Readers of Atomic Insights know that I have never been a fan of Dr. Greg Jaczko. He is a politician with no background in nuclear energy production either through education or professional experience. His only claim to knowledge of nuclear energy came through his policy jobs on Congressional and Senate staffs, but his employers in those jobs were two of the most virulently antinuclear politicians in Washington – Representative Edward Markey and Senator Harry Reid.
His initial appointment to the commission was the result of a blatant power play. Senator Reid was holding up several dozen judicial nominations; his condition for releasing that hold was for President Bush to appoint Jaczko to serve on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Many observers have indicated that they believe the motivation for that forced appointment was to derail the Yucca Mountain project, an action that has been a focal point of Reid’s career for a couple of decades.
When President Obama was elected to be President, the NRC was down to just three members; Jaczko was the only Democrat on the panel so the President elevated him to the job of Chairman, giving him additional power to do his patrons’s bidding.
What is rarely discussed, perhaps because of a lack of courage or a questioning attitude, is the fact that Jaczko’s other mentor in Washington, Representative Ed Markey, has built his 30 plus year career in Congress on a much broader antinuclear platform. He has been extremely active in opposition to nuclear energy since being elected in the mid 1970s.
It is my theory that Markey’s antinuclear activism, which contributed to the early retirement of several nuclear plants in New England, has something to do with the fact that his district hosts the only Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in the United States that has been in continuous operation since the early 1970s. Without the removal of nuclear plants in the Northeast US from the power grid, that facility would not have had sufficient markets for its imported natural gas to keep the price high enough for profitable operations.
As a measure of the influence that Rep. Markey has with his colleagues, I want to recount a personal story. Sometime around 2001-2002, I had the opportunity to brief Congressman Mike Bilirakis and Congressman Joe Barton about the potential benefits of closed cycle nuclear gas turbines. At the end of the intense half hour of discussion, Congressman Barton closed the meeting with a memorable question – “Do you know how hard it would be to get any support for this technology from Ed Markey?”
I am pretty certain that Dr. Jaczko was asked do everything he could do to slow the development of nuclear energy and the deployment of nuclear reactor plants that inevitably reduce the demand for hydrocarbon fuels. All of the nonsense that Jaczko spouts about being concerned for safety is just that – nonsense.
People who are truly concerned about making nuclear energy safe study safety related topics like mechanical engineering, indications and controls, nuclear engineering, and probabilistic risk assessment. They study human factors and learn how to train operators, lay out control systems and add reliability. They envision realistic emergency scenarios and devise coping strategies.
What Jazcko sometimes describes as a “cozy” relationship between regulators and licensees that existed before his arrival on the Commission is more properly described a respectful, professional relationship. In a functional regulatory relationship there is clear, unvarnished communication between the owners of the plants who are actually responsible to employees, local residents, ratepayers and stockholders for operating safe reactors and the people who must provide the oversight of those operations. A professional relationship with good communications helps to help keep everyone involved honest and focused on the effective use of nuclear energy to safely improve the public health, improve the common security, and improve the environment.
In his final interview as Chairman, Jaczko once again shows how vain he is as he tries to portray himself as the only person associated with the nuclear energy enterprise in the United States who is concerned with nuclear safety. I am sure that if the 4,000 professionals at the agency really listened closely to what he is saying, most of them would be deeply offended. I say “most” because Jaczko has been at the agency for long enough to have hand-picked several dozen people who share his attitude that the only truly safe nuclear plant is one that is shut down.
Here is a quote from the recent NRC Inspector General (IG) report that investigated allegations that he bullied his staff and withheld information from his fellow commissioners while attempting to impose his agenda on the Commission:
In August 2011, North Anna Power Station (North Anna) shut down after significant seismic activity onsite from an earthquake; both of the reactors tripped and there was a loss of offsite power. In October 2011, the Chairman participated in a quarterly status briefing at headquarters with NRC managers; one NRC region participated via video-teleconference. During the quarterly status briefing, a senior executive discussed a targeted safety evaluation report for North Anna to be completed in the first week of November 2011. The senior executive said that the Chairman believed there were still a lot of unknowns and wondered why there was such a push forward. The senior executive described the Chairman as upset and indicated that he had previously communicated to the senior executive’s supervisor that there should not be a target date for issuing a safety inspection and did not understand why North Anna was a priority.
According to the senior executive, the Chairman began yelling and asked why the senior executive was not taking notes. The senior executive was trying to write down the Chairman’s message and after receiving clarification on the message, the senior executive asked whether the Chairman would like to hear more, and he responded, “No.” The senior executive stated that at one point during the conversation, the Chairman told the senior executive that the senior executive did not know how to manage, then stated, “I know how to manage, I run this agency.” The senior executive recalled the Chairman questioned, “Don’t you have more important safety issues? Why aren’t you working on all the other issues that you have out there? Why are you putting such an effort into this situation? It’s not a safety issue. That plant is shut down. It doesn’t need to have so much effort on our part.” The senior executive felt intimidated and bullied.
At the conclusion of the status briefing, the Chairman asked to speak to the senior executive. The Chairman explained that he needed to change the culture in the NRC, and that “helping the plants start back up should not be our concern.” He said the senior executive was an important manager and he needed the senior executive to support him and his attempts to change the culture.
The good news is that Jaczko’s bullying did not have too much negative effect in that specific instance; North Anna received permission from the NRC to restart in mid November 2011. It appears that the senior executive who was responsible stood his ground. He (or she) did his (or her) job to complete the safety evaluation and get the plant back on line. Jaczko’s philosophy about safe plants being only those that are shut down, however, came through loud and clear in that exchange.
Though Dominion Resources, the owner of the North Anna station, does not provide electricity directly to my home, I live close enough to the station that its absence from the grid affected me. Because it was not available, more coal was burned in the local area, causing an increase in pollution. Because more coal was burned, the supply-demand balance tipped more in favor of the sellers, contributing to an increase in the price of coal and a significant increase in my electrical power rates.
Every day that the plants were shut down cost consumers about $2 million in replacement power costs. The ONLY damage found at the plant was a small chunk of concrete, about the size of a dinner plate, that fell off of a foundation for a nonsafety-related system. Taking action that enables safe nuclear power plants to produce large quantities of emission free, affordable power should be reasonably high on the priority list of the agency with a monopoly on providing the required permission.
At the end of this post, I have embedded the video of Jaczko’s last interview with Platts. I hope that Dr. Macfarlane, the new Chairman, listens a lot better than Dr. Jaczko did to the professionals that surround her and realizes that nuclear safety is a key focus for all of us. Our focus on safety is not changed by the fact that we know that operating nuclear fission power plants are a beneficial to the health, safety, prosperity and environmental cleanliness of America.
There is little doubt that Dr. Jaczko intends to pursue his antinuclear agenda in his future employment, wherever that happens to be. I suspect that he is going to continue in the tradition of Peter Bradford and Victor Gillinsky. I feel the need to share that knowledge as widely as possible to enable nuclear professionals to recognize the fact that he is a professional opponent to the increasing use of safe nuclear energy as a replacement for more dangerous and destabilizing fossil fuels.