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  1. Conversely, from the perspective of the people conducting the approval process:

    Nobody ever gets fired for doing nothing. However, people get fired for exceeding their authority all the time. Lawyers are arguing over where the line is, and the line never stops moving, and all previous decisions are reviewable and the people who made them are fireable, on the basis of a legal standard that didn’t exist at the time the decision was made.

    So what do you do? If there is anything at all novel about what the applicant wants to do, you insist to the applicant that you have no authority to act on their application. This only changes once you have a directive, in writing, from someone above you. That person is unlikely to make such a directive unless they’re such a short-timer that they won’t get fired when the rules are reinterpreted. This is how political appointees get exasperated with minor and obvious decisions being kicked up to them instead of being resolved three levels below, where by any logic they should have been.

    What it looks like to the applicant is that old political cartoon of the officials standing in a circle and pointing to the next guy. (You go to the Department of X. They say, “X doesn’t have authority to do that. Y does. Ask them.” You go to the Department of Y. You go there and they say, “Y doesn’t have authority to do that. X does. Ask them.”) Meanwhile, the organization as a whole drops the ball. No individual person in it has any incentive to act in the group’s interest.

    I call this the “organizational infield fly rule.”

    Much of the anti-nuclear activism in the courts is effective precisely by creating this type of doubt in the minds of the NRC staff – not by changing policy. All they have to do is create that question in the back of a junior manager’s mind: “will I be fired if I sign this?”

    The path of least resistance? Appoint another committee to write another report.

  2. Rod, do you think this is still a problem today, wrt to new designs and changes to old operating designs? If so, what do you specifically propose as a solution?

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