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11 Comments

  1. I share Rod’s concern about the reduced budget requested by the NRC Chairman. The potential certainly exists that NRC regulatory bottlenecks could become the rate limiting process or choke point in building new nuclear.

    Perhaps mild comfort may be found in the persistent myth that the best way to get a project through a technical bureaucracy is to find the most overworked inspector with the largest pile of prints on his desk and the deepest stack of projects in his inbox and give your project to him. Some government offices tend to overload their most productive and conscientious workers. Perhaps Chairman Jaczko is attempting to do more than just pinch pennies and is trying to create an agency of this type of worker?

    1. Robert – as a long time bureaucrat myself, I will testify that the idea of “if you want something done, ask a busy person” works to a certain extent – the government does, in fact, have some employees that would never survive in any competitive business who are functionally incapable of accomplishing even the simplest task. Any reasonably competent manager will slough those kinds of employees off to a very clean, bare cubicle without any assignments so they cannot interfere with real production.

      HOWEVER, it is a completely unfair myth for those who believe those kinds of employees are much more than a few percent of a reasonably well run agency. I have had many dealings with the NRC staff over the years; they are definitely a well run agency from the professional staff leaders on down. They are smart, extremely hard working and competent at their assigned tasks. Even those kinds of workers can get overwhelmed and overloaded to the point where they accomplish only a portion of their tasks. If they try to get them all done, they essentially cease to function – sort of like a really fine computer processor that simply has too many things thrown at it at once.

      I take issue with some of their politically appointed leaders and chafe at some of their politically determined rules, but I believe they are simply the best in the world at reasonably applying the rules they are given to ensure safe construction, maintenance and operation of nuclear power plants.

      What we need to do – all of us who passionately believe that nuclear energy is the ONLY tool in the box strong enough to overcome the challenges posed by our current energy supply system – is to work publicly and forcefully to bring this situation of poor leadership at the very top of the NRC to the attention of the people and the President. As demonstrated many months ago, the designation of “Chairman” among the appointed commissioners at the NRC can be changed with the stroke of a pen.

  2. I think it’s fairly obvious – in my opinion – why Chailman Jackzo is slashing the budget – the same reason he had a meeting with the antis in Congress – and the same reason he’s started speaking out about the “high cost of nuclear power”. He’s trying to accomplish with budgetary means, what he can’t accomplish with regulatory means, a goal at cross-purposes with the agenda of the President; he’s gone rogue on Obama.

    The man has an inside track to the antis – being a researcher for Markey, or something like that – and being the only remaining Democrat on the Commission when the existing Chair’s term expires – he logically, summarily (and misguidedly) gets automatically promoted to Chair by the Obama Administration, solely because he’s a Democratic appointee (though this is devastating to the industry, it is customarily the way business is done – the Chair of an Independent Commission is of the same party as the President, if the President gets to make a choice, period). The problem is that once appointed, appointees can go rogue.

    Now, obviously, Jackzo disagrees with what Obama is doing in terms of promoting nuclear energy (after all – he was Harry Reid’s payback to the industry, by way of Representative Markey, for locating Yucca in Nevada) – he never signed on to the Obama agenda, or had deep connections with the President. He doesn’t feel quite bound by the President’s agenda, either; he hasn’t got the memo and he won’t get the memo. His efforts to control the staff have probably failed, the two Republican commissioners still outvote him, the two incoming Democratic commissioners will join with the Republican commissioners on nearly all issues, and the only thing he can do is use his very small bully pulpit and his very small authority over the budget of the NRC to try and grief and troll the imminent Renaissance. This is why action is necessary to confirm the Democratic nominees to the NRC as soon as possible as well as support necessary congressional action to ensure a well-funded NRC – and in the future – to exert pressure on the Administration – to give the NRC the budget it needs to do its job regardless of what the Chairman requests.

    If pressure is applied to the right places in Congress and the Budget Office, I suppose this misguided funding decision can be reversed.

  3. Dave – confirming nominees of any kind is becoming quite a problem (see Senator Shelby’s hold). Our government seems to be sliding slowly toward complete dysfunction, with the insane and archaic rules of the Senate the primary cause — a determined minority can prevent any action at all.

  4. Well, look on the bright side. Congress will now have more money to pay lawyers to fight off the lawsuits that will be filed against the government for reneging on its promises (and laws) by terminating the Yucca Mountain license application.

    The difference is that the money that was going to be “wasted” on a license application is the utilities’ money, which was explicitly collected for this purpose. The money that will now be wasted on lawyers is taxpayer money. I get warm fuzzy feelings knowing that my tax dollars are being so well spent. 😉

    Anybody who is surprised at Jaczko’s actions is a fool. This is exactly what I expected from him. Dave’s got his number. He pretty much described Jaczko’s pedigree to a tee, although I’m not so sure about the “going rogue” part. Obama had to know what to expect from Jaczko, and even if he didn’t, Reid most certainly knew. This cannot come as a surprise to the Democratic leadership.

    Anyhow, all is not lost. Congress can still increase the budget for the NRC.

  5. Rod, in several posts you have complained about the unncessary safety standards that are inflating the cost of new nuclear. What do you think is going to happen to all of these reviewers after they’re done with this initial bubble of design reviews? Does government ever get smaller? I believe the problem will only get worse. So any word of relaxation in staff in a government agency, doesn’t tend to upset me quite as much as the other way around.

    1. Brian – I do not expect the safety reviews to slow down any time in the near future. If anything, they should increase as we recognize that it is possible to actually get a design and site through the process and as more people recognize that you cannot solve our twin energy and climate problems without nuclear.

      When it is time for the agency to begin shrinking because the work starts to go away, I have no doubt that there will be plenty of job opportunities for the people who have been doing the license reviews. There are plenty of examples of specific agencies within the government reducing their size as their workload decreases. It may very well be a good thing to have fewer people in government service, but it is never good to have fewer people at the license bureau when you are trying to get a license and have taken your ticket to wait in line. That statement is true whether you are desiring a driver’s license, a fishing license or a combined construction and operating license.

  6. Thought that you might want to know that cutting the budget only saves rate-payers money, not Uncle Sam. It also does not give Obama more money to spend. The NRC is self-funded. They MUST collect 100% of their expenses (operating budget) from the regulated entities. Once the NRC establishes a budget, the total is divided up by a magical formula and all users get to pay their share. Nuclear power plants have a heavier burden than hospitals and geological surveyors that use sources, but all pay at least something. Additionally, any extra inspection, review, license change application, even reviews to resolve previous “findings” have a federal register” approved billing rate (about $200 per hour now). The fines are extra and go directly to Uncle Sam. Even radiographers (think x-ray of pipes, etc) have to pay for their license. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) does the same thing. All of this is published annually in the federal register, with the “license” fees for the next year. They just raised the fee on my Ham Radio license!

    1. Rich – to be more accurate, cutting the budget would save licensees money. In some cases, licensees are rate regulated utilities who can roll the license fee into future rate cases, but there are a growing numbers of licensees who are merchant electric power suppliers. Any reduction in fees will fall to stockholders or employees (often the rich guys at the pinnacle of the company); they will not be passed on to customers since the price of electricity is normally set by something other than a nuclear plant bid.

      A reduction of $13.3 million out of a billion dollar budget will not do much to lower the fee price, but that amount of money could pay for 80 (or more) additional regulators who can review license applications.

  7. Could the real reason be that they know they will not be reviewing any of these nuclear power plant license applications that Obama says we are going to build? (Because they know it is a ruse to get GOP buy in on the bill.)

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