There was a brief sense of relief when news reports had it Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory Jaczko is resigning, only to be cancelled rudely with a snide, cute and dishonorable exception – the resignation is conditioned on confirmation of his successor.
In the last months of a presidential term, and a president that stands a fairly good chance to not be reelected, the resignation can only be a ploy to appease the president’s extremist supporters and defuse some of the opposition’s fury. Jaczko’s capacity to represent the thinnest slice of the least public interested special interest group will continue, it seems, at least until the next inauguration.
Fool’s abound, but this one – a “conditional” resignation – is a new twist on political deviltry.
Jaczko is a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, as if that is a qualification to lead a highly technical and national economically critical industry, who has been under fire after complaints from both the fellow Democrat and Republican members of the commission after his management activities surfaced last year.
The management conflict became so intense last year all four members of the commission – two Democrats and two Republicans – sent a letter to the White House chief of staff complaining about his management style. When the letter became public, the four commissioners told a House committee in December that Dr. Jaczko had withheld information from them, unprofessionally berated the agency’s professional staff and reduced female employees to tears with abusive comments. They said he had created a “chilled” atmosphere that was hurting the agency’s functional ability.
More on point is the NRC commissioners believe that Jaczko’s leadership style was causing “serious damage” to the agency that could harm the body’s ability to protect health and safety. That was soon proven when Jaczko wildly overreacted to the tsunami wave rushing over the Fukushima reactors by appointing himself with “emergency powers”.
Cooler heads prevailed and America didn’t go nationally brown and blacked out. How Jaczko survived such a politically dopey move to this day – is a marvel of either inattention or deliberate undermining of a very important and basic part of the American economy.
In January 2011 launched a program of R&D on thorium-breeding molten-salt reactors (Th-MSR or TMSR), otherwise known as Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), claiming to have the world’s largest national effort on these and hoping to obtain full intellectual property rights on the technology. A 5 MWe MSR is apparently under construction at Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (under the Academy) with 2015 target operation. (The link is a long page with the research and development portion well down the page.)
CGNPC and Xiamen University are reported to be cooperating on R&D for the traveling-wave reactor, a fast reactor design using natural or depleted uranium packed inside hundreds of hexagonal pillars. In a “wave” that moves through the core at only one centimetre per year, the U-238 is bred progressively into Pu-239, which is the actual fuel. Even as the Ministry of Science & Technology, with CNNC and SNPTC, are skeptical.
Add to that a high temperature pebble bed reactor and fast neutron reactor efforts.
The U.S. is falling behind – the gold standard of U.S. technology and safety isn’t – it’s a research and development barrier that was stolen by specialized interests and crushed U.S. competitiveness.
Perhaps Jaczko’s departure will be a milestone in nuclear regulatory affairs, ending an era of working against the national interest. But don’t count on it, the specialized interests have political power now that hundreds of industry companies, thousands of people in academia and the millions of ratepayers do not match.