Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator

Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator

by Gregory B. Jaczko

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Overview

A shocking exposé from the most powerful insider in nuclear regulation about how the nuclear energy industry endangers our lives—and why Congress does nothing to stop it.

Gregory Jaczko had never heard of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission when he arrived in Washington like a modern-day Mr. Smith. But, thanks to the determination of a powerful senator, he would soon find himself at the agency’s helm. A Birkenstocks-wearing physics PhD, Jaczko was unlike any chairman the agency had ever seen: he was driven by a passion for technology and a concern for public safety, with no ties to the industry and no agenda other than to ensure that his agency made the world a safer place.

And so Jaczko witnessed what outsiders like him were never meant to see—an agency overpowered by the industry it was meant to regulate and a political system determined to keep it that way. After an emergency trip to Japan to help oversee the frantic response to the horrifying nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011, and witnessing the American nuclear industry’s refusal to make the changes he considered necessary to prevent an equally catastrophic event from occurring here, Jaczko started saying aloud what no one else had dared.

Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator is a wake-up call to the dangers of lobbying, the importance of governmental regulation, and the failures of congressional oversight. But it is also a classic tale of an idealist on a mission whose misadventures in Washington are astounding, absurd, and sometimes even funny—and Jaczko tells the story with humor, self-deprecation, and, yes, occasional bursts of outrage. Above all, Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator is a tale of confronting the truth about one of the most pressing public safety and environmental issues of our time: nuclear power will never be safe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476755762
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 01/15/2019
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 183,296
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Dr. Gregory Jaczko served as Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2009–2012, and as a commissioner from 2005–2009. As Chairman, he played a lead role in the American government’s response to the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. Jaczko is now an adjunct professor at Princeton University and Georgetown University, and an entrepreneur with a clean energy development company. He is the author of Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator.

Read an Excerpt

Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator

I never planned to be in a position to tell this story. A trained physicist, a Birkenstock-wearing PhD still amazed that a few simple equations could explain something as extraordinary as the northern lights, I never intended to become a nuclear regulator.

Before I came to Washington, I had never heard of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are no television shows or movies with dashing federal agents rushing into a nuclear power plant with blue blazers flashing NRC logos. But because of a powerful politician and a right-place-at-the-right-time kind of timing, I became not only a nuclear regulator but the head of the agency.

This is how my first conversation with Harry Reid, the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate, who eventually got me on the commission, went back in 2001 when I was interviewing for a job in his office.

As we sat down in his office, he said, in a soft, raspy voice, “I would like you to come work for me.”

“Great,” I replied.

“You are a physicist, right?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me the name of your PhD dissertation.”

“?‘An Effective Theory of Baryons and Mesons.’?”

He stood up abruptly and asked, pointing at the window, “What do you think of my view?”

And so I started down the path that would eventually get me the job of commissioner, landing me inside the secret corridors of the agency charged with regulating the nuclear industry. I felt like Dorothy invited behind the curtain at Oz. Then, in another unlikely development for a guy with untested political skills and his basic idealism still intact, I became the agency’s chairman.

The problem was that I wasn’t the kind of leader the NRC was used to: I had no ties to the industry, no broad connections across Washington, and no political motivation other than to respect the power of nuclear technology while also being sure it is deployed safely. I knew my scientific brain could stay on top of the facts. I knew to do my homework and to work hard. But I could also be aggressive when pursuing the facts, sometimes pressing a point without being sensitive to the pride of those around me. This may have had something to do with why I eventually got run out of town. But I also think that happened because I saw things up close that I was not meant to see: an agency overwhelmed by the industry it is supposed to regulate and a political system determined to keep it that way. I saw how powerful these forces were under the generally progressive policies of the Obama administration. These concerns are even more pressing under the Trump administration, in which companies have even more power. I was willing to describe this out loud and to do something about it. And I was especially determined to speak up after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan, which happened while I was chairman of the NRC. This cataclysm was the culmination of a series of events that changed my view about nuclear power. When I started at the NRC, I gave no thought to the question of whether nuclear power could be contained. By the end, I no longer had that luxury. I know nuclear power is a failed technology. This is the story of how I came to this belief.

Table of Contents

Prologue vii

Chapter 1 Dr. Jaczko Goes to Washington 3

Chapter 2 Forget and Repeat: A Brief but Necessary History of Accidents 23

Chapter 3 The Burning Issue: The Battle to Prevent Nuclear Fires 41

Chapter 4 Nevada Roulette: Ending the Yucca Mountain Charade 54

Chapter 5 Accidents Do Happen: The Tragedy of Fukushima 70

Chapter 6 Visiting Tokyo: Crises Reveal Human Beings at Their Best 96

Chapter 7 Tsunamis in the Heartland: A Scenario for an American Fukushima 104

Chapter 8 Fukushima Effects: The Fight over Essential Industry Reforms 116

Chapter 9 Express Lane: The Nuclear Industry Licensing Juggernaut 132

Chapter 10 Cleanup Is Forever: Visiting Fukushima 144

Chapter 11 Going Nuclear: Confrontation over the Building of New Atomic Plants 152

Chapter 12 Out of Time: My Departure from the Agency and the Future of Nuclear Power 159

Appendix: A Peek at the Science of Nuclear Reactors 169

Notes 179

Index 183

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