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  • Our New NRC Chairman

    Dr. Gregory Jaczko, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), delivered his first major address since being appointed six weeks ago this morning at the Heritage Foundation.

    Jaczko’s talk was encouraging for its discussion of the need to enhance agency decisiveness and regulatory preparedness for dealing with new challenges, such as waste management and other fuel-cycle related activities. Both will be key factors in any future nuclear renaissance. Jaczko explained:

    “Decisiveness means the ability to come to resolution in a predictable manner after open and informed debate. To be decisive, we must understand the public interest and as much of a complicated issue as possible so we can make a policy decision that ensures public health and safety…The public demands that from a regulator. The licensees should expect that from a regulator.”

    The emphasis on developing predictable behavior is critical. Predictable behavior reduces uncertainty for licensees, thereby increasing their confidence and helping facilitate investment. Jaczko continued, expressing a desire to ensure an efficient regulatory process.

    While we’d like to see a streamlined process, the Chairman’s remarks demonstrate his commitment to efficiently carry out the Commission’s current responsibilities:

    Decisiveness will also be important as the NRC continues to review applications for new power reactors, fuel cycle facilities and uranium recovery facilities. With a strong foundation, good communication, and a decisive ability to move forward, I believe we will be well positioned to address the challenges posed by the new licensing work.

    As Chairman, I intend to keep the staff’s focus on safety and security with clear guidance and expectations for their review and to keep the applicants focused on high quality applications. Applicants should provide complete applications and they should prioritize those facilities that they intend to build in the near future…

    There are also areas where we are not quite as certain we will see activity, but where advanced planning, at least at a basic level, should be explored. For instance, we should transparently communicate licensing requirements for the review of potential reprocessing or recycling applications. The agency will need to develop its regulatory infrastructure to be able to effectively complete such reviews, and we should be communicating with all of our stakeholders now to determine the appropriate timeframe for such a resource intensive effort. This, in turn, allows us to provide more predictability to the applicants as a whole, better resource planning for our staff, and ultimately more public confidence for those on whose behalf we regulate.”

    This theme of regulatory preparedness is important, since any nuclear revival will depend on the NRC’s capacity to adapt quickly to the expanded regulatory responsibilities that are sure to accompany any serious growth in the nuclear industry.

    An important element of the Jaczko lecture was that he portrayed himself as a fair regulator. Ultimately, that is all we can ask of a government regulator; it is simply not the place of the regulator to advocate or oppose that which they regulate. They should be dispassionate parties that carry out their duties to protect public health and safety in a fair and efficient manner.

    Advocacy or opposition of commercial activities by public figures is inappropriate. It too often leads to corruption, special interest politics, and fewer choices and higher prices for consumers.

    Would we have liked to see the chairman stand before the crowd and talk about how he was a sharpened knife ready to have at the notorious red-tape at the NRC? Absolutely.

    But short of that, he did the next best thing. In a nutshell, he said that he’s a regulator and that he would ensure that public health and safety will be protected and that he would carry out his duties in a transparent and efficient manner.

    Despite our general dislike of regulators and unnecessary regulation, at least when it comes to nuclear energy, we recognize that regulation has its place. And while no one knows for sure what Dr. Jaczko’s tenure as NRC Chair has in store, he’s off to a fine start.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to Our New NRC Chairman

    1. Spiritof76 says:

      It is not clear how much all this bravado about nulcear energy by NRC is really going to matter. Obama and his Congressional socialists are against it. On top of that, even if a license were advanced by NRC, there are enough environmental wackos out there to endlessly engage in law suits.

      To be blunt, we have to get rid of all those anti-energy crowd, for the sake of American well being. We have to bring back the 10th Amendment so that the states can exercise their sovereignty and erect nuclear plants in the states under their jurisdiction.

    2. Rod Adams, Annapolis says:

      Nick – while I regret that I was unable to attend the talk in person, I have watched it online. I was able to attend Dr. Jaczko's first public address at the NA-YGN meeting held in DC just a week or so after he took office.

      So far, I am reserving judgement. Dr. Jaczko has apparently been in government service long enough so that he has little to no understanding of the time value of money and he does not recognize the contradictions in his statements about setting priorities based on the predictions of ultimate project success. (According to his bio, he has never worked in private industry.)

      If a project does not have a license to begin construction, it has a far more difficult time gathering interested investors and committed employees. If license applications are prioritized based on the chances for ultimate success – when no licenses have been issued – the only projects that will move to the front of the line are those backed by extremely well capitalized developers. A government owned company like Areva might qualify, or one like TerraPower that is financed by Bill Gates.

      I also wonder about Dr. Jaczko's continued focus on fire protection standards. That is one area that has caused a dramatic increase in construction costs and a great deal of rework without any demonstrable increase in safety.

      When he points to the Browns Ferry fire that occurred when he was four years old (before kindergarden), my response is "So don't use a candle for inspections!" As a former operator and one who has been held responsible for training my engineering department, I cannot understand why keeping fire from causing reactor safety problems is such an issue.

      Finally, I dispute many of his analogies. First of all, the clothing does not make the person. I happen to be sitting in my living room wearing gym gear, but that does not make me less of a man than Jaczko in his well tailored suit. (I do know how to wear a suit and dress appropriately for a situation, but I feel no need to dress up to feel more like a man.)

      I also cannot understand why he uses the analogy of teachers grading homework to explain why he cannot commit to a license review schedule. As a former teacher, I made a commitment to my students – if they turned in their papers on time, I would grade them within three days. I also told them I would have their tests graded within 24 hours. I never broke that promise and my students liked the predictability. I also remember my time at the Navy Nuclear Power School where there was a well established policy that the instructors would post the grades before they went home on the day of an exam. As a student, I thought that was quite motivating and encouraged high quality work.

      Rod Adams

      Publisher, Atomic Insights

    3. B Mused says:

      I missed the beginning and came in to the webcast at the point where he was talking about NRC's ranking as the top place to work in government and it seemed like a bland speech. He was the typically cautious NRC commissioner, well versed in the advice of counsel on the limits of what he could say. I did not expect him to address the topic of the talk, the future of nuclear power.

      When an agency such as the NRC is in charge of regulating and assuring the public on the safety of nuclear facilities and material, they can't be too safety oriented. The commission and its employees play an important role and their dedication is impressive.

    4. Pingback: Shopfloor » Blog Archive » From the New Head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    5. Pingback: In the Green Room: NRC Chairman Jaczko | The Foundry: Conservative Policy News.

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