Activists have often claimed that the United States Nuclear Regulatory Committee is in the pocket of the nuclear industry. However, based on the attitude of some of the recent commissioners, that seems to be quite the opposite of the truth, as is especially evident with former chairman Gregory Jaczko.
Jaczko was first appointed as a commissioner in 2005 and was promoted to the head commissioner and chairman of the agency in 2009. He served until his resignation last year. Jaczko was controversial for the entirety of his time at the NRC, and especially after becoming chairman. He was widely accused of withholding information, in an attempt to slow or stop regulatory approval. For example, in 2011, Jaczko failed to release sufficient information to allow the Yucca Mountain project to be evaluated properly, effectively halting approval from moving forward. Jaczko was also accused by NRC staffers of frequently losing his temper and verbally assaulting those working under him.
It has always been clear that Jaczko’s opinion of nuclear energy has been generally unfavorable. Indeed, he was the only commissioner to vote against approval of new plant licenses in the United States in 2012. He was also generally not well received by the nuclear industry.
Yet the extent of Gregory Jaczko’s anti-nuclear feelings did not become entirely apparent until after his resignation from the NRC, in July 2012. As a commissioner, Jaczko was not able to provide entirely candid comments on nuclear energy. Had he spoken out directly against nuclear energy, it would have shown a very obvious conflict of interest with his regulatory position. Yet, after resigning, Jaczko stated that he believed that ALL US nuclear reactors are so flawed and unsafe that they should be shut down as soon as possible. When asked why he did not state this during his time on the commission, Jaczko stated ” didn’t really come to it until recently.”
Calling for what amounts to a complete phase-out of nuclear energy puts Jaczko on a very extreme end of the spectrum. It is very disturbing, though not entirely surprising, to learn that NRC had been chaired for three years by someone who is so anti-nuclear that he wants a full nuclear phase-out. It’s the equivalent of someone who believes that humans are not fit for flight being the head of the Federal Aviation Administration. Indeed, with such extreme views, they may as well have just made Helen Caldicott or Amory Lovins the NRC chair.
Unfortunately, if you thought we were done with this guy, that is not the case.
In addition to the distinct possibility that his mindset is not entirely uncommon at the NRC, it seems Jaczko has found his way back into a federal position. He was just appointed to oversee the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Reid appoints former NRC chief Jaczko to nuclear panel
Former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory Jaczko was appointed Thursday to a new panel charged with monitoring the agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tapped Jaczko — a former aide for the Nevada Democrat — for the position with the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise.
The panel was created by the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. Its purpose is to make recommendations for improving operations at the Energy Department’s (DOE) nuclear weapons agency.
Those suggestions regarding the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will be revealed in a report that’s due by February, 2014.
Jaczko has kept a low profile following an unceremonious departure from the NRC in which he resigned his post following allegations that he verbally abused staff.
His appointment to the 12-member panel, as well as a book deal he signed with Simon and Schuster on Wednesday about “Jaczko’s controversial years as the top nuclear regulator in the country,” will change that.
The controversial former NRC chairman’s appointment to the panel will likely rile conservatives.
Well, it has certainly riled me!
The NNSA is the US agency tasked with all things nuclear weapons and security against nuclear weapon threats. As such, the NNSA is responsible for both maintaining the safety and security of US nuclear weapons and weapons material, for responding to accidents involving weapons or weapons materials and for mitigating the potential for nuclear threats as a result of insecure foreign weapons or nuclear materials. The NNSA is also the US government’s major agency for nuclear non-proliferation projects.
This might not seem like the kind of position where someone like Gregory Jaczko could do much to stop nuclear energy, but that’s not the case. Although nuclear power is not the same as nuclear weaponry, the two share many materials and technologies and the conflation of nuclear energy with nuclear weapons has been used as a major argument against nuclear energy in general.
The NNSA has engaged in a number of activities of questionable merit and with the potential to reduce the availability of nuclear energy and technology before. For example, the NNSA has taken a strong stand against what it has defined as highly enriched uranium, even when that uranium is well bellow the enrichment level necessary to produce a weapon. In doing so, the NNSA has forced numerous research reactors to reduce their capabilities or shut down entirely. The agency has even gone so far as to pressure foreign governments to relinquish the highly enriched uranium used in research and isotope reactors, even when the material has been so heavily irradiated that it has become entirely unusable for nuclear weapons.
As the agency in charge of all US materials deemed to be weapons grade, the NNSA is also the agency which resp0nsible for US stockpiles of uranium-233. The U-233 of vital importance in the production of certain therapeutic isotopes and is also an attractive startup fuel for future thorium-cycle reactors. The NNSA’s current plans are to destroy the entire US supply of uranium-233, rendering this valuable resource unusable by blending it with depleted uranium and burning it in power reactors. This is something liquid fluoride reactor supporters have been fighting to stop.
Claims of proliferation dangers have resulted in the United States abandoning fuel reprocessing and have also prevented the US from deploying new enrichment capability. It is the primary reason why the US still relies primarily on gaseous diffusion enrichment, a technique which has been considered obsolete for decades and is no longer used elsewhere.
There is no doubt that inflating the dangers of proliferation or placing unreasonable restrictions on technologies that are considered “dual use” has had a detrimental effect on the state of nuclear power and nuclear reactor technology in the United States, and as the agency responsible for proliferation and security policy, the NNSA is in a position to drastically affect the future of nuclear power. Imposing draconian security requirements, reducing the level of enrichment considered to be high level, restricting enrichment and reprocessing or declaring reactor types to be insecure can easily tie the hands of the US nuclear industry.
It should be deeply disturbing to any nuclear energy supporter to see someone with the kind of mindset of Gregory Jaczko return to a position where he can exert influence on US government policy and regulation.
This entry was posted on Friday, April 19th, 2013 at 9:29 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Nuclear, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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