Summer Book Review

Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator

--Gregory B. Jaczko, PhD.

Dr. Jaczko arranges his book chronologically beginning with his background as a physicist and enthusiastic supporter of nuclear energy.

As the youthful member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and later its chairman, Jaczko recounts his inability to influence the other members of the commission. Even in the face of several nuclear emergencies during the time he served, he was continually shocked at the amount of influence the nuclear power industry had over the NRC and the U.S. Congress. 

On the rare occasion when Dr. Jaczko had assembled what he thought was a coalition, he later found that individuals on the commission were more readily swayed by lobbyists than by his influence. 

"History--Forget & Repeat"

After the Three Mile Island accident, just days after the release of "The China Syndrome" in 1979, when everyone anticipated that new promises and a flurry of reforms would come forth, 100 planned nuclear plants were canceled in the U.S.

After 31 died at Chernobyl, from which hundreds were sickened and thousands contracted cancer, no changes were made to U.S. reactors. U.S. nuclear experts dismissed Chernobyl as "a different design" and refused to consider any learning opportunities.

In spite of severe corrosion in the reactor at Davis Besse in Ohio with Alloy 600 leading to near failure, Jaczko found the general notion was "that all knowledge of nuclear power is known."

Jaczko claims "Supporters of nuclear power viewed the [NRC] agency as a tool to promote the nuclear industry, rather than a force to regulate it."

Nor were these issues confined to the USA. As Fukishima lay smoldering, Jaczko's visits revealed that "nuclear power regulators were too accommodating to those they were supposed to regulate." The cabal of regulatory agencies and industry lobbyists refused to interest themselves in outside information.

As Jaczko retired from the commission and vicious fights over regulation, one key ingredient in power plant safety, fire protection, "was years behind."

All in all, Jaczko found that the "promise of perfect nuclear safety is a mirage", because if anything is certain, "nuclear accidents will happen."

Jaczko cooperated with Harry Reid in canceling the Yucca Mountain waste depository project in Nevada.

He found that "realistically forecasting the complex, long term behavior of spent nuclear fuel in underground facilities [is] technically impossible."

Nuclear power is, in Jaczko's words, "the most costly form of carbon-free electricity." An example is the venture of four proposed nuclear reactors in South Carolina and Georgia. These were to be the new Westinghouse AP 1000's, marking a return to plant construction after thirty years of no activity. Years of postponements and cost over-runs have reduced the number of reactors and forced Westinghouse into bankruptcy. Only one, the Vogtle plant, remains under construction. The amounts invested so far overshadow hopes of a positive return on investment from the power it could produce. (In June, the department of Energy bailed Vogtle out with billions of dollars in subsidy).

Jaczko's inevitable conclusion is that "Nuclear power is a failed technology," and, as Jaczko reflects on the waste produced, "In thirty thousand years when these companies no longer exist, who will be responsible for this material?"

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