FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Nuclear Agency Squabbling Throws Smokescreen Over Safety Lapses

Four of the five commissioners at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission have charged their boss, Chairman Gregory Jaczko, with “causing serious damage to this institution.” That is tough talk coming from an agency where mismanagement under previous chairmanships actually did serious damage, not only to the regulatory integrity of the institution, but to safety integrity at nuclear reactors.

For example, in April 2000, the Commission had photographic evidence of extensive corrosive leakage that put the Davis-Besse reactor near Toledo, Ohio within a hair’s breadth of a meltdown. Yet, despite lava-like formations of rust roiling off the top of the reactor pressure vessel, the NRC allowed the reactor to restart, giving it the green light for two more years of operation. The NRC clearly needed a top to bottom safety shakeup.   That’s when Chairman Jaczko showed up.

The grumbling over Jaczko is a convenient smokescreen to draw attention away from the fact that, for the first time in decades, the NRC actually has a Chairman who, in his own words, is “a very passionate person about safety” at the country’s 104 operating nuclear reactors. That shows up the other four, who, much of the time, adhere to an old culture of capitulation to the demands of the nuclear power industry, a practice which almost invariably diminishes safety.

Although he has by no means a perfect record, Jazcko has on several important occasions put his vote where it counts to reinforce safety at the country’s nuclear power plants.

Last June, Chairman Jazcko was alone on the Commission in calling for the end to handing out more “Get out of Jail Free” cards for fire code violations potentially affecting the safe shutdown of reactors during a fire.  For decades, the nuclear industry has been in violation of federal fire safety laws, yet the Commission consistently shields the nuclear industry from potentially costly fixes by negating enforcement of its own regulations.

Jaczko wisely carried out President Obama’s decision to cancel the licensing of the scientifically unsound proposed radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain, NV. Jaczko’s was also the only dissenting voice in the September 2005 NRC vote that approved a “parking lot” dumpsite for 40,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste targeted for the tiny Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation in Utah. (The project was later canceled).  He was again the sole opposing vote in April 2009 when the NRC approved a 20-year license extension for the dangerous and decrepit Oyster Creek reactor in New Jersey, the country’s oldest.

The commissioners appear to be using their spat with Jaczko to shroud their own collective inaction despite the lessons that should have been learned from the still unfolding nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. During the early weeks of the accident, it was Chairman Jaczko who urged Americans in Japan to evacuate to 50 miles away from the Fukushima disaster (although US standards still only require 10 miles, a regulation Jaczko should now push to change.) He also created the Near- and Long-Term Fukushima Task Force to examine the implications for a similar crisis on US soil. That shows a concern for public safety that should be central to the commissioners’ mandate.

Congress, to whom the NRC is answerable, should be paying attention to job performance at the agency. But rather than wrangle with the trivialities of alleged workplace tantrums, our elected officials need to scrutinize the NRC’s long history of failure to enforce its own safety regulations.

During the BP Deep Water Horizon debacle, revelations that the now hastily renamed Minerals Management Service was too cozy with the oil industry and disastrously derelict in its duty to enforce safety regulations, made waves. Yet, despite the fact that the NRC is literally playing with fire – and radioactivity – no similar scrutiny has been applied.

Congress could better spend its time looking deeper into lax safety oversight at NRC and tell its commissioners to stop favoring the nuclear industry’s financial priorities over public safety.

Linda Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a Takoma Park, Maryland-based safe energy advocacy organization.

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail