NRC’s Magwood refuses to resign, and more from Inside Washington

NRC Commissioner William Magwood refuses to resign over conflict of interest charges. He'll forget his troubles once he lands in Paris in September.

NRC Commissioner William Magwood refuses to resign over conflict of interest charges. He’ll forget his troubles once he lands in Paris in September.

NRC Commissioner William Magwood today sent a letter to attorneys Diane Curran and Mindy Goldstein, who represent 34 groups (including NIRS) that had called for Magwood to resign immediately and retroactively recuse himself from safety-related decisions, refusing to do so.

The groups had sent a letter June 18 urging Magwood’s resignation because of his acceptance of a position as director of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s (OECD’s) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). Magwood begins that position in September.

As the groups pointed out in their letter, the NEA is “an organization (a) that actively promotes ‘the development of the production and uses of nuclear energy;’ and (b) whose policies are set by member governments, including a number that own or sponsor U.S. nuclear licensees and applicants.”

The June 18 letter argued, “In appearance and in actuality, you are now committed to an
organization whose mandate to promote nuclear energy as well as the economic interests of its members is antithetical to the basic principles of the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 that safety, not economics, must be the NRC’s paramount consideration and that promotional policies shall be left to the U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”). It is precisely the blending of economic promotion with safety regulation that was a root cause of the regulatory failures that paved the way for the Fukushima disaster in Japan.”

That letter also called for Commissioner Magwood to release all documents related to his endorsement for the position by U.S. government officials. Magwood has described himself as “the U.S. Government’s candidate” for the job.

In his response, Magwood pointed out that recusal decisions at the NRC are made by the individual Commissioners themselves and that such decisions are not reviewable by the other Commissioners (that in itself seems an NRC position ripe for overturning).  He said that he considers himself able to make decisions in an impartial manner (and with no one in the agency able to challenge that self-determination, why should he care?). Nor does he intend to resign.

As for the documents, Magwood essentially ignored the issue except to acknowledge that he was the U.S. government’s choice for the position, but that he is only “generally aware” of the process for that determination. He made no mention of releasing any documents.

Magwood, one of only two NRC nominees ever actively opposed by NIRS (current Commissioner Kristine Svinicki is the other), has been a consistent voice for the nuclear industry on the Commission, as he is likely to be at the NEA as well. He will probably be most remembered for helping orchestrate the forced departure of former NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko for being too aggressive on safety issues.

But with his September departure, and the decision by President Obama not to re-appoint Commissioner Apostalikis, whose term ended June 30, there is now the possibility of a completely revamped NRC–one closer to the views of current chair Allison Macfarlane, who like Jaczko before her has had to battle the other Commissioners on nuclear safety and radioactive waste issues. But that depends on who President Obama appoints to the Commission, and how quickly. So far, there has been little overt movement on the issue, although there have been some published reports that Jaczko’s former chief counsel and a former staffer to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) are being considered for the open seats.

You can urge President Obama to appoint strong safety advocates to the NRC here.

In other brief Washington news:

The international ITER fusion project under construction in the south of France. Over budget, behind schedule, what else is new? Photo taken February 2013.

The international ITER fusion project under construction in the south of France. Over budget, behind schedule, what else is new? Photo taken February 2013.

The Government Accountability Office this week released a report saying that the Department of Energy’s nuclear fusion reactor program is $3 Billion over-budget and its schedule has slipped by 20 years. When I came to NIRS nearly 30 years ago, I asked some experts about fusion and was told it was 25 years away. Today, after billions have been spent, it’s just as far away as ever. At this point, with the rapid growth of clean energy, continued energy efficiency improvements, and the development of distributed generation and other grid technologies largely unforeseen 30 years ago, the question about fusion is: why bother? By the time it works–if indeed it ever does–it won’t be needed and it will still be dirtier than the alternatives.

Never an institution to stop beating a dead horse, the U.S. House of Representatives late last week voted against two amendments to the Energy Appropriations bill to stop or reduce funding for the moribund Yucca Mountain radioactive waste project. Never mind that there will never be radioactive waste placed at Yucca, or that the House never seems to find an excuse not to cut funding everywhere else in the federal budget; the House plods ever backwards. Maybe if there were more poor people near Yucca, the House would find a reason to cut the project’s funding–which is unlikely to be spent anyway.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) last week warned that “A coordinated and simultaneous attack on the nation’s electricity grid could have ‘crippling’ effects including widespread extended blackouts and ‘serious economic and social consequences,'” according to this report from Bloomberg News.

The CRS report “quoted a Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. official as saying such a task would be ‘surprisingly simple.'”

But it appears that this report, like the other recent studies looking at the vulnerability of the grid to both physical and cyber attack, fails to examine the real consequences of a successful large-scale attack on the grid: loss of offsite power to nuclear reactors–the root cause of the Fukushima meltdowns. An attack of the scale described here, one that could cause extended blackouts, would almost inevitably lead to widespread meltdowns and fuel pool failures and contamination of significant parts of the United States.

Michael Mariotte

July 15, 2014


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2 thoughts on “NRC’s Magwood refuses to resign, and more from Inside Washington

  1. Buzz Davies

    Please be informed that this writer met with Mr Magwood in Erwin, TN on April 3, 2014. At that meeting I reported to him the increasing Nuclear Threat to our National Security created by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Licensing Practices. Specifically, that the NRC had licensed multiple Nuclear Power Plants to operate without inclusion of the 10CFR 50 Appendix B NQA-1 Program requirements. That the results of these actions have, over the decades, created an infrastructure of fudalistic, short-term profit driven operations management organizations throughout the Nuclear Industry and that by their very nature these organizations are PRONE to FAILURE. That as these Nuclear Power Plants age the quantity and seriousness of these failures becomes more pronounced. That the Arkansas 2 failure last March 31, with no power to the plant and venting 500 degree steam from the primary coolant loop for eleven hours was almost a Fukushima Incident. i.e. The first reactor at Fukushima blew its containment after fourteen hours.under similar conditions.
    Regardless, this writer left him (as the Presidential Appointee) with a detailed report to be conveyed to the President concerning this increasing Nuclear National Security Threat! To the best of my knowledge and belief, he has made no attempt to report this situation to the President nor to make any effort at corrective actions!
    With all due concern
    Buzz Davies Nuclear Quality Engineer, Ret.

  2. Peter Sipp

    We can relax a bit. What with the nukie’s track record, their sleazy maneuvers, like with Mr. Magwood, for example… Exposing the cheerleaders for what they really are has just gotten a little easier. We can use this latest underhanded ploy to our advantage.


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