Dr. Jaczko declined the invitation to participate in the Platts Energy Week discussion and more fully explain the position that he stated last week during a side session at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference.
As was pointed out during the introductions in the above video, the side sessions were organized by different groups than the main conference. The session where Jaczko made his remarks was titled Fukushima Nuclear Accident: Shortcomings of Safety Regulation and Lessons Learned and was organized by Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation.
Update (Posted April 16, 2013 at 2:43) When I first posted the Energy Week Video above, I had a limited amount of time before another commitment. Now I want to address the early exchange between Bill Loveless, the interviewer from Platts Energy Week, and James Acton, a nuclear policy specialist with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Bill Loveless: Gentlemen, it’s not every day that you hear a former regulator raise such serious concerns about the industry that he once oversaw. James, what do you make of that?
James Acton: Good morning Bill. I know I am here because the Chairman made his remarks at an event organized by the Carnegie Endowment and I should just clarify to start with that these were remarks made to a reporter after a side event organized by a different organization. But more substantively, they were pretty surprising comments that Chairman Jaczko made, and I disagree with them for reasons that I am sure we are going to get into in depth during this interview.
But the one thing that I want to put up front is that I think that the nuclear industry needs to find a more constructive way of engaging with its critics. Playing the man rather than the ball, which again we’ve seen from the industry in the last few days as they’ve sought to attack Chairman Jaczko is not in the long term good of the nuclear industry. And people like me who believe that nuclear energy is a necessary part of addressing climate change need to come out and say that the nuclear industry has to learn to engage more constructively with its critics.
While I strongly agree that the nuclear industry needs to constructively engage its critics, I also believe that there are occasions when “playing the man” is a necessary part of the game, especially one as important as the future of nuclear energy.
Dr. Jaczko has carefully constructed a resume that looks impressive in an author blurb. He has powerful friends that will ensure that his words are widely promoted – heck, I am helping promote them.
If everyone who favors the use of nuclear energy takes the high road and only addresses the statements that he makes instead of investigating his motives for making them and pointing out that his resume is no where near as strong as it might appear, a huge quantity of time and money will be expended and the prospects of the nuclear energy revival that is critical for the prosperity of humanity will dim.
It is terrific for the Nuclear Energy Institute to respond to Chairman Jaczko’s remarks with a statement like Marv Fertel made very soon after the remarks became public.
U.S. nuclear energy facilities are operating safely. That was the case prior to Greg Jaczko’s tenure as Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman. It was the case during his tenure as NRC chairman, as acknowledged by the NRC’s special Fukushima response task force and evidenced by a multitude of safety and performance indicators. It is still the case today, particularly as every U.S. nuclear energy facility adds yet another layer of safety by implementing lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident.
However, I think it is also necessary for people who have been watching the Jaczko saga for many years to share information about the man who made the statements so that the industry does not have to bend over backward or spend additional money on yet more fail safes and back up systems.
Dr. Jaczko’s main complaint was that large nuclear reactors generate a substantial quantity of heat even after they have been shut down. His statement, as described in Matt Wald’s New York Times article titled Ex-Regulator Says Reactors Are Flawed seems to indicate that it is a topic new enough to Dr. Jaczko that he only began thinking about it after the events at Fukushima.
Asked why he did not make these points when he was chairman, Dr. Jaczko said in an interview after his remarks, “I didn’t really come to it until recently.”
“I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” which were made more evident by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, he said. “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”
Dr. Jaczko cited a well-known characteristic of nuclear reactor fuel to continue to generate copious amounts of heat after a chain reaction is shut down. That “decay heat” is what led to the Fukushima meltdowns. The solution, he said, was probably smaller reactors in which the heat could not push the temperature to the fuel’s melting point.
What Dr. Jaczko does not seem to understand is that nuclear energy professionals have been working on designs and operational procedures aimed at safely handling decay heat since the earliest days of nuclear power development. There is a whole subset of the profession that are thermal hydraulics specialists who spend a good portion of their careers developing models, making calculations and envisioning alternative cooling scenarios depending on available equipment.
It is not a Band-Aid on Band-Aid approach so much as it is a snug-fitting pants, belt, and suspenders approach that ensures there are many alternative methods of ensuring safety. By both design and by procedure, nuclear plants are well protected against core damage.
The public safety is even more protected than the cores, since even if there is a core damage event, the probability of any harm to people is lowered by additional layers of protection like containment buildings and the tendency of many isotopes to dissolve in water and to plate out on plant equipment rather than leak into the environment.
If the concern had been raised by almost any other member of the public, addressing the concern as I did above is the right approach. However, when the concern comes from a man who served as a Commissioner on the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 7.3 years and who served as Chairman of that Commission for almost four years, a body check or hard tackle is also in order.
Dr. Jaczko has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, not in nuclear engineering. After completing his dissertation which involved producing computer models of the low energy behavior of baryons and mesons, he proceeded immediately to Washington, DC to join the staff of Rep Ed Markey, a man who has consistently opposed nuclear energy ever since his first election in 1976. Greg Jaczko served on Markey’s staff for 18 months (6/99 – 12/2000) on the Professional Staff Committee on Environment and Public Works (3/2001 – 8/2001) and on the staff of Senator Harry Reid (8/2001-1/2005).
In January 2005 he was appointed to be a commissioner on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That appointment was the result of a political maneuver by Senator Reid to block at least 100 judicial appointments; the price of releasing that block was putting Jaczko on the commission so that he could block the completion of the Yucca Mountain waste repository.
He was, by no means, an expert in nuclear safety. In fact, he had no experience or education on the topic whatsoever. His mentors in Washington are people that have made no secret of the fact that they would like to halt all nuclear energy production, even in the face of hydrocarbon supply constraints and global climate change.
Jaczko’s commentary should be dismissed as coming from a man with an agenda and without any professional credibility. If he feels insulted because he gets personally attacked, perhaps he should rethink the impact of his own attacks on the integrity and competence of an entire profession who have dedicated their lives to the important task of creating safe, reliable, emission-free energy.
In my opinion, effective response to criticism is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different critics require different responses and different subjects of the criticism can respond in different ways. It is often worthwhile for someone to aim at the archer, even while others are shielding themselves or dodging the arrows.
One final note: Though I am a longtime proponent of smaller reactors, partly because removing decay heat is easier if there is less initial heat to begin with, I am not impressed by Jaczko’s mention of smaller reactors or newer technology. He made no effort during his time as Chairman to speed up the process of reviewing new reactors and he did not initiate any changes that would overcome existing regulatory obstacles, like an annual fee structure where every reactor pays the same $4.7 million per year, no matter how large or small.
Like many people that do not want nuclear energy to displace fossil fuel in the market, Dr. Jaczko apparently favors reactors that do not actually exist. Instead, he is aiming at those that are already generating 800 billion kilowatt-hours of clean electricity every year.