Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Jaczko Retrospective

On July 14, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Dr. Gregory Jaczko, met with representatives of seven groups opposed to Vermont Yankee. The picture of the meeting (at left) first appeared on the front page of the NRC web site. It has subsequently been replaced with another picture.

In this picture, Dr. Jaczko is the man in the white shirt. To the left of him is Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation. The man with his hands in front of his face is Bob Bedy of the Safe and Green Campaign. Next to Bedy, the woman with long hair is Deb Katz of Citizen's Awareness Network.

Others who were invited to the table were Ray Shadis of the New England Coalition (NEC), Debra Stoleroff of the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, Ed Anthes of Nuclear Free Vermont, and James Moore of VPIRG.

Those Not at the Table

Just behind Katz and somewhat to the left is Howard Shaffer. I am sitting next to Howard and appear slightly to the right of Katz. We weren't invited to speak to Jaczko. Others who were not invited to the table included the pro-business group Vermont Energy Partnership, and various individuals (such as the state representative from the town of Vernon) who had asked to meet with Jaczko.

As Rod Adams noted in a post, the NRC explained that Jaczko met with the opponent groups (which the NRC called "citizen volunteer groups"), members of the media, and the licensee. I gather that business groups (like VTEP) and elected officials (like the representative from Vernon) weren't people he wanted to listen to. Or, alternatively, they weren't his target audience.

Not at the Table, But Noticed

I would like to publicly thank Ray Shadis of NEC and Chad Simmons of the Safe and Green campaign for making thoughtful comments to me. I do not remember their words exactly, but they acknowledged that Howard and I also represented citizens, and said that if they had been in my shoes, they would have been offended at being excluded. This made me feel better about sitting in the peanut gallery. I appreciate their kindness.

What Happened at the Table

Nothing much. In an earlier post, I predicted that Jaczko would not have much chance to hold the floor, and he would be interrupted. I was right. Jaczko got very little airtime. The opponents spoke for approximately an hour at the beginning of the hour-and-a-half meeting, and when Jaczko spoke, he rarely was able to hold the floor for two minutes at a time before being interrupted. Howard Shaffer's guest post on this blog pointed out this phenomenon, and so the Burlington Free Press also noted that he was interrupted.

The opponents made statements that I found quite interesting and basically naive. For example, James Moore said “It is a zero tolerance for error game here.” This statement makes a good soundbyte, but what does it mean? I can't think of a single human activity (driving, building a house, parenting) that can exist on "zero tolerance for error." Apparently, Mr. Moore thinks it is a reasonable requirement for a business or industrial facility.

In terms of understanding the consequences of problems at nuclear plants, the crowd was completely in tune with anti-nuclear propaganda and conspiracy theories. I have noticed that people who believe conspiracy theories always feel they are far more sophisticated than those who do not believe such theories. I tend to see conspiracy theorists as less thoughtful than average. They are unwilling to listen to complex answers if they can find a scapegoat instead. As Nuclear Townhall wrote:

The key moment occurred, however, when Jaczko made the casual and seemingly indisputable remark that “what the offshore oil industry is going through now the nuclear industry went through thirty years ago at Three Mile Island – except there was no off-site damage.”...... (The crowd objected) “What about the radiation monitors that blew out!” “What about all those cancer studies?” They are all steeped in the lore that Three Mile Island was in fact a health catastrophe that has been diligently covered up by the powers that be.

Jaczko Holds His Own

Perhaps the most important thing that happened at the table was that Jaczko didn't give in to the opponents. He stated that he heard them, that he had many of the same concerns, but he had come to different conclusions. He did not see any reason to shut the plant down immediately. He didn't see the tritium leak as a reason to shut the plant down. He didn't see the NRC as slow-moving about safety issues. He listened, but he didn't agree.

All in all, I felt I could take lessons from Jaczko. He was practicing a textbook example of effective Assertiveness, the kind of thing they teach in Assertiveness Training. As a woman fairly up in my career in the late eighties, I took Assertiveness Training through my company HR department. (Didn't we all take it, in the 80s?) When you are assertive, you acknowledge your opponent's position--without agreeing to it or conceding.

Jaczko was a master at this. His message was simple: I hear your concerns. I acknowledge your concerns and have some of the same concerns myself. I don't agree with your conclusions, and will not take action based on your conclusions.

Jaczko could have taught the assertiveness course I took. Though they didn't give grades, I knew I was only a B-minus-type student when I took the class. If I could study a videotape of this meeting with Jaczko, I could learn and improve.



I've gone to more than my share of NRC meetings. I find that by being "open" and over-polite, NRC has nurtured an agency-centered cult of exaggeration..... a cult that never gets a hearing, except from NRC. I've watched these perennial performers wear themselves out in New York state, where the phenom is old hat, with NY's media jaded, and actually beginning to do balanced reportage. From 2001 until 2010, the novelty of the sci-fi has staled up quite a bit, the ecofascisti are outed for what they are....troubled, malicious individuals on a tear to ban their own demons in the guise of everyone else's jobs, finances, and future prospects.Unfortunately, in Vermont, where the eccentricity demographic seems (to me) proportionately higher, the media relatively naive, & prone to issue pandering, this end game may never emerge. Vermont seems destined to imitate post-potato-famine Ireland, and populate other more vibrant places with its young people....becoming an organically unimpeachable old folks' home where nothing ever begins.....& everything just ends. Don't get me wrong, stagnation & quietude have their charms... but lead to just one place... a narrow niche, below ground.


Anonymous said...

I've been thinking that there is at least one reasonable possibility as to why the NRC Chairman met with anti-Vermont Yankee Nuclear organization representatives. At the bottom, he was seeking constructive criticism of his agency's performance. Honestly, have you given the issue some thought? Have you ever offerred a critical evaluation in all of the public fora that we've seen since entergy came to town? What sort of critique do you suppose the Vermont Energy Partnership would have offerred? If it were to be substantive and directed to actions within the purview of NRC, we haven't heard a comment like it from them yet.



Since most people schooled in antinuclear intervenor doctrine hold it as a first principle that NRC is "in the pocket" of the licensees, Mr. Jaczko could not have picked up much real information aside from partisan anti-NRC myth. Were he to desire a schooling in that myth, he need only peruse the NCI, UCS, CAN,or NIRS websites, where most of it originates. Seeing as the Vermont situation is outside his agency's purview (for the moment), and in the hands of well funded political forces, his meeting was a non-event.

Try to recall that VY was well within the NRC rules, when the tritium wells were dug as a proactive pro-public investigational move by Entergy.Everything after the Blanch/Gundersen myth-telling is purest self serving cult-hype.

Your body, and every living being's body, contain tritium. Just because it can be detected, does not make it harmful. Near a seafood store, I would expect to smell fish. At a gas station, I would expect to see oil stains. In Vermont, I would expect to see flannel shirts. At VY, I would expect some tritium.

I recall standing at the Governor Hunt mansion in Vernon, and smelling the distinct odor of cow manure, wafting in from the surrounding farms.It's unpleasant, and would make me sick were I to rub it all over my hands, but if you want milk, you gotta have cow manure.

If you desire a Vermont with no infrastructure, no industry, no economy, and no affinity for technology, you better get busy digging outhouses & cutting firewood.

Mike Mulligan said...

Remember me heckling the Chairman with the truth...I said how many times in the roundtable, “remember the HB Robinson nuclear plant (accident).

Now we got VY and the million gal leaker Susquehanna?

Meredith Angwin said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments!

Feed Burner. I agree with much of what you say, but I hope that Jaczko had some plan in mind as the purpose of the meeting. My supposition is that his plan was to listen, but make it clear that the NRC followed its own policies, not whatever statement an opponent group makes.

Also, Jaczko should have spent more time doing this, if he was going to do it at all. There were seven people there, each with a separate agenda, If each spoke for ten minutes, then Jaczko and back-and-forth conversation and final statements would have about...twenty minutes total. That is pretty much what happened, and it felt very rushed.

Anonymous. Your post assumes that Jaczko wanted to hear critiques of the NRC, and therefore, those in favor of the plant would not have critiques, so they were not invited. Of course, like most people, I have critiques of the NRC...but they are probably not the critiques you would have! I think that the whole thing about "well, we don't interfere with plants talking to their state-level regulators" was a bit much, considering that the NRC had information about pipes and the state wanted that info. The NRC could have given the info directly to the state, or given the plant a heads-up on the fact that some statements they made to the state were incorrect.

On the other hand, why didn't the state ask the NRC? From my viewpoint there is blame on both sides.

Still and all. I was a researcher, not a bureaucrat. Researchers want other people to see their results and critique and improve the results, while bureaucrats are famous for having agendas about protecting their info and their turf. So what do I know about who is to blame on this?! What I know is fairly simple: a more open dialog could have saved a LOT of trouble, IMHO.

Mike. I did notice you heckling Jaczko. I didn't like it. If all of us who were excluded from the table (including me) heckled the man, the meeting would have been a shambles, and I prefer that meetings be civil. I thank you, though, for commenting on this blog.