Former NRC Chairman Jaczko Appointed to NNSA Board

April 19th, 2013
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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.

Via the Hill:

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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15 Responses to “Former NRC Chairman Jaczko Appointed to NNSA Board”

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    As this is an internal US matter at the present I will not comment and I’m only posting at this time to subscribe to the thread.


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  2. 2
    drbuzz0 Says:

            DV82XL said:

    As this is an internal US matter at the present I will not comment and I’m only posting at this time to subscribe to the thread.

    Internal US matter?

    Oh, that’s what you think now. But just wait until the NNSA starts trying to apply diplomatic pressure to Canada because they think the enrichment levels of your research reactors are too high.

    The job of the NNSA is to get up in everybody else’s buisiness. They do it all the time with countries outside the US. They actually have made stinks over other stuff many times. They got all hot and bothered about CANDU reactor sales a few times. They didn’t like the fact that India’s CANDU reactors came with tritium removal systems, since some of the Tritium could be used in weapon boosting. They really tried to tighten the screws by threatening to try to get Canada expelled from some international partnerships or to block contracts that AECL had with various entities in the US.

    Eventually, they got them to call uncle and sell the reactors without the tritium systems. India just copied them and built their own.

    NNSA can be a real dick like that. They love sticking their nose in other country’s research reactors.


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  3. 3
    Gordon Says:

    While that may be true, there are also plenty of anti-nukes and anti-nuke politicians in Canada who make the same proliferation argument to try to stop uranium mining or stop selling reactors or stop operating them.


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  4. 4
    Q Says:

    Jaczko left the NRC both because he was so hated for berating the staff and because it was becoming just too damn obvious that he was too anti-nuke to be a job with that level of conflict of interest. He got appointed to a new post because he’s just well politically connected. When you know the right people (and maybe where their skeletons are buried) you never have to worry about job security.

    He was a staffer of Harry Reid. That’s why Harry Reid appointed him to this. It’s as simple as that.

    And yes, he will likely do a horrible job in every way you mentioned and more.


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  5. 5
    DV82XL Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    Internal US matter?

    Oh, that’s what you think now. But just wait until the NNSA starts trying to apply diplomatic pressure to Canada because they think the enrichment levels of your research reactors are too high.

    That’s already started as a matter of fact, and yes the mood of US regulators has always had an impact on Canada in nucleare as well as in other domains. I just don’t like being seen as a reflexive Yank-basher as there seems to be enough of those on the web, so I have a tendency to back off on commenting until I am directly impacted.

    But since you have more or less invited me in here, may I ask, is it possible that Jaczko was appointed to this post to keep a loose cannon under some control? He seemed to be making waves prior to the announcement suggesting he was going to start making trouble for nuclear as a private citizen and this might be a way to placate him.


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  6. 6
    drbuzz0 Says:

    I suppose that is possible. Though we already have plenty of private citizens doing that. I suppose he might have been more trouble being former NRC chariman.

    I think what Q said is more likely than this being anything from the nuclear industry. He had a pre-existing relationship with Harry Reid, the senator who appointed him and I do not see Harry Reid as being overtly pro-nuclear by any means.

            DV82XL said:

    That’s already started as a matter of fact, and yes the mood of US regulators has always had an impact on Canada in nucleare as well as in other domains. I just don’t like being seen as a reflexive Yank-basher as there seems to be enough of those on the web, so I have a tendency to back off on commenting until I am directly impacted.

    This is an area that needs bashing, and I do not appreciate my country doing it. Of course, this is already happening and I don’t see how it could get much worse with a new panel member.

    As I am sure you understand, small amounts of HEU are vital for certain purposes, like producing iodine-131 and molybdenyum-99 and providing concentrated high flux in the cores of research reactors. The US freely provided this to friendly countries in the 1950′s under the Atoms for Peace program and is now doing the opposit.

    To add to the boondoggle over the MAPLE’s and the NRU, the US has been pressuring the Candaian government to cease all HEU activity at the Chalk River laboratories, even including the use of small targets. This would effectively make I-131 Mo-99 production impossible. Or at least, it would be so difficult and uneconomical as to be effectively impossoble.

    As a result of US diplomatic pressure, i-131 and Mo-99production may well be monopolized by South Africa, who has a large and secure supply of HEU from their weapons program.

    NNSA-backed programs have applied pressure on various governments to convert their research and isotope reactors to run on much lower enrichment fuel. While the NNSA seems to hail this as a great achievement, it has resulted in the reactors having a much lower production capacity.

    It’s bone-headed as well. Most of the time they do it by going after a reactor that is using a core ten or twenty years old, which is half depleted and has been so heavily irritated, it would be impossible to purify it to the levels needed for a weapon. Still, they demand the core be taken out, even if it still has years of service left, and replace it with an inferior core.

    When it comes to building international relationships via nuclear energy, I think we had a much more healthy attitude in the late 1950′s.


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  7. 7
    Anon Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    When it comes to building international relationships via nuclear energy, I think we had a much more healthy attitude in the late 1950′s.

    You could say that about most things related to nuclear energy.


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  8. 8
    Jason C Says:

    Is bureaucracy saturated by the Peter Principle like this or is Greg Jaczko just a shining exception? I’m honestly asking. I’ve never worked in government so I’m trying to refrain from any assumptions.


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  9. 9
    DV82XL Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    ITo add to the boondoggle over the MAPLE’s and the NRU, the US has been pressuring the Canadian government to cease all HEU activity at the Chalk River laboratories, even including the use of small targets.

    In all conscience I would be hard pressed to lay too much blame for the demise of the nuclear sector in Canada on American influence. The current Progressive Conservative government in Ottawa has been subjecting it to a death by a thousand cuts since they came into power, and Green influence has been behind a climate of open hostility to all things nuclear in several provincial capitals as well.

    The sad fact is that AECL is wasting away to a shadow of its former self, the NRU will not be replaced when it finally closes for good, and the CANDU program is in the hands of a wholly-owned subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin Inc., a company so corrupt it has earned a spot on the World Bank’s blacklist, which bodes ill for future export builds which has in the past kept this reactor alive.

    The assault on nuclear power in the West is clearly both coordinated and without borders.


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  10. 10
    George Carty Says:

    The biggest problem with Yucca Mountain was that it was in the same state as Las Vegas (which is why Harry Reid has a hold on so many politicians — if they pushed too hard for nuclear power, then “what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas” might cease to be true).


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  11. 11
    Ray Says:

            George Carty said:

    The biggest problem with Yucca Mountain was that it was in the same state as Las Vegas (which is why Harry Reid has a hold on so many politicians — if they pushed too hard for nuclear power, then “what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas” might cease to be true).

    Really? I don’t think most politicians party it up in Vegas. They order their entertainment to hotel rooms in Washington. They are more discrete than that.


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  12. 12
    James Greenidge Says:

            DV82XL said:

    As this is an internal US matter at the present I will not comment and I’m only posting at this time to subscribe to the thread.

    Shucks, of course you’re totally qualified to input and grill and bash in this or any like arena internationally like everyone else! Jacko sure did his piece of international contribution by “recommending” Japan to evacuate several hundred thousand people from unpoisoned earth off the cuff of a guess. Heck, the main problem is that nuclear energy around the world is in the same boat in terms of public perception and means and guts to address it but the crew doesn’t act like it. It’s as irrational mindset as closing down nuclear plants in a country because tsunamis cripple others in another thousands of miles away. The best example that all nuclear energy plants and interests are critical brothers is the way these nuclear advocacy blogs — God bless them! regard all nuclear plants and research as kin without borders (like pollution and Co2 see it) whose common problems and image and solutions benefit and support all!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY


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  13. 13
    I'mnotreallyhere Says:

    The Devil’s Advocate position here appears to be one of defending Jaczko’s appointment, so let’s give that a try.

    Bear in mind that I know nothing of the man beyond this article (I get the impression that the French don’t really care what he has to say) so I’m unlikely to be a great judge of matters.

    But to be honest, if you’ve got a 12-man board for a National Nuclear Safety Administration, why shouldn’t the boardmembers cover a spread of positions on the nuclear-political scale? Jaczko can’t be described as being ignorant given his previous positions and the CV that would be required to reach those levels, so if he’s anti-nuke then that’s his call.

    That the agenda of the NNSA appears to be very restrictive on all forms of nuclear technology, whether for civilian or military / criminal use (and as a European, I can’t help noticing the basic parallels and yet fundamentally different direction of nuclear technology control versus gun control in the USA), appears to be the more pressing concern and implies that the other 11 board members are hardly moderates.


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  14. 14
    Shafe Says:

            I’mnotreallyhere said:

    That the agenda of the NNSA appears to be very restrictive on all forms of nuclear technology, whether for civilian or military / criminal use (and as a European, I can’t help noticing the basic parallels and yet fundamentally different direction of nuclear technology control versus gun control in the USA), appears to be the more pressing concern and implies that the other 11 board members are hardly moderates.

    That problem is that anti-nuclear sentiment is political, and as long as political sentiment is anti-nuclear, administrative appointees are going to be anti-nuclear. The political tide will have to change, which means the influence of the “green” lobby will have to change.

    And yes, the issues of both nuclear power and gun rights are marked by overstating the dangers of each and ignoring the dangers and costs of the alternatives. The difference is that the American public recognizes the affront to personal liberties that over-reaching gun-control measures represent, but are largely dispassionate about the collective affront presented by the anti-nuclear movement. That will also have to change.


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  15. 15
    James Says:

    I haven’t seen it pointed out here that one of Jaczko’s former mentors, 20 term representative Ed Markey, is now running for Senate. Google him on nuclear issues or roller coasters if you want a laugh.


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