1. Completely agree Rod,

    We cannot go on like this. Everywhere in democratic, advanced nations, an atmosphere of passive acceptance of the absurd is creeping ever forward. We are urged to ‘accept the things we cannot change’. We are urged to ‘know the difference between our sphere of interest, and our sphere of influence’ (the latter being of course far, far smaller than the first).

    Frankly, I am sick and tired of it.

    I applaud those who do not submit to this philosophy of inaction and acceptance. I applaud those who point fingers, name names, and bring the hammer down (however small) on the people that seek to marginalise truth-seeking and maximise indifference and defeatism.

    You have my full support and cheers, for what its worth.


  2. As for Obama’s motivations, well, I think that he was moved. He wants a kinder, and gentler Jaczko in charge of the NRC. 😉

  3. Rod, keep fighting the good fight on this one.

    It seems that both sides of the political spectrum see how dysfunctional our national government is. But the solutions proposed by both sides often are just more of the same political maneuvering that produced the problem in the first place. We see it here in the Macfarlane nomination. The folks over at the NEI have spent so much time “inside the beltway” that they think that nothing can be done, or worse yet, that this situation is normal.

    Alan Waltar has it right. The NRC should not be made an arm of any political party.

    The NRC should be concerned with providing our nation with safe and economical energy. Making nuclear energy as safe as it can possibly be is a bad goal if it makes nuclear energy so hard to do that less safe alternatives are used instead (e.g., coal and gas). Using equally safe alternatives (e.g. wind and solar) makes no sense if they cannot provide the economical 24/7 power we need.

    I submit that the NRC has already made nuclear energy safe. We now need the NRC to work on making nuclear energy more economical and easier to do (and thus used more often).

  4. Passive acceptance of Dr. MacFarlane as NRC Chairman is clearly what this administration wants. In fact, that is the way this administration’s agenda has been “presented” to the consumer public.
    It is absurd to continue using hydrocarbon energy in the face of climate change given the evidence for new nuclear presented by the National Laboratories at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge. Laboratories in Russia and Italy are working on designs for new nuclear and China is operating two demonstration Thorium (LFTR) reactors in scaling up for mass producing such reactors. In fact China’s entire energy program is now focusing on Thorium liquid cooled reactors. It is clear to me that every politician inside the beltway has been bought by hydrocarbon energy “Contributions to reelection campaigns”. Russia, on the other hand, is owned and operated by Oligarchs directed (Managed) by Putin.

    1. In my day job, I was in Russia for consulting on the HVAC system for a new (huge) datacenter two years ago. The datacenter electric load would be about 100 MW(e) when fully built out. There was an issue on how to power the datacenter. The two options were to connect with an (expensive) electric connection to the grid or to build a natural gas ICE generator park next to the datacenter.

      I made the suggestion of powering the datacenter with mini nuclear power stations like the Toshiba 4s or hyperion design (or something similar made by Russian producer). However, that remark got me almost thrown out of the project. The client was not pleased at all. Apparently, one should not mention the word ‘nuclear’ to Russian clients. I still wonder what the reason was for this hostility about nuclear. Surely, Russia has the capability to build nuclear powered datacenters?

  5. Michael R. Hines,
    you are projecting a bit here. Yes, the Chinese have an important well funded LFTR project. The goal, for now, is a 5MW prototype by 2016 (plus or minus). Their actual *plan* is the Fast Breeder Reactor which they see over 1000GWs of by 2100.

    Assuming the LFTR and, the HTR project now being built, get going, that number might lower to include these advanced reactors as well.

  6. There are only two options:

    1 – Both Sviniki and McFarlane get confirmed. They are a package deal. Something in if for all to like and for all to hate. Your prototypical political compromise.

    2 – Neither Sviniki and McFarlane get confirmed and Jaczko continues to serve out his term with one less thorn in his side. This would NOT be Obama’s preference. Jaczko is a distraction his administration does not need but it would suit Sen. Reid just fine. Either way Reid will have a Yucca Mountain critic in charge and nobody will get confirmed as Chairman without passing his litmus test.

    Those are the realities. Take your pick.

    1. Those are the realities only for the next five months. After that, perhaps Obama’s preferences won’t matter.

      Don’t forget who is responsible for these realities.

        1. Reid had a similar hold over President Bush. Reid promised to block all of Bush’s appointments until he named Jazcko as a commissioner in 2005. Placating a Senate Majority Leader by appointing his crony to a little known federal agency few people care about as the price for his cooperation pushing your administation’s agenda is a political no brainier. At least until he becomes an embarrassing liability during an election year.

          1. The real question is why does a Senator from a state with a population so small that it only rates three congressional districts have so much power to dictate the policies of the entire country?

            There are a whole lot of states who are really angry about the used nuclear fuel impasse.

          2. A long time ago, someone told me that they thought that Reid’s power came from the fact that he has lots of friends in Vegas and that there were too many Senators and Congressmen whose careers depend on the idea that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. The hold, in that person’s opinion, was Reid’s ability to threaten to release damaging information provided by his friends.

            If true, that idea is abhorrent to me.

            The best way to a better government is for the people to start moving away from the television and into activities where they can put pressure on their representatives. Write letters, attend public meetings, start a blog, use your Facebook pages & other social networks.

            We can do this.

      1. Why? Is Harry Reid retiring? These are the political realities as long as Reid is in a position to throw his political weight around.

        1. Reid can hold up appointments, but Reid does not control who is the Chairman of the NRC. The President’s selection of Chairman does not need approval by the Senate.

          Under Bush, all that Reid was able to do was to get one man on the NRC. Once Obama was in office, Reid’s man went straight to the Chairmanship. Since Obama is still in office, the new Chair will also be someone preferred by Reid, even though more experienced candidates are available.

          Do you really think that this will continue if Obama is not in the White House next year?

        2. Brian, I believe Reid has demonstrated a willingness to expend a lot of political capital on Yucca Mountain. I also believe new presidents want to hit the ground running and will demonstrate a willingness to work with opposition party leadership to move their economic and other priorities forward. Yucca Mountain would be a bargaining chip for a Republican president, not a party plank. Especially considering the the question is largely out of the NRC’s hands and in the court’s anyway. Even if a pro-Yucca chairman were somehow named, there is no budget anymore to work on it and by law the chairman can’t spend money on things that Congress did not allocate.

          1. @Bubba

            Actually, there is still money left in the NRC’s budget that was appropriated for the Yucca Mountain evaluation. That is one of the issues that the courts are evaluating. The NRC’s position is that it did not have enough money to finish the evaluation, but the problem with that position is that the budget REQUEST from the administration did not even ask for money.

            There is plenty of money in the nuclear waste fund to perform the work – that fund has a balance that is measured in tens of billions where the amount of work required to finish the license evaluation is in the tens of millions.

            Please understand that I am not even a fan of Yucca Mountain. I think the industry has wasted a lot of political capital in trying to push to move valuable material from relatively accessible locations with plenty of available transportation and technically trained human resources to a remote area that still requires the construction of a specialty rail line that will cost well over a billion dollars just to get there. It takes a good 90-120 minute to get to the site from a place where there is a reasonable standard of living. It is a really dumb place to put used fuel, but I would like to see the license application completed.

            It would be a reasonable place to put the material remains left over AFTER the material is recycled, but that process does not need to happen for many years into the future – perhaps never.

            It irks me for people to focus on Yucca. The Chairman has many more important responsibilities other than standing as a roadblock to a single project that happens to offend an old politician who has gained an illogical amount of power for a representative from a state with a tiny population.

            Just in case anyone wonders, I am an American who does not care much at all for the “states rights” issue.

        3. Er … the current situation with Yucca Mountain is more of a result of the current Secretary of Energy than the Chairman of the NRC. It wasn’t the NRC that decided to pull the license application “with prejudice” a couple of years ago.

          In any case, I don’t expect Macfarlane to stick around very long as Chairman if Romney is elected in November. That’s all I’m say’n.

          By the way, while Congress has significant influence on the budget of the DOE, they have much less say in the budget of the NRC. Most of the NRC’s funding comes from fees paid by the licensees, after all, not from the taxpayers, and the Chairman pretty much decides what the priorities are and where the money is spent.

    2. Here is another possibility – The Inspector General report about Jaczko and his abusive management actions gets released and the pressure on the Obama campaign to ditch the man gets high enough to force action. Jaczko leaves the NRC. Perhaps the Senate holds up Svinicki confirmation and she also has to stop serving when her term is up. That leaves an NRC with Magwood, Ostendorff, and Apostolakis. All of them have terms that do not expire for at least a year, with Apostolakis’s term ending on June 30, 2014.

      By law, one of the commissioners has to be designated as Chairman.

      I can live with that result for a while. So can the nuclear industry.

      Patience and knowing your cards is always important in playing a political game.

  7. That seems very unlikely. Again, the SENATE MAJORITY LEADER will not stand for a Chairman who is not like minded on Yucca Mountain. The Republicans want Sviniki reconfirmed. There is not enough opposition to Mcfarlane to keep her from getting confirmed. The industry is focussed on post Fukushima matters, not Yucca Mountain.

    The fix, as they say, is in.

  8. “Macfarlane’s only technical expertise related to nuclear energy is a series of papers”

    Wow! Could you be any less informative …

    Chair: Science and Security Board (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
    Member: White House Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (2010 – 2012)
    – Research Associate: Program in Science, Technology, and Society (MIT)
    – Affiliate: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Harvard)
    – Fellowships: Bunting Institute (Radcliffe College), Center for International Security and Arms Control (Stanford), International Peace and Security (Social Science Research Council-MacArthur)
    – Board Member: Keystone Center Energy Board
    – Panel Member: National Research Council committee on US DOE nuclear-power research and development programs
    – Panel Member: National Academy of Sciences panel on spent fuel standard and excess weapons plutonium disposition
    – Associate Professor: Environmental Policy and Social Sciences at George Mason University (2006 to Present)
    – Associate Professor: Georgia Institute of Technology (2003 – 2004)
    NEI endorsement: “She has been an active contributor to policy debates in the nuclear energy field for many years.”
    – Book Author: “Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation’s High-Level Nuclear Waste” (MIT Press, 2006)
    – And likely much more (with above is based on quick internet search) …

    NRC is a Commission and has a large and well qualified permanent technical staff. For someone receiving a PhD in 1992, she appears to have put together a rather focused resume with ample experience working in such a setting coordinating committee work, research programs and scientific findings, issuing administrative rules and reports, engaging with public and diverse stakeholders and constituencies, and likely more. Moreover, she has few direct associations with the industry (at a business, finance, or lobbying level), which is exactly what one would like to see from an independent regulator. Like many others on the Commission, she has spent the bulk of her time in academia or government, so this does not appear to be disqualifying. Unless we are to start requiring a litmus test for the job (a Commissioner must declare full support for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository), I don’t see where there are any problems with her nomination. If she performs well in her hearing, highlighting what her colleagues have described about a positive working environment, attention to objective findings, and a collaborative approach, I have every expectation she will be approved and excel in the job.

    1. @EL

      Unless we are to start requiring a litmus test for the job (a Commissioner must declare full support for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository)

      I assume that means that you like the current litmus test, which is that a Chairman must declare full opposition to the law of the land – which happens to be the Yucca Mountain repository – before being eligible for nomination.

      1. Yes … I believe the objective evidence suggests Yucca Mountain is unsuitable as a long-term waste repository, and that a Commissioner should be able to look to this evidence and make a prudent decision whether further research is needed (or whether there are better candidates, and a consent-based approach, that might yield better and quicker results).

        A 10 member DOE expert panel in 1996 found the probability assessment for volcanic activity to be very high (1 in 7,000 during the 10,000 year isolation period), and subsequent research “suggested that volcanic hazard estimate might be 1-2 orders of magnitude higher than estimated by the 1996 expert elicitation.” Add to this an oxidizing environment (which IAEA recommends against, p. 7), water flow, earthquake frequency, etc., and I agree with John F. Ahearne (former Chair NRC) that “Yucca Mountain has not been and may never be shown to be an appropriate repository for high-level radioactive waste.” It’s not the specific decision for Yucca that matters most, but how a candidate for the job looks at and evaluates evidence (and whether an alternative site and a different decision making process is needed to resolve these critical and long standing issues with the site). I have no doubt the issue will come up in her confirmation hearing, and that her reply to it will be entirely relevant to her viability as a nominee.

        1. EL:

          Your characterization of the Probabilistic Volcanic Hazard Analysis (PVHA) reports for Yucca Mountain is exactly backwards.

          I worked on the second, more refined revision of that report, and I have interacted personally with many of the contributors.

          Without exception, all of the members of PVHA expert elicitation panel have characterized the probability of a volcanic dike intersecting a repository drift as VERY LOW.

          The authors of the article you cite (Perry, Valentine, etc.) all contributed to the PVHA reports and would not agree with your characterization.

          I’m also pretty sure that your “1 in 7,000” figure is incorrect. I heard the actual probability likened to drawing one of three black marbles out of a jar containing a billion white marbles. (Isn’t the actual probability reported in the most recent PVHA something like 3.1 x 10-8? That is the allegedly dire “higher estimate” you mention. Big whoop. Revised upwards from something like 1.8?)

          But whatever the precise mathematical values, it is clear that you got the upshot of the PVHA exactly backwards: the probability of a significant volcanic event at the proposed repository (i.e., one that results in a environmentally significant radioactive release) is not “very high” as you claim, but rather VERY LOW.

          So what you said may sound reasonable, but only in the absence of the actual conclusions of the PVHA (which is publicly available, by the way). What else in your argument, I wonder, suffers from the same fatal misinformation?

        2. @Darrien Sideman

          Thanks for your input Darrien. Steve Skutnik summarized the DOE PVHA findings in a previous thread on Macfarlane and her nomination on Atomic Insights. He provided a quote from the following authoritative 2002 document:


          “If a dike does intersect the repository, analysts estimate about a 77 percent chance that a volcano would form at the surface with magma flowing through the repository (eruptive scenario) (CRWMS M&O 2000ez, Table 13a). This translates to approximately 1 chance in 7,700 of a volcano forming above the repository during the first 10,000 years … The DOE will continue to monitor data and will incorporate significant new information into future technical and licensing documents” (p. 4-400).

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