuate from the area.
I hope you can tell that I believe that was an ill-advised decision. The basis of that decision was a model run that included full vaporization of an operating 2350 MWth reactor as the radiation source term, not contained reactors that had been shut down for several days.
I also know that Dr. Jaczko is sensitive about his lack of experience and works hard to cover that lack of knowledge with a practiced ability to respond to questions in language that would make Allen Greenspan proud. (There are some subjects, like bureaucratic language 401, where Washington has some of the best teachers in the world.) My evidence for his sensitivity came on December 8, 2010, when I blogged about his talk at the Nuclear Energy Summit. I mentioned that his performance demonstrated that it is not a good idea to appoint a 38-year-old to lead an important federal agency. That post appeared at 5:59 am.
Before noon of that same day, I had a curt email from the Director of Public Affairs at the NRC correcting me, saying that Jaczko was 40, not 38. I told him that my statement referred to his age at the time of his appointment. The end result of the email conversation was an admission that I was off by about 6 months in age and timing of the appointment.
I checked with a friend who earned his PhD in Nuclear Engineering at the same school and in the same year as when Dr. Jaczko earned his PhD in particle physics. He never met Jaczko even though they were on the same campus studying supposedly related subjects for half a dozen years.
I believe it is unlikely that Jaczko ever stepped foot into a nuclear engineering class or a class on radiation protection, or a class on water chemistry. I am pretty sure that those classes are not offered to staff members for Markey or Reid. If Jaczko knows anything about the complex technology that he regulates, it was a result of reading available materials or as a result of listening to political hearings. Based on the record of his bosses, I am pretty sure that Glasstone and Sesonske’s fundamental text on Nuclear Reactor Engineering was not available.
I am not a working journalist. I am a blogger who happens to have a passion for sharing knowledge about nuclear energy. Unlike journalists who are professionally trained to be unbiased, I have developed strong opinions. I made my living as a career naval officer, not as a writer. I retired as a Commander but am now working in a second career as an engineer/analyst for a company developing a small modular reactor.
Like the thousands of service academy graduates who have served the United States as career leaders, I was inculcated with a strong set of values at a young age. (I entered the Naval Academy in July 1977 and did not have my 18th birthday until December of that year.) The values of honor, courage and commitment were added to the values that my parents and other important mentors provided during my early formative years.
During a long career, I learned how important it was to exercise authority and how important it was to do the difficult homework required. The habit of study that is a basic part of service helps improve the chances of making good decisions and helps leaders to earn the respect of the people they are assigned to lead so that those decisions can be effectively implemented.
I learned how to operate complex technology in demanding environments, how to ask hard questions and recognize the difference between BS and a good answer, and how to develop strong teams that could provide mutual support. I aspired to command, and respected the Navy’s process of selection, including the well known risks of immediate relief upon a loss of confidence by superiors.
Though I took a unique path through my career and never served as a commanding officer, I completed the demanding process of qualifying to serve in that role. I worked for dozens of commanding officers and supported decision makers at the highest levels in the Navy while serving on three different Washington, DC staffs. Exercising wide ranging authority requires very special people; one of the main strengths of our democratic system is that we developed some amazing merit-based selection systems over the years.
There is a great deal of knowledge about nuclear technology and nuclear focused people that Jaczko does not even know he does not know. His entire experience base on which to view of the world is from inside the Beltway; he has never worked anywhere else. It is time for him to go out and fill in that missing knowledge. He cannot do that when his only trips are with a group of select staffers to visit known antinuclear groups and sworn enemies of well-operated and strategically located plants like Indian Point. It is impossible to learn about reality from the top.
Jaczko will be visiting Indian Point today, accompanied by two local politicians who have decided to serve their donors instead of their constituents. They are working to shut down the safe, reliable, zero emission source of 30% of New York City’s electricity in favor of burning an additional 400 million cubic feet of natural gas every day that the 2200 MWe plant is not running. If they are successful, the inevitable results will be dirtier air, a greater risk of fatal pipeline explosions, higher electricity prices, and greater wealth for purveyors of natural gas and the financiers of the required infrastructure projects.