On August 2, 2011, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing with all five members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The subject was the 90-day report by six career regulators with recommendations for actions to take as a result of their interpretation of the sketchy information that has been discovered so far in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed three aging reactor units at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station.
I have watched all of the initial speeches by the Senators and am running out of time to post before going to my day job. I promise to come back and produce more details by early tomorrow morning. However, it is important to share what I have learned so far so that others might pick up the ball and run.
There is little doubt that the forces who dislike nuclear energy in all forms have decided that pressing forward to completely overhaul the existing regulatory framework is a great idea that must be implemented within the next 90 days. This is in violation of the way that any good nuke approaches a problem where he sees the potential for improvement, but also recognizes that the existing situation is not broken. As my chiefs used to repeat on submarines – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They knew that breaking down machinery for repairs poses its own risks that the machinery may never work again. That same philosophy holds true for a political or regulatory system – it may not be perfect, it may have a few leaks and creaks, but complete overhauls are risky business.
Of course, if your goal is to break something that is working reasonably well and you do not want to reveal that goal too clearly, it is to your benefit to advocate an overhaul. Just think about the conflict of interest between a car repairman who works for a new car dealership where business is a little slow.
Several senators, including the reliably antinuclear Bernie Sanders, are pushing hard for an immediate overhaul so that the NRC gets completely distracted from all other business, like licensing new reactors or extending the licenses of existing reactors. For Sanders, the motive for distraction extends to his continuing effort to force Vermont Yankee to shut down next year so that his state can import more electricity from Canada and burn more natural gas.
The Chairman of the NRC has already staked out his position; in fact, he preemptively staked it out in a speech to at the National Press Club even before the 6-member review committee had briefed the rest of the Commission on the results of their 90-day quick look. He wants the opportunity to completely destroy the foundations that made the NRC the “gold standard” of international regulatory bodies, and also made the NRC the best place to work in the federal government for several years in a row – before he was appointed as the Chairman and established a hostile work environment.
Though I have not yet gotten to the point in the video where the commissioners have the opportunity to speak, I have read that at least three of the remaining four have expressed a more typically nuclear approach – they want to move forward with care and consideration, being cautious not to break that which is working reasonably well.
Perhaps their caution is because they happen to know more about the technology that they are regulating that Sanders or Jaczko do. (William Ostendorff, for example, retired from the US Navy as a Captain (O-6) after serving on board six nuclear powered submarines including commanding the USS Norfolk, and serving as the Commander of Submarine Squadron Six, where he was ultimately responsible for the operations and maintenance of eight submarines and a floating drydock. As nukes would say, the man is “heavy.”)
This morning, when I checked my investment portfolio, I realized that the uncertainty revealed in that hearing had lowered its value by almost 10% in a single day. The investment community is worried, but I see it as a buying opportunity for companies with excellent prospects for growth in the coming nuclear age.
I freely admit it. I am “all in” when it comes to investing in the fact that nuclear energy is going to play a key role in both the United States and around the world. I remain convinced that the forces of evil that are arrayed against the use of nuclear fission energy will be defeated by key facts:
- Uranium has 2 million times as much energy per unit mass as oil
- Atomic fission does not release any CO2
- Atomic fission does not produce any air pollution at all
- Atomic fission waste products are tiny and fully contained
- The fuel for atomic fission included not only the U-235 that we use today, but also U-238 and Th-232.
- To be more accurate, the latter two need an intermediate step Pu-239 and U-233 respectively. However, I like to think of them as “damp logs” that will burn just fine if you set up the right kind of fire.
- Plenty of smart people know the truth and can overcome the effort of the aging hippies, disgruntled ex-nukes, particle physicists, college dropouts, and oil&gas money that has been successful – so far – in spreading the untrue FUD about nuclear energy.
Now it is time to get ready to go to work and do what I can to help design a nuclear power system that can expand the market for nuclear to places where the extra large plants simply do not fit.