House committee report sharply critical of passive aggressive “decision” on Yucca
The US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology has released a report of its findings on the politically motivated budgetary maneuvers that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko employed to starve his own staff of the funds required to complete their legally mandated review of the DOE Yucca Mountain repository application. He took that action despite Congressional appropriations and without the agreement of his fellow Commissioners.
Here is a key quote from the press release issued by the Committee to introduce its report into the public conversation about nuclear energy and used fuel disposal:
Most noteworthy in this regard is the 695-page Volume III of the NRC’s Safety Evaluation Report (SER). Obtained by the Committee only after repeated demands and over the objections of the NRC Chairman, SER Volume III demonstrates in excruciating detail the level of technical support among NRC and Department of Energy (DOE) experts in favor of the site’s advancement. Overall, the NRC staff review concluded that DOE‘s Yucca Mountain License Application complies with applicable NRC safety requirements necessary for the site to proceed to licensing for construction.
The report strongly urges the Administration provide to Congress the relevant and necessary information related to the Yucca Mountain decision process, allow formal completion of the Safety Evaluation Reports, and bring the DOE’s Motion to Withdraw its license application to a vote before the full commission.
The full report is a 9.0 MB PDF file titled Yucca Mountain: The Administration’s Impact on U.S. Nuclear Waste Management Policy Here is a quote from the Executive Summary:
Why, then, has the President shut down the Yucca Mountain Project? And why does NRC Chairman Jaczko refuse to permit NRC safety review of the site to continue, and refuse to allow his fellow Commissioners to formally vote on DOE‘s Motion to Withdraw the Yucca Mountain License Application? The answer is clearly not explained by or based on any scientific or technical evaluation.
While the specific instances of concern uncovered by the Committee and detailed in this report are convincing in and of themselves, they collectively reveal not just a pattern, but a systematic and active effort on the part of the Administration to obfuscate, delay, and muzzle scientific and technical information and related processes in order to shut down Yucca Mountain.
As I read through the volley of letters between the House Committee and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I was struck by the attempts by Chairman Jaczko to engage in resistance using what appeared to be legalistic language. Since I have done some research on his career and resume, I am wondering how I missed his attendance at law school. (That is sarcasm. Unlike at least one of his fellow Commissioners who is a full member of the bar, Chairman Jaczko has about as much legal training as he does nuclear training. All of it is apparently OJT “on the job” in political staffer jobs where the depth of exposure is rarely more than “once over lightly”.)
I wonder if there is any precedent for taking personal legal action against an agency chairman for purposeful violation of laws that direct his professional obligations? Establishing such a precedent might help provide political appointees with the backbone required to refuse to follow illegal orders, even if they come from the person who appointed them. As it stands now, our constitutional democracy’s system of checks, balances, debate, negotiation, procedures and oversight can be manipulated by the actions of individuals with questionable motives and those individuals are not held legally accountable for their actions.
That needs to change; our system of government is not imperial, individuals have protected rights, but the rights of individuals in positions of responsibility are bounded by law so that they do not take away the rights of the people for whom they are working.
I have often commented on how the whole YM situation as it now stands is really a Constitutional issue. In effect, the DoE and NRC (Chairman) have done an ex post facto veto of an act of Congress (the NWPA). The Constitution grants no such authority to the Executive Branch. Our political system is founded on the principle of separation of powers. Legislative authority is vested in Congress at the federal level. The Congress has passed the NWPA. The President (at the time) signed it. Congress has authorized and appropriated funds to see that it’s provisions are implemented. The Executive has no power to effectively veto after the fact legislation that has passed Congress and been signed into law. The Executive is constitutionally bound to enforce that law. If and when it doesn’t, our system of government breaks down.
How many agendas are there that run counter to the Constitution of the US? From my observation it is not random but an organized eroding of the government to which I pledge loyalty. The inept lack of policy direction and the disinformation printed in the press has but one purpose. The alienation of the majority of citizens from the order of law and the Constitution. This puts the citizen in the position of bond slaves by debts and unilateral direction by a system run amuck. This agenda runs contrary to the government by and for the people.
When “deals” are made and vast sums of capital are transfered via offshore banks without oversite and where government policy is kept from the the public and the Congress there is a problem. When the UAE are granted license for nuclear generation facilities by the unilateral action of the executive branch contrary to our stated policy of non proliferation, there should be a halt and review of the actions of the executive branch before Congress.
Have you noticed, or are you aware of the fact, that similar tactics are taking place at the FCC, EPA, DOJ, DOE, DOL, ED, NLRB, and many other agencies and regulating bodies? It appears to be a systemic “disease” with this administration. And I am not talking about meaningless, trivial, matters. You will not be told about them on the MSM, and, NO, I am not a “Birther” or 9/11 Truther” but I am concerned!
Ask your nuclear power plant contacts working in the licensing department about how the decision on the color of a finding has been ratcheted up, significantly, in the last two years. No Federal Register posting, no rule changes, no new “RegGuide,” no peer review, just higher level findings for actions that two years ago (and since the conception of the color finding system) would have been one or two levels lower. As a case in point – the recent Browns Ferry Red finding. Are you aware of how much a Red finding costs a NPP (ignoring any actual fine if levied)? Five years ago, when I retired the cost typically exceeded $1 to $1.5 million, not including the cost of the replacement equipment. It is probably double that now. Once a NPP receives a Red finding they will also be subject to a more intensive and extensive review and inspection process (and the plant pays for ALL “Inspection” hours and expenses) that in most cases “finds” other findings and in some cases can lead to placing the plant on the “Watch List” costing many millions more to resolve (the plant gets a dedicated “Inspection Team”). Although I am not certain, that could be a factor in shutting down Zion. I do recall they had finding problems at the time that would take time to resolve.
There was a decent amount of discussion about the Browns Ferry red finding here:
I had a suspicion that the NRC may have called it a red finding in part due to the NYTimes article that had been published the weekend just before that which tried to paint the NRC as being cozy with the industry.
Obamna appointed Jackzo as Chairman (don’t make me go all the way through the Bush-Reid-John Roberts thing all over again). Rod voted for Obama and is proud to have done so. Now he complains about Jackzo. Illogical.
@Ioannes – Do you fail to understand the basic principles of freedom and democracy? Just because I vote for a president once every 4 years does not mean that I have to remain quiet for the rest of the time. We all have every right to disagree with individual policies and decisions whether we voted for or against someone. When considering the available field after the primary season, I picked the man who I thought had the best overall strategy and the best overall outlook for America compared to his competition. I still think I made the right choice, though I am certainly not happy with the way things are going today. I was hoping for some better draft choices for key positions and hoping that words about being for the people instead of the wealthy were not just words.
In my mind, choosing or allowing an antinuclear incompetent whose only developed skills are political maneuverings to claim a dictatorial role at the gate keeper agency for the only energy technology with a prayer of easing our dependence on hydrocarbons (domestic AND imported) is a very bad decision that deserves steady criticism and pressure.
Why doesn’t the nuclear industry fight harder to ensure fair, but enabling regulation? Why do they let the words of a guy like Jaczko stand without challenge? How did they ever allow him to be approved as a Commissioner in the first place without howling?
By the way – my first choice for President in the 2008 race was Ron Paul. I could not vote for him in the general election because he did not make a good enough showing in the primary.
Why does the industry not stand up to Jaczko? You know the answer to that: fear. They know the kind of trouble someone like Jaczko can make for anyone who crosses him. He has his hands on the levers of power at the NRC. Look what he has done to YM as an example. Basically shut down a federal program that has cost the citizens of this country tens of billions of dollars for no reason other than political, as the conclusions of this report imply. Someone like Jaczko can ratchet up the I&E machinery and make life a living hell for any nuclear plant owner/operator he thinks might have something less than flattering to say. Call it cowardice if you want, but we’re talking about billions of dollars of infrastructure investment whose operation is the lifeblood of many companies. If it takes adopting a go-along get-along approach to preserve that, the operators are going to toe the line, and Jaczko knows it.
Wayne pretty much called it.
I’ll just add that the nuclear industry has no leverage on him. He’s a guy who used to work for a congressman with 35 years of seniority in the House and also for the current Senate minority leader, who got him the job as head of the NRC. Jaczko can afford to be a jerk; he has very powerful friends who really like what he’s doing.
Brian, remember that Jaczko is the protégé of the current Senate Majority Leader, not just the Minority Leader. That gives him a direct pipeline to one of the most powerful positions in the government. It makes Jaczko untouchable. He essentially has a free hand at the NRC, and elsewhere in government. No one is going to stand up to him as long as Harry Reid is the Majority Leader and backs him. The industry can complain all they want, and all that will get them is Jaczko’s wrath. They know the game better than to risk that.
Sorry. I meant to type _majority_ leader. Don’t know what my fingers were thinking.
The American Nuclear Renaissance is dead until there is new leadership at NRC, the Senate, and the White House.
Thank you for your honesty and courage in posting this. I have not had time yet to read the report, but I plan to. I have also been writing my congressman on a regular basis about the NRC – hand written letters to get attention. I am currently reading HR 909.
Nuclear power is not in competition with other sources, like Natural Gas etc, as a power source (it would win that easily enough). It has been restricted and held down using fear as the main weapon.
In watching the current debates over the environment I see different divisions than the left / right Re / De divide. I see a divide between religious romantic Environmentalists who want to live in a ideal “sustainable” world by which they mean something close to the Fairly land of the Elves in the Lord of the Rings. These do not care about people but only about their “idea” of how things “should be.” These are being opposed by people who see great value in persons and want to do what is best for people – which means caring in a stewardship way for the Environment as a trust to help us improve the lives of others. The big debates about how to care for people make up some of the left / right debate but these are much more mild and person focused than the debates of the true radicals who focus on (I say as a Christian) “Ideals” more than persons. Christ did not tell us to love our “ideas” but to love our neighbors as ourselves.
In this case, Nuclear power has been maneuvered out of the way through political gamesmanship. But the motives for doing so I believe are in the focus on winning what “I” want politically or ideologically rather than focusing on what is best for people. So, I find myself agreeing with you, because you show a deep commitment to people and to the USA as a nation worth defending in the deepest sense. Thank you.
David – thank you for the nice words, but I disagree with your economic theories. Every commodity business is a competitive business. In the energy business, thin slices of market share are worth billions of dollars. It is arguably the world’s largest industry. It is also one of the world’s most fungible industries – nearly every dollar spent buys exactly the same product – heat.
With heat, the science of thermodynamics allows production of a wide variety of energy products including electrical power and motive force. The conversion machinery – for the most part – is pretty inexpensive compared to the fuel. That is true for most machines except for nuclear reactors.
There is very definitely a financial interest on the part of the people who sell natural gas to displace nuclear energy in the market. Since many of the vendors are part of those very well capitalized and high cash flow companies called multinational petroleum companies, they can afford to engage in a price war on a temporary basis if it results in derailing or even just delaying the nuclear renaissance. It would be a sweetener if Jaczko’s actions could result in early closure of a few vulnerable plants like the 2200 MWe Indian point station, the 620 MWe Oyster Creek power station, the Pilgrim plant and perhaps a few others – like those that use MK 1 containment structures. Every 1000 MWe of nuclear electricity capacity that goes away results in an additional 180-200 million cubic feet of natural gas sales every day. At current prices that is at least a million per day. There are few companies that would not be interested in such a revenue bump and have every motive for encouraging antinuclear activities.
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