Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Upheaval Continues

Dec 15: The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a fascinating 3.5 hour hearing which addressed the incredibly complex and divergent points of view related to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and disagreements between the Chairman of the Commission Gregory Jaczko (a Democrat) and the remaining four Commissioners (2 Republican & 2 Democrats). The only way to capture the depth of the issue is to watch the video of the hearing. What is so fascinating, is that the facts, allegations and information presented by the two sides are so dramatically different.
    WIMS has provided previous background on the issue which again has Republicans and Democrats divided [See WIMS See WIMS 12/13/11 & WIMS 12/14/11]. The intent of the hearing was to deal with a "Review of the NRC's Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century"; however, much of the hearing dealt with the disagreements between the Commissioners and the Chairman.
    Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) lectured the four Commissioners saying, ". . .at our last NRC hearing on August 2, four of you made the commitment to me that you would move forward on some or all of the Near-Term Task Force recommendations within 90 days. To my great disappointment, that hasn't happened. Although Chairman Jaczko repeatedly asked you to keep your commitment to move expeditiously on safety, you are more than a month overdue in that commitment. It doesn't appear to me that such action is set to occur any time soon. Colleagues, less than a week after the Task Force delivered its report to the NRC, Chairman Jaczko laid out a road map to address the lessons learned from Fukushima, and he set a deadline of October 21 for action on those recommendations. He was proactive, because without a specific timetable for those common-sense safety measures, the NRC will not live up to its mandate to require nuclear power plants to be safe and reliable. . ."
    Chairman Boxer commented on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on NRC Leadership, Chaired by Darrell Issa (R-CA) which was held yesterday (December 14). She said, "Yesterday, instead of focusing on nuclear plant safety, a House Committee conducted a witch hunt and attempted to assassinate the character of a dedicated public servant [i.e. Chairman Jaczko]. Frankly, I was shocked and appalled. One of you Commissioners even said in written testimony that the Chairman was abusive to women. I asked my staff to check out this accusation, and let me tell you what they found. They found the opposite -- in fact that the Chairman, according to one respected female staffer, was 'the most fair person' she has ever met. She went on to say 'he treats everyone equally.' Other comments include 'he invites people to dissent and I have never seen him mistreat others.' One woman said 'what I am floored by is the conduct of the other Commissioners.'"
    She said, "The American people's faith in nuclear power was shaken by the Fukushima crisis, and the American public rightly expects the NRC to redouble its efforts to ensure that our nuclear plants are the safest in the world, but that has not happened yet. Let me tell you what happens when people lose confidence in the NRC and the nuclear industry. Right now, there is a petition being circulated for a ballot initiative that would effectively shut down the two nuclear power plants in California. I believe we will see more of that across the country if America doesn't have confidence in the NRC. . ."
    Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) said in an opening statement, "I believe events over the last week have once again shown that nuclear safety is bipartisan: in this case two Democrats and two Republicans. I am dismayed by the numerous reports of Chairman Jaczko's intimidation and retaliation against senior agency staff, attempts to fundamentally undermine the collegial function of the Commission to forward his own objectives, and his efforts to withhold information from his fellow commissioners. However, I must say I am not surprised, given what I have learned through previous oversight hearings.
    "What does surprise me is that the White House appears to condone such behavior, dismissing it as mere 'management differences'.  Well, the 'management differences' we have here are serious: we have one Chairman who believes that bullying staff is acceptable in an effort to further his own agenda and four Commissioners who disagree. In 2006, the late Commissioner Ed McGaffigan, well-known and admired by members of this committee on both sides of the aisle, gave a speech to NRC employees about the importance of speaking the truth to those in power. 
    "Here is what he said: 'You come to an institution, NRC, that is routinely subject to baseless attacks by groups opposed to nuclear power that call themselves "nuclear watchdogs." These groups need to demonize NRC, you and me, to fund themselves and their anti-nuclear agenda. When I arrived at NRC in 1996, I had spent two decades working on national security issues first as a Foreign Service Officer, and then as an aide to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). I did not know that I was a demon, but it did not take long for me to cast votes, based on my scientific, technical, and policy judgment, that were not to the liking of the anti-nuclear zealots and so I became a demon." He went on to say: ''Honor' often involves telling people, perhaps colleagues, perhaps supervisors, what they do not want to hear... And it may make you enemies. But stories I could tell you from my own career would persuade you that you can afford such enemies, but you cannot afford to compromise your honor, your personal compass.'
    "What we saw this weekend was an immediate, concerted and very public attempt to demonize four public servants whose only crime is to conduct themselves with honor; to seek assistance, as a last resort, from the White House to address problems they had not been able to resolve on their own. Risking their professional reputations, they came forward on behalf of the employees who now work in a hostile environment; employees who are forced to choose between what they believe is right and what Chairman Jaczko wants them to do.
    "Chairman Jaczko's actions simply can't be ignored. However, the White House appears willing to ignore the warning of 4 Commissioners, resting on their statements that his actions haven't impaired the Commission's ability to execute its mission to protect public health and safety...yet. Is the President waiting to act until it does? After all that we've learned, how can President Obama still believe that Mr. Jaczko remains the single best possible person to serve in this post? What will it take for him to change his mind?"
    Access the hearing website for links to the testimony and statement and a video (click here). Note: WIMS is also including the House hearing website which includes testimony from the four Commissioners and background information. Access the House hearing website and link to the testimony (click here). Access the House Hearing Ranking Member Elijah Cummings' (D-MD) statement (click here). Also: Access the December 9 letter to the White House from Representative Issa and the October 13 letter from the NRC Commissioners (click here). Also: Access a lengthy release from Rep. Markey with links to additional information and video (click here). Access the complete 45-page Markey investigation report (click here). [#Energy/Nuclear]