Friday, May 25, 2012

What advice would you give Allison Macfarlane?

Is she being set up to fail, just a political band aid for a broken agency, or should we expect the full measure of her commitment to the job?

This blog post is an effort at crowd sourcing.  I'm asking readers to engage in some role play.

Assume for the sake of discussion you are an adviser hired independently by Allison Macfarlane to provide unvarnished advice on how to succeed on the job assuming she is confirmed as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Remember, she has a limited shelf life because she is serving out the unexpired term of Gregory Jaczko who has resigned. That term ends in June 2013. The White House has no incentive to submit her hame for a full term unless she is extraordinarily effective in less than a year's time.

Many people whose opinions I respect feel she is unqualified for the job having never managed a large organization or engaged first hand with the enormous pressures of running a major regulatory organization.  I agree these are significant challenges. 

For an opposing view see this  
New York Times editorial for 05/26/12 which cites her work on the DOE Blue Ribbon Commission and for National Academy of Sciences panels on nuclear power and nonproliferation issues.

My assumption is that the real politics of the presidential election make her confirmation likely since it will be paired with that of current commissioner Kristine Svinicki.

The fact that she is not an advocate for Yucca Mountain.  Neither is President Obama which just happens to match the views and political needs of Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid.  And you thought it was the other way around?

Obama's intellectual policy view on management of spent fuel is nothing new and he still needs Nevada to win the election. If you were expecting something else in 2012, there is Mayan Temple somewhere in the jungles of Central America with another fantasy that clamors for your attention.

What do we want from the chairman's office?

The role of the chairman of the NRC is very important to the nuclear industry.  What can be done to prevent Macfarlane from failing?  Cynics say all the White House and Sen. Reid want is that she avoid controversy until after election day.  Are we willing to settle for that from an NRC chairman or can we, do we, expect and demand more?  Is she up for the job and can she do it?

That said this exercise is designed to address some key questions.  Here are a few examples.

** Is she a fish out of water leaving behind the peace of academia for the rigors of a highly technical safety agency that has been put through the ringer?  What can she do to move up the learning curve and where should she start?

** Given MacFarlane's lack of experience with the operations of nuclear power plants, what should she focus on in terms of going to her strengths?

** How will she deal with the issues of the steam generators at San Onofre, the red finding at Ft. Calhoun, or the relicensing controversies at Indian Point?

** How should she address the issue of safety measures associated with lessons learned from Fukushima?

** What should she do to help the NRC deal with licensing issues associated with small modular reactors?

** What should be done to implement the recommedations of the DOE Blue Ribbon Commission?

** How can she restore trust and transparency to the NRC in terms of workforce relations with the chairman's office?  How can she earn the trust of the other four commissioners?

What are other key questions that need to be addressed?

Posting responses

I will post the best responses in the body of this blog post and give you credit for them if you want to be identified by name. Please limit each reply to 250 words. Snarky comments will not be posted.

Trust me the NRC does read this blog and your comments will be seen by the agency.

Send your comments to me at:  djysrv [at] gmail [dot] com

Let's do it.

PS: I've never met MacFarlane.

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Update on China’s nuclear energy program

The cabinet has yet to approve a key safety plan

Chinese-Dragon-Yellow-3-largeThe expansion of China’s civilian nuclear energy plan rests on the approval of a plan by the Ministry of Environmental Protection that would increase the safety of the nation’s nuclear plants.

New nuclear projects and some that have started work, but are not far along, remain suspended until the Cabinet gives a green light.

According to Zhang Guobao, former head of the National Energy Administration, it is unclear when the plan will be taken up for review though a late June date looks promising.

Read the complete details at CoolHandNuke online now


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Monday, May 21, 2012

Jaczko resigns

NYT: Gregory Jaczko to Resign as chairman, NRC

Update 5/22/12: Here in Washington, DC, at the Platts SMR conference, several nuclear energy executives checked their smart phones about the news, shrugged, said they were relieved, and went back to the business to working on issues related to their companies.

If anything there was a sense of relief. Perhaps the inevitability of Jaczko's departure is best captured by the fact that no one mentioned it from the podium or in the Q&A for any of the sessions.  Hall talk was about the business of SMRs.

Jaczko's resignation ends a troubled history for the NRC.  The next chairperson of the commission will have an important task in addition to the usual duties that come with the job. It is to restore confidence that the agency is focused on its nuclear safety mission and not political agendas.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

At Platts SMR Conf this week

I'm on assignment for Fuel Cycle Week covering the Platts Small Modular Reactor conference in Arlington, VA, Mon 5/21-Tue 5/22.

Give me a shout via Twitter @djysrv if you will be there.

Blogging will be light the rest of the week and through the Memorial Day weekend.

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