I just finished watching the archived video of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the nominations of Dr. Allison Macfarlane to be a Commissioner and Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Kristine Svinicki to serve an additional five year term as a Commissioner.
It was disheartening to see that the Senate’s role of advice and consent had apparently been negotiated away before the hearing ever started. Though never even close to perfect, I pride myself on a developed ability to read between the lines of written material and to listen for the words that are not spoken by watching body language and listening carefully to the words that are spoken. Once I have a chance to do some editing and clipping, I will post videos that back up my impression that deals have already been struck to ensure that both Dr. Macfarlane and Ms. Svinicki are expeditiously confirmed.
The thing that was most disheartening to me was that the people who had apparently agreed to accept Dr. Macfarlane, despite reservations about her qualifications for the job, treated her with kid gloves while the people who apparently agreed that Ms. Svinicki could be confirmed for another term took the opportunity to do everything in their power to discredit her.
It was obvious to me that they are continuing a program of implying that she is not sufficiently concerned about nuclear safety. Ms. Svinicki has a solid and admirable record as an honest, thoughtful commissioner who takes her job very seriously. She understands the technology, understands the importance of safe operations, and recognizes that there are limitations to the NRC’s role. Senator Boxer and Senator Sanders deserve castigation for making attempts to create any other impression of her service.
Getting back to the deal: As I understand it, the Inspector General’s report on the management actions taken by Dr. Greg Jaczko during his tenure is complete and ready for release. It has been bureaucratically delayed because it is a real doozy of a report with plenty of evidence backing up the assertions that have been made that Jaczko established a hostile work environment. Nuclear industry supporters have an interest in helping the NRC to move past the report because the distraction is not beneficial to current operations or their reelection efforts.
The Senate hearing to confirm Jaczko’s nominated replacement was put on a fast track; the time frame for additional questions by committee members is an amazingly shortened 24 hours and the final votes are scheduled for Monday, June 18. It is worth remembering that Jaczko only submitted his resignation on May 21; the political train has been moving in high speed to get him replaced before the IG report is made public and damages the credibility of the office of the Chairman of the NRC.
By having a replacement in office before the report is released, my impression is that the powers that be are planning to sweep the report as far under the carpet as possible and to move forward in hopes that few people remember. Unfortunately, his replacement seems to be another compliant representative of the forces opposed to effective use of nuclear energy.
I did not sign on to any deals and I am not a part of any establishment entity that will benefit from forgetting the following facts about the Jaczko era:
- As a commissioner, Dr. Jaczko led the effort to impose the aircraft impact rule, a requirement that burdens all new construction projects with costs and requirements that were not imposed on current plants.
- Dr. Jaczko took nearly dictatorial control of the NRC for several months on the pretense of responding to an emergency, even though that emergency did not affect any licensee of the NRC.
- Dr. Jaczko testified to the Congress of the United States that the spent fuel pool for unit #4 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was dry and on fire.
- Dr. Jaczko used that false statement of the situation as a pretense for recommending that all Americans within 50 miles of the plant evacuate. That established a perception in the minds of the public that nuclear reactors pose a danger to people as far away as fifty miles. Nuclear energy skeptics like Senator Barbara Boxer have been striving for years to expand the circle of perceived danger around nuclear plants
- Dr. Jaczko continually requested ever lower budgets for the NRC and then used “budgetary constraints” as an excuse to enforce his policy of killing the Yucca Mountain license application, slowing the reviews of new license applications and slowing the reviews of license renewals.
- Dr. Jaczko used his control of the NRC agenda to delay votes and to prevent information from reaching his fellow Commissioners in a timely manner.
- Dr. Jaczko held several meetings with antinuclear activists while excluding anyone with a different view of nuclear energy by claiming that anyone who advocates for nuclear energy must be a “nuclear industry supporter.”
(Note: Not one of those above statements or any of the other statements that I have published about Dr. Jaczko are personal. They are statements of fact or opinion about his professional choices and performance.)
Though she testified to the Senate that our current output of nuclear electricity is important and that nuclear energy should continue to supply about 20% of our electrical demand, Dr. Macfarlane seems unaware that actions by her predecessor virtually ensure that US nuclear electricity output will fall during the next few years. Vermont Yankee, Indian Point 1 and 2, Pilgrim and Oyster Creek may all be forced to shut down before any new facilities start operating. San Onofre 1 and 2, Crystal River, and Fort Calhoun are already shut down and unlikely to restart any time in the near future.
In my opinion, the people who made the deal to accept Dr. Macfarlane in order to keep the peace, protect what is left of the reputation of the NRC, and to prevent a nasty battle over the real meaning of protecting the public health and safety made a bad deal. As Chairman, Dr. Macfarlane will be operating without the fundamental knowledge and experience required for good decision making, but she will be expected to make decisions.
She will be forced to depend on others – which I admit is often the case for any leader in a complex organization – but like all leaders she has the authority to choose her trusted advisors.
There is no doubt in my military mind to whom she will listen when she is making her decisions. Her CV and coauthors tell me all I need to know about her lack of applicable experience and her record of association with people who doubt that nuclear energy has an important role that must expand if the world is going to achieve a higher level of prosperity without choking off the earth’s ability to support our current human population and man-made infrastructure.