Arnie Gundersen has developed a pretty fair consulting business that consists of writing commissioned reports on a wide variety of nuclear energy topics and providing “expert witness” testimony. As a expert witness, he must to provide a resume to prove his expertise.
He has published numerous reports including his analysis contradicting the efforts of dozens of engineers and regulators in the design and review of the construction strength of the Westinghouse AP1000 containment, the AP1000 beyond design basis cooling concept, and the design and post event analysis of the San Onofre steam generators.
He has testified in hearings about nuclear power plant operations, underground piping systems, the health effects of tritium leaks, radioactive material handling, the root causes of nuclear construction project delays, quality assurance systems, configuration management, nuclear plant reliability and the aging management program at nuclear power plants. He also claims a special expertise in nuclear power plant decommissioning – which might be one of the more accurate statements in his resume.
A prominent part of his resume – right up near the top in the section where people state the education and training that enabled them to begin accomplishing everything they have done – is the following line:
“RO Licensed Reactor Operator, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission License # OP-3014”
A little farther down, in the list of positions held, there is another key line:
“Former Senior Vice President Nuclear Licensee”
Those two statements, taken together with Gundersen’s verifiable BS and MS in Nuclear Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, give him a believable claim to having developed such a wide range of knowledge, skills and ability. The problem is that both claims are deceptive, even if they are carefully worded so that they are literally true.
Licensed reactor operators often have the opportunity to develop a wide range of knowledge in their important role. They often need to understand something about materials, radiation, thermodynamics, aging, pressure vessels, steam generators, electricity, corrosion, civil engineering, batteries, diesel engines, configuration management and quality assurance. They may not learn about all of those topics in their initial qualification program, but over time, they gain varying depths of knowledge depending on the evolutions and events they experience.
People who work their way up through a wide variety of assignments that include operations, maintenance, and finance and become senior vice presidents at a nuclear utility have demonstrated to a large number of qualified people over a significant time that they know their stuff, are competent to lead, can make effective decisions and deserve respect.
Gundersen’s claim to such a wide range of expertise might be credible if he really did have substantial operating experience and really had worked his way up to being a Senior Vice President of a nuclear power plant license holder. Unfortunately for the truth, neither claim holds up; Gundersen has inflated his resume in just the right points to be able to spread false information that is believed by way too many people and media outlets.
First, let’s look at the claim of having been a licensed reactor operator. Digging through Gundersen’s 14 page resume provided to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on December 22, 2011, you have to reach the bottom of page 13 to find any mention of a job involving a license to operate a nuclear reactor.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) — 1971 to 1972 Critical Facility Reactor Operator, Instructor
Licensed AEC Reactor Operator instructing students and utility reactor operator trainees in start-up through full power operation of a reactor.
Dr. John H. Bickel just retired from Xcel Energy’s nuclear department and is happy to be able to share information that is no longer filtered through his employer. He provided the following statement to help the world understand exactly what Gundersen might have learned as a graduate student at RPI and what experience he might have gained by instructing students in “start-up through full power operation of a reactor”.
I got my MS and PhD at RPI a few years after Gundersen was there. RPI’s reactor was donated by the American Locomotive Co and was originally to be used for developing a nuclear train locomotive. It was reconfigured to use as a training reactor that could generate 200 Watts of power — or two big light bulbs worth. It had two means of shutting down: the control Rods with fuel followers could be dropped (removing fuel from the center of the core) and inserting poison. The backup means of shutting the reactor down was to dump the moderator to a holding tank. Yes! Core uncovery was the back up shutdown mechanism
With 200 watts output and a highly enriched fuel there was no decay heat as in a power reactor. We actually learned about flux distributions by manually taping Cadmium and Silver foils to fuel plates – starting up the reactor and running it for 20 minutes – scramming it – and quickly retrieving the foils (yes handling the fuel elements on a bench) and doing a counting experiment with a gamma spectrometer.
With a minimum amount of reading and passing an exam, students could become certified as a “Reactor Operator” by AEC and become lab instructors or teaching assistants. This is what Arne did. Getting an SRO for a commercial power reactor requires about two years of training in classrooms and on a simulator, performing numerous observed plant startups and shutdowns, passing a serious license exam.
Comparing the RPI training reactor certification to an SRO license in a power reactor is ridiculous!
There was no training on ESF systems, reactivity controls, chemistry, decay heat removal, feed water/condensate systems, the turbine and condenser etc.
For him to be parading himself around as an SRO is absurd and he needs to be called down for that.
(Note: Dr. Bickel exaggerated the output of RPI’s Walthousen Reactor Critical Facility a little; it actually has a peak output of less than 100 watts.)
With regard to Gundersen’s claim of having been a Senior Vice President at a nuclear licensee, it turns out that he did not work for any utility that operated a nuclear power plant, but instead worked for Nuclear Energy Services which was a relatively small division of PCC, which Gundersen proudly describes as a “Fortune 500 company”. I do not have as clear of a statement about that company as I do about the claim to being a Licensed Reactor Operator, but I do know that the firm was what some insiders call a “body shop”.
A “body shop” in the technical world is a firm that provides consultants to perform temporary tasks. It is a term that is familiar in the computer and programming industry, but they certainly did not invent the term or the concept. I have personal contact with body shops in defense contracting, high tech, and the energy industry. In some cases, the consultants are not even full time employees, their resumes are provided as part of a bid package for a particular task; if the firm wins the contract, they use the consultants for the duration of the contract.
The managers and executives at consulting companies generally focus on obtaining contracts and providing the specific deliverables specified in that contract. They are not generally involved in the actual preparation or detailed review of the documents for technical content; their normal function is to make sure that the documents meet the contract requirements for format, timeliness, and proper evidence of review. They serve as the interface with the customer, but they are not the people that do the work.
Knowing that Nuclear Energy Services was essentially a body shop explains how Gundersen can claim to have been “involved” in so many jobs and to have visited so many of the nuclear plants in the US during his rather brief (18 year) career as a nuclear energy professional. Consulting firms that survive have to perform a lot of contracting jobs for a large variety of customers, with varying degrees of quality.
Though Gundersen tells the story as if he was a heroic whistleblower, there is no doubt that his career as a Senior Vice President abruptly ended in 1990 and that he ended up in court as the subject of a defamation suit. There is also no question that he spent the next 18 years working full time as a private school teacher as he built up his expert witness and consulting practice with clients like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Friends of the Earth that have established reputations for doing everything they can to oppose the use of nuclear energy. (That part of the record comes right from his resume.)
I hope that by sharing this information, Mr. Gundersen begins getting the respect that he deserves when he attempts to spread false information in published reports and while under oath in public testimony.
Some might wonder what brought on this particular post on this particular day, so here is the reason I wrote it.
During a recent Twitter discussion with a man whose handle is @nuclearpowrrptr the subject of degrees, professional experience and credentials came up again. I know it is horribly elitist of me, but I fundamentally believe that a person’s professional resume and educational background is important information when discussing a technical subject. None of us have enough time to check every number, assumption, and equation required for good decision making.
We need to be able to rely on the accuracy of the material introduced into the discussion. That accuracy is a product of the competence and integrity of the preparer. In key areas of interest, the prepared material is second checked and independently verified by someone with equal competence and integrity.
Understanding this concept has been an important part of my professional career since the very first day of plebe summer at the Naval Academy. We were taught about the importance of honor, courage, and commitment and the need to study hard to become competent at our chosen profession. We were also taught the absolute importance of recognizing and freely admitting when we did not know the answer to a question. In addition to a concise, correct answer, there were five basic responses to any question or order:
- Yes, sir (or mam)
- No, sir
- No excuse, sir
- I’ll find out sir
- Aye, aye, sir
Our leaders hammered the message in; there is no room for BS, especially on a ship, plane or submarine where people’s lives can be lost because of selfish deceit, attempting to cover your own a– or baffling with BS.
Dr. John Miller, PhD, the man who tweets as @NuclearPowrRptr is also someone who selectively highlights features of his resume in order to pass deceptive and untrue information about nuclear energy. His PhD is in psychology. He served from 1970-1972 as a junior officer on the USS Seawolf, the second nuclear powered submarine in the US Navy and never again held any nuclear related job. However, he claims more than 40 years of nuclear experience since he has been writing about nuclear energy topics ever since.
He claims that a station blackout event is an automatic meltdown and that all PWRs are alike, even though the only nuclear plants that he has any direct knowledge of were the S2W on Seawolf and the S5G in Idaho where he attended prototype training. When I asked why he left the navy after just 2.5 years on board a boat and why he thought that experience qualifies him as a nuclear and radiation expert, here was his response:
— Dr. John Miller,Ph.D (@NuclearPowrRptr) April 5, 2013
He is a fan of Dr. Helen Caldicott and highly recommended that I read her latest book. He also had high praise for Arnie Gundersen; that is why I sat down this morning to provide clear documentation for the record.
I know that some people think I am downright mean for pointing out the character flaws and resume inflation that runs rampant in the antinuclear community, but I am tired of the way that they imply that nuclear energy professionals are mouthpieces and liars that are simply in the pay of a big, evil industry. It is time that at least some of us fought back and worked to regain the moral high ground.
We are in an honorable profession where integrity and technical competence are not only highly valued, they are demanded. We check each other’s work, but not out of lack of trust. We EXPECT each other to tell the truth and to take personal responsibility for correctness, completeness and adequacy. We are working with THE only technology that actually has the capability to cure cancer, solve world hunger, eliminate water borne disease, halt energy insecurity and arrest global climate change.
We cannot allow deceptive people like Miller and Gundersen to keep defaming us without challenge.
Midwest Energy News (December 6, 2012) 70 years after first atomic reaction, anti-nuclear movement presses on