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Monday, July 18, 2011

NRC Chairman Jaczko - Speech at NPC

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko has just finished a speech and Q&A session at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. This writer watched the speech in its entirety and presents the following observations from his notes.

-The Chairman seems to have made certain within the first two minutes to have again used the "things are good but we can always do better" line, and perhaps defensively brought with him three reps whose credentials are of interest right now. One is one of the two resident inspectors at Indian Point, which is much in the news (locally, anyway) over continued public concern about fault lines it feels are not adequately analyzed or else are ignored by the NRC, the owner-operator and the vendor. Second is an NRC member who oversees fire protection programs for the NRC. Third is an NRC member who went to Japan with the IAEA mission, and whose job at NRC involves safety research.

-The Chairman says that a systematic review of the NRC's safety program has been underway since Fukushima. (What other focus than safety does the NRC have? This seems to be almost overly self-deprecating.)

-The Chairman made the remark that many people in the business thought that such an accident "could not and would not happen." However, many people concerned with safety and accident analysis DID, and years' worth of accident analysis reports from ORNL are testimony to that. He might have done better to imply that while such accidents were and are always a remote possibility, and many have been analyzed and examined, the likelihood was so small that the chances were pushed to the furthest reaches of anyone's minds and attentions. Fukushima now brings up massive natural disasters and multi-plant accidents on site to a high level of priority EVEN IF STILL AT an almost impossibly low order of probability. And, considering the triggering mechanism, in the United States an extremely low order of probability.

-The Chairman did repeat phraseology from the 90-day report describing some of the regulatory history as "piecemeal and patchwork." However, later on when pressed on this he did indicate that this descriptor is not necessarily derogatory. It is supposed to point out that the original regulation regarding severe accidents was almost entirely DBA approach based, and that later on "beyond DBA" or "extended DBA" scenarios were examined and provisions tacked on variously to regulations and standards. Now he says it's time to refocus the legislation and regulation and make the definitions and concepts of various accident scenarios more clear. (Are we clear on that? I'm not.)

-The Chairman pointed out that in the past, Browns Ferry (the fire) and TMI were major events that led to wide changes in regulation, as was 9/11, and that Fukushima is another such event. I agree, but not to the point of restructuring the whole regulatory environment.

-The Chairman stated that "voluntary initiatives are no substitute for strong and effective oversight" when talking about safety rules, plant designs and so forth .. and accidents. This is clearly a slap at the owner-operators and vendors; one wonders what NEI or INPO will have to say about this remark if they caught it. It's essentially Jaczko saying "the NRC knows best.. or at least has the final word."

-The Chairman made a vague statement that work by the panel is looking at "redefining our core definition of 'safety'." What does that mean? I have no idea.

-The Chairman also says that the task force "helped us understand what safety means in a post-Fukushima world." What does that mean? Safety is exactly what it was prior to the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the Fukushima Daiichi Accident. It means no core damage, no release of radioactive material to uncontrolled areas.. all the same things it meant before.

Let's just stop to mention one thing here: The ultimate consideration here vis a vis safety is that the Japanese DID CONSIDER a massive tsunami as possible on the Fukushima site and DID BUILD a tsunami barrier against it. The barrier was not tall enough, and was not effective. There were other problems that began like a spark in a powder keg when the water breached the protection. This requires no fundamental shift in our thinking of what nuclear power plant safety is. Now back to my notes.

-Perhaps most tellingly, the Chairman kept mentioning 90 days is now the next time period to get the panel's recommendations considered for action. Oddly, while he was saying this a tweet appeared on the Twitter feed on the NPC site labeled as being from the House Commerce committee saying that they urge him to follow established commission procedures. It certainly seems like Jaczko is implying, and that this committee is thinking, that the Chairman might attempt some sort of executive privilege or order with his new power to circumvent established procedure in terms of new regulation. This will certainly be much more clear soon.

-The Chairman has requested a road map to a goal of US plant alterations and regulatory changes as a result of Fukushima 'lessons learned' and wants all changes made in FIVE YEARS, that is by 2016. (This writer wonders if plants due to shut down by license expiration will be exempted, if there are any.. since no one would want to spend the money to backfit a plant about to shut down, they'd just shut it down immediately. This could be a great forced shutdown tool for the NRC.)

-The Chairman was asked why just 90 days to review and get regulation going - does that mean that there really is an imminent threat? His answer refreshingly was "no" - saying also that if there were any imminent threats we'd be shutting plants down right now and we're not.

-The Chairman DID say that we must clear all the Fukushima lessons learned hurdles prior to any new plant licensing. Since that could happen fairly soon, it's important to get the Fukushima lessons / regs / mods out of the way first. (This could be a great non-licensing tool for the NRC.)

-The Chairman was asked what the Japanese did well and didn't do well, but didn't really answer it. He also refused to speculate on the future of nuclear energy in Japan, and also refused to say whether dumping nuclear as Germany did makes any sense.

-While asking a question about how the NRC and the nuclear industry work together, the NPC President essentially implied that the nuclear industry is like the banking industry supposedly was in that being expected to self-govern and self-regulate doesn't work. The implication is insulting. Further, the implication removes any government responsibility for the banking scandal (off topic here) and implies that big government and big heavy-handed regulation are the only real answers to corporate America's greed. Just a shameful question, and probably deliberately tossed out there to demean the nuclear industry in general. Jaczko answered that the relationship "works pretty well" but the real purpose for "asking this question" (replace that with "staged commentary disguised as a question") was satisfied.

-The Chairman was asked essentially if nuclear is needed in any or all nations' generating portfolios, as it were, and he replied that when he took the oath of office joining the NRC he stopped giving his opinion on that.

-The Chairman would not elaborate on Yucca Mountain or waste storage commitment, although he did say that studies show solid waste good as-is for about 60 years.

That about covers my notes, and my comments on those notes. I'm sure much more will come here and elsewhere on this speech, and its implications.

2:40 PM Eastern Monday July 18, 2011


  1. > important to get the Fukushima lessons / regs /
    > mods out of the way first.

    How long until it's possible to do a complete analysis of what broke when inside the reactor? Doesn't this need access to cut out anything that broke and figure out when and how breaks happened, whether there were loads past design basis, or bad welds, or neutron embrittlement, or any of the many other issues routinely checked? I thought several years were needed before this could be done.

  2. Thanks Will for your notes and thoughts. I hope that your fear of an executive power-grab does not happen.

    I will now look with interest for other perspectives on the Jaczko speech. No doubt cherries will be picked.

  3. @Hank: Right you are. It will be over a decade before the last important findings are made - even if they happen to be "no" findings. (By that I mean finding that nothing internal to the pressure vessel failed due to the earthquake, if that's discernible.) Jaczko is talking about the preventive regulation that will eventually result from the panel's work.

  4. Will, Thanks for the write up on Jaczko's speech.

    I also fear Jaczko will preempt standard procedures and impose "solutions" without a full understanding of all the failure points at Fukushima.

  5. My hopes for Jaczko (such as they are) rest on the fact that he has a PhD in Physics. In my experience Physics has the lowest proportion of irrational idiots to be found on Earth. I would hope that eventually even he will get fed up with the idiocy of the anti-nukes.

    If not, then frankly I think the influence of the NRC on worldwide development of nuclear power is fading fast. It is a depressing thought for an American but it is possible that China will actually complete and begin operating the first Westinghouse AP1000 before the NRC gives final approval to a license in the US.

    Even given the late start, the UK might give approval to the AP1000 before the NRC. Fukushima may have dented this a bit, but I see less and less concern about having the 'gold seal' approval of the NRC from potential nuclear power customers around the world.

  6. > possible that China will actually complete
    > and begin operating the first Westinghouse
    > AP1000 before the NRC gives final approval

    Ironically, China's officially on record on that possibility--they're worried about going too fast for their quality control:


    "Going too far too fast 'could threaten the long-term healthy development ...
    ... ambitious targets to deploy AP1000s with reduced foreign input have proven difficult due to frequent quality control issues in the supply chain. As a result ... China is building Generation-II units in such large numbers, said the SCRO, counting 57 on the books."