On June 15, 2011, the professional staff at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission provided a brief to the commission. It was the second of three planned status updates on the Task Force Review of NRC Processes and Regulations Following Events in Japan. The briefing started with a report by Bill Borchardt the NRC’s Executive Director for Operations (EDO). Mr. Borchardt described the NRC’s current understanding of the condition of the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, including the condition of the spent fuel pool for unit four. You can find the full 1 hour 45 minute video on the NRC’s public meeting archive. Here is the key segment regarding the condition of the facility.
An Associated Press reporter who watched the brief heard the Executive Director of Operations state that recently released video and water samples indicate that the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 never went completely dry despite all previous words to the contrary. He stated that this contradicted previously released statements. The reporter, who has obviously been following the story or at least doing up to date research put the restrained language of the technical staff into perspective. He reminded readers of the context and the history that made the statement more interesting that it might appear to anyone who has not been paying much attention.
U.S. officials, most notably Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, had warned that all the water was gone from one of the spent fuel pools at Japan’s troubled nuclear plant, raising the possibility of widespread nuclear fallout. Loss of cooling water in the reactor core could have exposed highly radioactive spent fuel rods, increasing the threat of a complete fuel meltdown and a catastrophic release of radiation.
Japanese officials denied the pool was dry and reported that the plant’s condition was stable.
On Wednesday, U.S. officials said newly obtained video shows that the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex probably did not go dry, as Jaczko had insisted in March.
Bill Borchardt, the NRC’s executive director for operations, said U.S. officials welcomed the video evidence as “good news” and one indication that the meltdown at the Fukushima plant’s Unit 4 reactor “may not have been as serious as was believed.”
Though I have no way of knowing exactly what the people who were manning the NRC’s emergency response center thought they had heard or seen to indicate that the Japanese report was wrong, I have been questioning the statements that the Chairman has made, claiming special information from that staff, since the day they were made. There were many indications available that the team in the response center, which had been personally approved by the Chairman to be in that center, were operating without any sources of information that were better than those available to the rest of the world.
It is important to remember that the Chairman testified to a Congressional committee that he firmly discouraged his fellow commissioners from entering into the emergency response center. My grapevine tells me that he also stationed a guard at the door who prevented even very senior professionals from entering to provide assistance and advice to the selected emergency team.
He did not entertain any questions about his decision, insisting that he and his selected staff knew enough to recommend an order to evacuate all Americans within 50 miles of the facility, including, tragically, the American soldiers and sailors who were helping the Japanese first responders to take care of as many earthquake and tsunami victims as possible in the all important first few days after such a major natural disaster.
The NRC Public Affairs spokesmen continue to defend the 50 mile evacuation decision as being made with the best available information. I have been told more than once by the Public Affairs staff that they work for the Chairman. It would be a very surprising development if the official spokesman publicly questioned the decisions that his boss has made. That is especially true considering Jaczko’s self-admitted tendency to lose his temper and the man’s IG-documented tendency to take vindictive action against people who do not support his actions.
The effort to demote Jaczko from his chairmanship or to encourage his resignation should not been seen as a partisan issue or be understood to be based solely on his actions with regard to the Yucca Mountain license evaluation. He has taken actions that will increase our dependence on fossil fuel (and further enrich fossil fuel suppliers) by harming nuclear energy production with relation to Fukushima, to license renewals for plants like Oyster Creek, Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim, to the AP1000 design certification, and to fire protection rules.
Before working for Senator Harry Reid, Chairman Jaczko held just one other job after college – he was a science advisor for Representative Ed Markey, one of the most consistently antinuclear congressmen in the US House of Representatives. That may be circumstantial evidence, but taken in combination with his actions during the past 2 years, it seems pretty clear to me that Jaczko is acting as a carefully placed sleeper agent with a mission of destroying a vital part of the American energy infrastructure.
Chairman Jaczko has proven himself to be technically incompetent, a poor personnel manager, and a poor emergency response leader. His primary proven skill is political manipulation of an already Byzantine process to get the results desired by his antinuclear political patrons. He is endangering the reputations and livelihoods of thousands of competent and dedicated nuclear professionals. He is also putting the energy security and economic prosperity of several generations of Americans at risk. He needs to go – soon.