My professional work habits and standards were formed by 33 years in the US naval service, an organization with a proud tradition of developing independent decision makers who could be entrusted with billions of dollars worth of national assets and thousands of lives. Our tradition includes demanding training, strong mentoring programs, regular competitive evaluations and a continuing series of inspections. People who perform well are rewarded; those who fail are quickly moved aside. It is not a perfect system because it still depends on actions by inherently imperfect human beings, but it works pretty well and has processes in place that limit the damage that one person can impose.

I believe that one of the reasons that the world’s nuclear energy industry has such an excellent safety record is that it has some of the same standards and processes for developing people who make the important decisions. That is not an accident, navy nukes have played an important role in the industry since its inception.

By all of the standards that I learned, elevating Greg Jaczko to the position of Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was a bad mistake. He did not have the experience, the training, or the education required for the job. Sure, he is a bright, articulate young man who knows how to charm his way ahead; Washington, DC is full of people like him. I met hundreds of them during my nine years as a staff officer at Navy headquarters. They are “quick studies” who can pick up jargon as fast as some people learn foreign languages; it is easy for them to give the impression that they know what they are talking about as long as you do not ask too many penetrating questions.
 
Despite what one of his political patrons said yesterday, Jaczko is no expert in nuclear energy; he earned a Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University in 1993 and a PhD in particle physics from the University of Wisconsin in 1999. His thesis topic was “An effective theory of baryons and mesons.” Here is the abstract of that thesis.

I develop an effective theory to describe the low energy behavior of baryons. The theory is motivated by several issues facing nonperturbative quantum chromodynamic (QCD) calculations: the use of the quenched approximation for exact QCD calculations, the apparent success of nonrelativistic quark flavor models and the difficulties of standard, chiral perturbation theories.

These problems are addressed by considering the baryon as a composite object, preserving the spin and flavor identity of the constituent quarks. This approach differs from standard chiral perturbation theory techniques that treat baryons as elementary particles. The method also allows us to construct effective quark-meson interactions that approximate the loop effects omitted in exact QCD calculations using the quenched approximation. These quark-meson interactions enable reparametrizations of the tree level interactions for many of the calculated loop results, reducing the size and improving the convergence of the loop diagrams. Furthermore, we relate tree-level couplings in the effective theory to equivalent matrix elements of nonrelativistic and semirelativistic quark models.

This effective theory introduces several new elements. We construct a new octet baryon operator and octet baryon propagator. We also develop new effective mass and magnetic moment couplings that significantly reduce the number of free parameters in the theory, providing physical interpretation for the parameters appearing in standard chiral perturbation theory and improving its predictability.

The theory is successfully used to determine baryon masses and magnetic moments using a small number of free parameters. We duplicate previous numerical results from chiral perturbation theory and provide improved results in many cases. In all cases, we determine excellent fits to the masses and moments using a small number of free parameters.

I will leave it to some of the more educated Atomic Insights commenters to help me explain what Jaczko was trying to say.

I can tell you that it has very little to do with the production of useful power through the conversion of nuclear fission generated heat into electricity using real materials, real chemistry, and real machinery operated by real human beings. It has nothing to do with protecting people from exposure to dangerous radiation or developing safety systems or performing probabilistic risk assessment. It does not even have anything to do with producing effective rules or managing a large, technically competent staff charged with important oversight responsibilities.

In May 2009, I attended the Nuclear Energy Assembly and the associated meeting of the North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN). (At 52, I do not qualify for a normal membership, but the founders of that organization made me an honorary member many years ago and I keep paying my dues each year.) Greg Jaczko had been elevated to the position of Chairman just three days before his already scheduled talk. I recorded that speech. Here is a clip that allows him to describe his background and focus areas in his own words.

 

 

My opposition to Jaczko is not partisan; I am not a registered member of either party, but I lean to the left and have often voted for Democrats, including our current President. My opposition is not because I am mad about no longer spending a few hundred million per year developing Yucca Mountain; I have been advising the nuclear industry for more than a decade that there are better ways to handle used nuclear fuel.

No, my opposition to Jaczko is because I dislike incompetent people who have been appointed to positions way beyond their Peter Principle limitations. I dislike the way those people end up acting; they are often arrogantly beyond the point of being trainable and they take out their insecurities on their staff and anyone who disagrees with them.

I also have a fundamental opposition to people who fight against nuclear energy. I am an unabashed and unashamed nuclear fission fan. Jaczko often proclaims that his only focus as a commissioner is nuclear safety and security, but I know that he was trained in the Ed Markey school of nuclear safety. In that school, the primary lesson is that the safest nuclear power plant is one that is either never completed or one that no longer operates and competes with the natural gas that some of Markey’s financial supporters prefer to sell.

Markey has been serving in Congress since 1976, the same year that Jimmy Carter was elected. One of the most important and valuable industrial facilities in his congressional district is the Distrigas of Massachusetts Liquified Natural Gas terminal that started operations in 1971, just before the Arab Oil Embargo and while the first nuclear era was in full swing.

That facility would be worthless if it had to compete against a vibrant nuclear energy industry supplying low cost, emission free electricity that could also be used for home heating. Proof of that statement can be found a few hundred miles south where the Cove Point LNG facility sat idle for decades because its territory was well supplied by plants like Calvert Cliffs, North Anna, and Salem along with low cost coal fired power plants.

In Markey’s New England area, antinuclear activism combined with the geographic limitations that prevent access to low cost coal has provided a sufficient market demand for natural gas to enable the GDF Suez owned LNG terminal to flourish and expand. It is hard to prove any direct links, but the overall effect of successfully shuttering plants like Maine Yankee, Connecticut Yankee, and Millstone I has been to shift more and more of the electricity and heating market to natural gas. I strongly believe that is a main motivator that provides the funds to support the professional opposition that is seeking to shut down the Indian Point, Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim nuclear power stations.

Yesterday, Ed Markey made the following statement about Greg Jaczko.

I believe that the president has named the best chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in its history, in terms of his commitment to nuclear safety.

Anyone who knows anything about the way that Markey feels about nuclear energy should be extremely concerned about the way that some political pundits have tried to paint this controversy as a partisan battle that will blow over through the simple evolution of issuing a partial apology and agreeing to seek the help of a third party mediator.

Aside. I strongly disagree with the analysis offered by my friend at Idaho Samizdat. The small number of voters in Nevada are not worth the political cost of tying up the agency that regulates a industry that provides tens of thousands of jobs and produces 800 billion kilowatt hours of low marginal cost, emission free electricity every year. End Aside.

When four solidly qualified, experienced, mature commissioners have already made the difficult decision to write a strongly worded letter to the White House Chief of Staff, astute observers should recognize that the situation is FUBAR (fouled up beyond all repair) and can only be solved by firing the individual who has created the situation through his inexperience, poor leadership and agressive implementation of a pre-existing agenda to do everything in his considerable appointed power to hamstring the growth of nuclear energy in both the US and around the world.

There are two hearings scheduled in the next two days in which all five commissioners have been invited to testify. One is being held by the House of Representatives and one by the Senate. I am hoping that it becomes increasingly apparent that the problem here is not partisan politics, it is a personnel performance issue that must be corrected by getting rid of the person who has has ignored his abundant counseling and opportunities to improve.