On December 15, 2011, at the end of a long hearing in which four dedicated, experienced, mature commissioners from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) testified that Chairman Jaczko was an abusive leader who filtered information and berated professional staff members, Senator Barbara Boxer offered the opportunity for closing statements from her colleagues on “the other side of the asile”. She then offered her own concluding remarks.
Here is the video.
Here is a key exchange that needs to be searchable and shared.
Senator Barrasso: We have four members of the commission who are here, two Republicans and two Democrats, all unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate, three appointed by President Obama. It is historic to sign a letter like this and it is courageous and I want to thank you for your commitment to public safety and to public service. I am grateful that you are all members of this Commission. Thank you for being here with us today. Thank you Madam Chairman.
Senator Boxer: Thank you so much. I want to thank all of the Commissioners for being here. I want to say to the Chairman, you are one strong, good man. You’re a good man. And as I look at the history of nuclear power in this country, the people who are calling for safety get pounded.
And I get back to that because there is just no proof (emphasis in original) to what my colleagues are saying about your leadership when just at the time that they’re writing a letter complaining about all this and that, you are being rated by your own staff and your own employees as 1 out of 30 of effective leadership in terms of the way you run the place. I am disturbed at what is going on and I had hint of this the last time we met. And I urged you at that time to please, all of you, sit down and do what’s right for the country.
A lot of us took our chances when we voted for you. Ok? On both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the aisle. Because this agency is not about partisanship, it’s about safety of the highest degree. Because look at what happened at Fukushima. God forbid something like that ever happens. (emphasis in original) It has stood that country on its head and whether it ever recovers, history will note. But it will never be the same. So we’re not dealing, you know, with some harmless waste material. You know that. You’re all smart on this.
I had the opportunity to speak to a senior manager at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about The Best Places to Work survey that Senator Boxer was talking about. I asked him how the NRC could have scored so high when there was such a high level of discontent among the senior staff and the commissioners. He reminded me that the Commissioners are not part of the survey.
He also told me that the rank and file workers at the agency think about the career civil servants when they think about the way that their agency is managed. Those career managers, people like Bill Borchardt and Martin Virgilo are the people who have implemented the family friendly policies, enforce the openness, and treat workers with dignity and respect. The most savvy among the professional staff also realize that those people are the ones who would take the heat if there was a substantial drop in the satisfaction rankings.
For the large majority of workers at a federal agency, there is little contact with the political appointees at the very top of the agency. That is similar to the way it works in most large organizations where the CEO and the board rarely have direct influence on the lives of employees.
The manager I spoke to also reminded me to look closely at the survey results and notice the trend. In the 2010 survey the NRC earned the top spot with an overall index score of 81.8. In the 2011 survey, they were number 2 with an overall index score of 79.1. The computed overall index dropped by 3.3% from 2010 to 2011. Management, teamwork, and leadership scores all dropped from 2010 to 2011.
I hope that Boxer’s concluding remarks get wide circulation among the people who have been so upset by the reign of Chairman Jaczko that they complained to the other commissioners. I hope that it encourages them to realize that they now have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to come forward and share their stories.
There are whistleblower protection laws and they do not just protect those who have well placed political patrons. Those laws are designed to improve the operation of the government by empowering people to do the best job that they know how to do even when that includes exposing appointed leaders or managers that use harassing, controlling techniques to get their way while pursuing agendas that are different from the mission of the agency where they are temporarily working.
In related news, on December 16, 2011, Tepco and the Japanese government declared that all of the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power station are in a stable, cold shutdown condition. They are now making plans to allow residents to return to the areas that have been off limits for the last 9 months as long as those areas have a radiation level that will result in annual exposures of less than 20 mSv (2 Rem).
To put the risk of that level in context, the overly conservative Linear No Threshold dose response assumption model used by the International Committee on Radiation Protection calculates that a dose of 100 mSv received over an extended period of time will increase the risk of dying from cancer by 0.5%. That risk is considerably lower than the risk imposed by smoking or by obesity. Moderate smoking has been calculated, using the LNT model, of adding a cancer risk that is equivalent to a dose of 1,000 to 2,000 mSv (50 to 100 years of 20 mSv per year). Obesity has been calculated, again using the LNT model, to add a cancer risk that is equivalent to a dose of between 200 and 500 mSv (10 to 25 years of steadily being exposed to 20 mSv per year.
There are many well-documented studies that indicate that annual doses of 20 to 50 mSv per year (2 to 5 Rem) will stimulate adaptive responses and improve public health results.
We need to keep volleying the Fukushima ball back into the court of the people like Boxer who keep tossing it our way. It is not an ace serve; the results of the devastating earthquake and tsunami have shown that while it is a really good idea to keep water in a light water reactor, to maintain at least a minimum amount of power supply, and to ensure that hydrogen gas is properly vented or otherwise not allowed to accumulate, the overall effect of the worst that nature can throw at a nuclear plant is really not all that bad.
Not one person has be made sick or has died from exposure to the modest mass of radioactive materials that were released from the plant. It is highly unlikely that anyone ever will. Japan will begin to repopulate the evacuated areas. My prediction is that they will do a far better job of recovery in the Fukushima prefecture than the United States did in the New Orleans area after hurricane Katrina or in the area of South Manhattan after 9-11.
Atomic Power Review – House Oversight Committee / NRC hearing, Dec. 14