DEBATE OF THE WEEK: IS NRC CHAIRMAN JACZKO FIDDLING WHILE YUCCA BURNS?

On February 22, 2010,  just 21 days after the U.S. Department of Energy formally announced it would suspend the Yucca Mountain national nuclear spent fuel and high-level waste repository project in Nevada, the first of a bevy of lawsuits seeking to overturn the action was announced by three state of Washington businessmen.

Just nine days later, on March 3, the Department filed a license withdrawal request with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (ASLB).  A month later, on April 6, the NRC’s Atomic Safety Licensing Board – in the face of mounting legal challenges and interventions relevant to the DOE action– announced it was freezing consideration of the matter to await guidance on the matter from U.S. Court of Appeals proceedings.  Less than 17 days later, on April 23 – without waiting for their newest colleague, Commissioner George Apostolakis, who was scheduled to be sworn in just hours later – the Commission vacated the ASLB decision and ordered the Board to render a decision on the DOE withdrawal request in 39 days or less (June 1).

Twenty-eight days after the June 1 deadline, the ASLB issued a unanimous decision rejecting DOE’s license withdrawal request.  Less than 24 hours later, in an unusual action, the Commission set immediate ground rules for an appeal of the decision requesting briefs from interested parties by July 9,  just nine days later.  On July 15, just six days after parties to the proceeding filed a motion seeking the disqualification of three commissioners based on their Senate confirmation hearing testimony earlier in the year, freshman Commissioner Apostolakis recused himself citing other considerations.
In a process that has been defined by days and hours for the most part, it is now 86 days and counting since the ASLB’s June 29th ruling and the initiation of the Commission’s review of the lower panel’s decision.  The full Commission has now exceeded the 39 days they initially provided to the ASLB to sift through considerably more complicated issues.  Meanwhile the U.S. Court of Appeals , which was scheduled to begin oral arguments on September 23 on the mountain of legal contentions now filed in the matter, has put a hold on the proceedings awaiting a Commission determination.  In just six days, the Yucca Mountain project will be in purgatory with the expiration of the fiscal year, a likely continuing resolution and given a DOE edict that it will terminate all remaining employees in the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management on September 30.

The Commission’s delay with regard to an ASLB verdict has lead to much conjecture in Capitol Hill, legal and nuclear policy circles.  Does the NRC Chairman – a former disciple of chief Yucca Mountain antagonist Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — lack the Commission votes to override the ASLB?  Was he waiting to get a consensus on an updated waste confidence rule, which was consummated on September 15?  Or for conspiracy theorists is he seeking to help his old boss’s up-hill re-election campaign by deferring a possible affirmation of the decision to reject the DOE license withdrawal until after the November 2 election or until Congress leave towns town for its elections recess?  Or for the more charitably-inclined was Jaczko just concentrating on his keynote speech on September 22 to the 54th International Atomic Energy Agency Conference on the  scintillating topic of “The Essential Role of the Safety Regulator?”

During the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD,  Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus purportedly fiddled while Rome burned.  One authoritative source claims there wasn’t a fiddle to fiddle at the time – although perhaps he was playing a lyre.  Other revisionists suspect that the story was invented by Nero detractors who took power shortly thereafter.

Years later, Clairol’s hair color advertisements famously touted the tag line – “Only her hairdresser knows for sure.”  So perhaps while only Chairman Jaczko knows for sure, what’s your view?  Thus far, in the Nuclear Townhall poll on the subject, 63 % believe the NRC is delaying the decision until after the election; 14% feel the Commission should take as much time as they need ; 9 % say they are deadlocked.  A 2-2 vote by the eligible Commissioners would effectively rebuff a reversal of the ASLB decision.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

  • White Flinter

    My opinion? Chairman Jaczko is fiddling figuratively. Yucca is burning with the columns in danger of imminent collapse; The epitath for this Chairman and Commission will parallel Emperor Nero’s if they abdicate their responsibility to uphold the ASLB and the rule of law in favor of prevailing winds.

  • White Flinter

    My opinion? Chairman Jaczko is fiddling figuratively. Yucca is burning with the columns in danger of imminent collapse; The epitath for this Chairman and Commission will parallel Emperor Nero’s if they abdicate their responsibility to uphold the ASLB and the rule of law in favor of prevailing winds.

  • White Flinter

    My opinion? Chairman Jaczko is fiddling figuratively. Yucca is burning with the columns in danger of imminent collapse; The epitath for this Chairman and Commission will parallel Emperor Nero’s if they abdicate their responsibility to uphold the ASLB and the rule of law in favor of prevailing winds.

  • Eric

    Well said White Flinter. It is troubling to think that the Chairman of our nuclear regulatory agency would put personal politics above the law. Historically, this has not been the reputation of the NRC. Let us hope this Chairman and this Commission uphold the ASLB decision and the rule of law – and do so quickly.

  • Eric

    Well said White Flinter. It is troubling to think that the Chairman of our nuclear regulatory agency would put personal politics above the law. Historically, this has not been the reputation of the NRC. Let us hope this Chairman and this Commission uphold the ASLB decision and the rule of law – and do so quickly.

  • Eric

    Well said White Flinter. It is troubling to think that the Chairman of our nuclear regulatory agency would put personal politics above the law. Historically, this has not been the reputation of the NRC. Let us hope this Chairman and this Commission uphold the ASLB decision and the rule of law – and do so quickly.

  • Wag the Dog

    It’s easier to figure out who will be the next Pope or Baseball Commissioner than to predict the actions of this Commission, particularly given the tortured philosophy and reclusive nature of its Chairman (complicated by his affiliation with Senator Reid) and the less-than-primetime supporting cast (save one), which features three on-the-job trainees.

  • Wag the Dog

    It’s easier to figure out who will be the next Pope or Baseball Commissioner than to predict the actions of this Commission, particularly given the tortured philosophy and reclusive nature of its Chairman (complicated by his affiliation with Senator Reid) and the less-than-primetime supporting cast (save one), which features three on-the-job trainees.

  • Wag the Dog

    It’s easier to figure out who will be the next Pope or Baseball Commissioner than to predict the actions of this Commission, particularly given the tortured philosophy and reclusive nature of its Chairman (complicated by his affiliation with Senator Reid) and the less-than-primetime supporting cast (save one), which features three on-the-job trainees.

  • Randy B

    More questions than answers. The Chairman appears guilty on all charges, but where is the outrage? Where are the other Commissioners or are they sworn to a code of silence? Where is Congressional oversight? Where is the beef?

  • Randy B

    More questions than answers. The Chairman appears guilty on all charges, but where is the outrage? Where are the other Commissioners or are they sworn to a code of silence? Where is Congressional oversight? Where is the beef?

  • Randy B

    More questions than answers. The Chairman appears guilty on all charges, but where is the outrage? Where are the other Commissioners or are they sworn to a code of silence? Where is Congressional oversight? Where is the beef?

  • Save the Date

    Thanks for a prodigious job of putting these dates in context. This pending Commission action could become a full-fledged campaign issue if an adverse decision (for the forces of Darkness — the Senate Majority Leader) i.e. a positive decision for the nuclear energy industry, emerges in an October surprise. Then again, with 14.4 percent unemployment and the architect of these gloomy economic results on the chopping block, how does anything else make the cut as a campaign issue?

  • Save the Date

    Thanks for a prodigious job of putting these dates in context. This pending Commission action could become a full-fledged campaign issue if an adverse decision (for the forces of Darkness — the Senate Majority Leader) i.e. a positive decision for the nuclear energy industry, emerges in an October surprise. Then again, with 14.4 percent unemployment and the architect of these gloomy economic results on the chopping block, how does anything else make the cut as a campaign issue?

  • Save the Date

    Thanks for a prodigious job of putting these dates in context. This pending Commission action could become a full-fledged campaign issue if an adverse decision (for the forces of Darkness — the Senate Majority Leader) i.e. a positive decision for the nuclear energy industry, emerges in an October surprise. Then again, with 14.4 percent unemployment and the architect of these gloomy economic results on the chopping block, how does anything else make the cut as a campaign issue?

  • Chairman Reid

    Having a Plan B in place (Waste Confidence) may be the correct answer and the reason for the delay, but it doesn’t necessarily compute nor is this the issue at hand (Nuclear Waste Policy Act).

    I don’t think Chairman Reid ever thought that a sub-NRC panel would have the guts to stick it to the full Commission in the face of the intimidating order vacating the ASLB’s prudent decision to defer to the courts. Nor did Raczko ever think that he would be left with a potentially stalemated Commission (and the exodus of one Democratic appointee and two Republicans holding the balance of power) between him and the goal post. Potential checkmate here. Yucca swings in the balance.

  • Chairman Reid

    Having a Plan B in place (Waste Confidence) may be the correct answer and the reason for the delay, but it doesn’t necessarily compute nor is this the issue at hand (Nuclear Waste Policy Act).

    I don’t think Chairman Reid ever thought that a sub-NRC panel would have the guts to stick it to the full Commission in the face of the intimidating order vacating the ASLB’s prudent decision to defer to the courts. Nor did Raczko ever think that he would be left with a potentially stalemated Commission (and the exodus of one Democratic appointee and two Republicans holding the balance of power) between him and the goal post. Potential checkmate here. Yucca swings in the balance.

  • Chairman Reid

    Having a Plan B in place (Waste Confidence) may be the correct answer and the reason for the delay, but it doesn’t necessarily compute nor is this the issue at hand (Nuclear Waste Policy Act).

    I don’t think Chairman Reid ever thought that a sub-NRC panel would have the guts to stick it to the full Commission in the face of the intimidating order vacating the ASLB’s prudent decision to defer to the courts. Nor did Raczko ever think that he would be left with a potentially stalemated Commission (and the exodus of one Democratic appointee and two Republicans holding the balance of power) between him and the goal post. Potential checkmate here. Yucca swings in the balance.

  • Sweeney Todd

    Loosen up guys. The answer to the debate has to be Grecian Formula (with apologies to the Romans). The Chairman is Nero-esque for sure but there’s not enough hair for Clairol.

  • Sweeney Todd

    Loosen up guys. The answer to the debate has to be Grecian Formula (with apologies to the Romans). The Chairman is Nero-esque for sure but there’s not enough hair for Clairol.

  • Sweeney Todd

    Loosen up guys. The answer to the debate has to be Grecian Formula (with apologies to the Romans). The Chairman is Nero-esque for sure but there’s not enough hair for Clairol.

  • Capitol Dome

    No matter how you skin the cat, there is something amiss here if nothing more than a careless arrogance toward a $10 billion investment by American taxpayers, a lack of urgency, business as usual and an insensitivity to the real world and hundreds of livelihoods along with associated families that have been flushed since the beginning of this process. While it’s fine to point fingers at the NRC chair, every member of the Commission is culpable, especially if they fold under political pressure and take the path of least resistance by overturning the ASLB. If so, what will this say about the confidence we might have in their ability to handle a serious safety or security issue?

  • Capitol Dome

    No matter how you skin the cat, there is something amiss here if nothing more than a careless arrogance toward a $10 billion investment by American taxpayers, a lack of urgency, business as usual and an insensitivity to the real world and hundreds of livelihoods along with associated families that have been flushed since the beginning of this process. While it’s fine to point fingers at the NRC chair, every member of the Commission is culpable, especially if they fold under political pressure and take the path of least resistance by overturning the ASLB. If so, what will this say about the confidence we might have in their ability to handle a serious safety or security issue?

  • Capitol Dome

    No matter how you skin the cat, there is something amiss here if nothing more than a careless arrogance toward a $10 billion investment by American taxpayers, a lack of urgency, business as usual and an insensitivity to the real world and hundreds of livelihoods along with associated families that have been flushed since the beginning of this process. While it’s fine to point fingers at the NRC chair, every member of the Commission is culpable, especially if they fold under political pressure and take the path of least resistance by overturning the ASLB. If so, what will this say about the confidence we might have in their ability to handle a serious safety or security issue?

  • Neva Dan

    The headline should have read; Is NRC Chairman Jaczko fumbling while Harry Reid’s campaign burns? The slothful pace of the ASLB review can be explained by the Chair’s denial over his impotence in delivering for the Generalissimo after being promoted to the top spot.

  • Neva Dan

    The headline should have read; Is NRC Chairman Jaczko fumbling while Harry Reid’s campaign burns? The slothful pace of the ASLB review can be explained by the Chair’s denial over his impotence in delivering for the Generalissimo after being promoted to the top spot.

  • Neva Dan

    The headline should have read; Is NRC Chairman Jaczko fumbling while Harry Reid’s campaign burns? The slothful pace of the ASLB review can be explained by the Chair’s denial over his impotence in delivering for the Generalissimo after being promoted to the top spot.

  • OCRWMer

    This is easy. Like the decision to terminate Yucca Mountain, the current hiatus is Harry Reid, stupid.

  • OCRWMer

    This is easy. Like the decision to terminate Yucca Mountain, the current hiatus is Harry Reid, stupid.

  • OCRWMer

    This is easy. Like the decision to terminate Yucca Mountain, the current hiatus is Harry Reid, stupid.