U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Getting settled in

Dr. Allison Macfarlane

It’s been a little over four weeks since I was sworn in as chairman of the NRC, and to describe it as busy would be putting it mildly.

I have so far had the opportunity to visit our regional office in Atlanta, the NRC training facility in Chattanooga, and go to the North Anna nuclear plant. That’s the one that is near the site of the earthquake that shook much of the East Coast a year ago. And, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of local officials near that plant and some groups that have an interest in the facility.

I’ve been staffing my office, getting briefings on the major issues before the Commission, and making decisions on many of them. I have led two Commission meetings, including one today on post-Fukushima safety improvements for U.S. reactors, invested time in detailed meetings with my four Commission colleagues, and also spent time on Capitol Hill visiting with Members of Congress who have an interest in the work we do here at the NRC.

There are two things that strike me about the NRC as I am settling into this job. The first is there are a number of ongoing issues that will play out over a period of years that must be managed, chief among them getting the Fukushima-related safety improvements built into the 104 reactors that currently exist in this country.

The second is the degree of dedication in the men and women at the NRC and the values they hold. There are 4,000 people in this agency who think safety, think about protecting people and the environment, each and every day. For them this is a calling, and Americans can be proud of the work they are doing, starting with the NRC inspectors who work the plants every day to the contract specialist making sure our employees get the support they need. I hope they will feel comfortable introducing themselves when they run into me on the Metro, the cafeteria or on the elevator.

Okay, there is one other thing that strikes me. This place is awash in acronyms, few of which mean anything to the average American. One of my goals – in addition to getting the important policy matters dealt with and being supportive of our staff – is to have this agency communicate more in plain, simple and understandable language. I’m a scientist, with a doctorate, and even I need the cheat sheet to figure out what some of these abbreviations mean.

Allison Macfarlane
Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

13 responses to “Getting settled in

  1. Ian Turnbull August 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    I am pleased to read that you, Dr Macfarlane, have a background in geology. It was my path and the very nature of that work (of a geologist being as a “student of natural forces”) has informed my own interest and curiosity about the whole nature of nuclear power.
    In this context, I’d mention that I was engaged for a while in a search for uranium, in Canada. That work gave me an interest in the physics of the atom. I was particularly impressed by the insight of the “Four interactive Forces” being responsible for all the behaviour of the particles. I was fairly newly married at this time, busy and enjoying being a parent, and in this mood, I slowly came to see that those same four forces (or their domestic equivalent) were at work and play in our family lives. They were responsible, in other words, for all of our behaviour.
    That experience baffled me in the first instance and then led me to look into the “holographic paradigm”: which is essentially the same principle known in ancient times as “as above, so below”. I am moved to say that I find this principle is real and good and solid, and much of the evidence for this comes in fact from our work with nuclear power.
    It know it goes against the grain of nuclear physics to factor subjective data into our knowledge of the atom. But I’ve been quite some way down this path and find it makes for an entirely useful and sensible addition to our understanding of the processes going on amongst the particles. Actually, I’m understating the difference this data brings to insights about the nuclear processes, because I fear they will make you stop reading. Or run away !
    Anyway, I’ve put together a web site which seeks to describe in the first instance the holographic principle: and then to apply it to the processes of nuclear fission.
    I posted an outline of this insight to the Blue Ribbon Commission. Once I glimpsed the universal nature of the energy in the atom, and recognised that the same stuff is amongst us humans, there was no turning back. The expression that applies to this situation is: the only way out – is to go in deeper.
    Now I am of the opinion that there is potential for us humans, us Humanity, to create some kind of collective spiritual approach, a remedial process that can hopefully treat radiation: and in due course, the radioactive waste materials. We’ve got the physics of the atom sorted. It is the metaphysics of this same small world that now needs out interest.
    I hope this quick summary will catch your attention. I’ve been advocating this whole view to the authorities here in the UK, but no one (so far) wants to get involved. Feeling stymied, I’ve prevailed on colleagues to participate in some small scale experiments to test this concept using common household smoke detectors as a target. It is a long shot ! But without success. I know there is interest in Africa (because I’ve been lobbying them (www.kenyanuclear.com) to get on the case). But this is an approach available to everyone, so I hope you in turn will find a way to give it some attention.
    Thanks and good wishes
    Ian Turnbull

  2. Gary Headrick August 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Dr. Macfarlane,

    I am encouraged by your words and actions. You have a daunting job ahead of you, but you seem quite comfortable and confident with the task at hand. Congratulations on a fine start.

    As leader of a grass roots organization, San Clemente Green, we would welcome a visit from you, similar to a meeting we had with Chairman Jaczko regarding the situation at San Onofre. Our immediate concern is that a decision to restart will be made by the NRC without going through the License Amendment proceeding that was not done at a time when it could have prevented the situation we face now.

    I agree that most of the people in the NRC and at SONGS are deserving of our deepest gratitude. I will say however, that as recently as yesterday another whistleblower contacted me about how bad things still are in terms of morale and fear of retaliation. This person had nothing but praise for people like Pete Dietrich and Ted Craver at the upper levels, but sees the problem coming from middle management creating an adversarial culture there. The frightening aspect of this situation is that decisions are being made at the top based on misinformation from the middle. Please take this into consideration when seeking to improve the situation. The facts seem to point to an increase in fear on site, not a decrease as NRC concluded when determining that the Chilling Effects Letter had the intended results. Only the numbers of complaints dropped, but that seems to be due to the fear factor increasing not decreasing.

    Again, the most pressing concern is to have the License Amendment proceeding begin immediately and if possible, at your own discretion. We are going to a lot of effort to bring pressure from outside to make this happen, but that honestly seems like it should come from the NRC voluntarily. Even if the decision to skip that step earlier turns out to be technically correct we believe it should have taken place. The need to have other independent nuclear experts and transparent public participation in an adjudicated and evidentiary hearing is essential to regaining the public’s confidence in such an important decision regarding restart of these facilities to any degree.

    I look forward to your response and welcome any opportunity to work together towards our common goals with public safety being number one priority.

    • CaptD August 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      Gary, what was a great comment!

      I like to add that the NRC meeting with the Public should not be confined to only one short time limited meeting, in one location, since (using San Onofre as a great example) there are a number of VERY LARGE Major Cities within its 50 mile “impact zone”, so that a separate meeting should be held in each, so that all those that want to speak to the NRC have the chance to do so.

      It is time for the NRC to start “listening” more before making decisions that will affect millions of people, rather than just rubber stamping relicensing requests because it is good for the Utility, it keeps the true cost of decommissioning secret and the long term radioactive material/spent fuel storage problem from surfacing, yet again…

    • nuclear guy August 10, 2012 at 10:54 pm

      Why a license amendment? My understanding was the 50.59 rule was used to make the modification?

  3. No War Now August 8, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    There is no such thing as nuclear safety. There is no cost benefit to nuclear power. There are not enough students entering the nuclear studies field to fill nuclear employment openings. Risks involved, the mining required, the lack of effective waste handling options, terror risks, all add up to a big fat zero. Please work on abolishing all nuclear. No Nukes, No Fusion, No Fast Breeders, No Uranium, No Corium, No Plutonium, No Thorium, No no no. The world can not manage nuclear anymore. Nada mas.

  4. fresh August 8, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Welcome and good luck. There are alot of reasons that old clunker plants keep going, mostly financial, since if you can buy a plant for $200 to $400 M, it can make immediately economic sense to run it for profit, but like a 40 YO airplane, they should just be retired. As a former DOD inspector, I can tell you one this for sure, it is not possible to inspect quality into a product, it has to be there in the first place.

    So an old plant bought on the cheap, may turn a decent profit. Say even $1M per month, although a serious accident, like at the Palisades plant could do $200 B in damages and wipe out much of the Great Lakes economy.

    The supposed new plants will cost $14B and the track history of overruns at 250% just make it a complete boondoogle, as the GE president has recently pointed out.

    Solar electric can be done for 3 cents to 9 cents per kWH at THIS TIME and prices are going down. And there is no evacuation zone, no iodine pills (which by the way are a false sense of security since they only help with one problem).

    Anyhow, Welcome! And lets shut down the clunkers in the US, all the Clunkers and all the Mark 1′s, thanks.

    • CaptD August 9, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      To fresh

      I agree with you, allowing “Nuclear Clunkers” to remain in operation is pushing our luck, which is something Japan did and they got caught!

      Because Fukushima PROVED that Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7/365; we cannot allow any reactors and especially the oldest ones to remain in service because the USA cannot afford even one Fukushima-Type disaster!

      I alos like to point out that US reactors are not even built to the same “high” Earth Quake or Earth Moments as those in Japan… It is time that the NRC places the Financial Safety of the USA ahead of Utility profits and starts the decommissioning process of the oldest and most fragile reactors ASAP.

  5. easy diet for you August 8, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Useful information. What is the NRC? What is the role of government towards the development of NRC? Is the NRC is also developing certain activities related to women’s rights?

  6. CaptD August 7, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Welcome Aboard!

    Your have your work cut out for you and I hope you can urge all the others at the NRC to:

    1. Stop living in Nuclear Denial* by starting to not only decommission the worst of the US reactors.

    2. To produce better NRC Decommissioning cost analysis, something even the GAO found lacking!
    http://www.gao.gov/products/RCED-88-184

    3. Develop actual 50 mi. Evacuation Plans that illustrate that the NRC may have to deal with a
    meltdown. Hold some actual evacuation drills and make sure your theories are sound.

    4. Look into low cost radioactive storage solution located inside Military Testing Bases and or
    our MOA’s (Military Operation Area’s) out west, which are really huge tracts of land (think
    tens of thousands of acres) used ONLY by the military and already secured by them 24/7!

    Placing these very large (heavy) concrete casks in a poke-a-dot pattern will allow for at least
    50 to 100 years of storage, safe from everything except a War, (in which case every reactor
    is just as vulnerable) and then revisit the storage problem then; at which time, probably a
    future solution will allow for an even better lower cost “final solution”…

    5. Look into how the US Circumvented Laws To Help Japan Accumulate Tons of Plutonium.
    http://www.dcbureau.org/

    6. Develop a new set of radioactive “units” and RAD levels that are easy for the public to understand.

    7. Start offering some prize money for suggestions that save the NRC some money by posting
    some questions that the public can possibly help solve.

    8. Learn more about Earth Quakes, they pose the greatest threat to all our Nuclear Complexes!

    Thanks Again

    • CaptD August 7, 2012 at 9:16 pm

      9. Please provide a preview or edit “button” and or a spell checker so we can review
      what we submit before it is “set in cement”.

      10. Find a way to provide rapid moderation on the NRC blog, so all those that are interested
      can actually hold a conversation, 24 to 48 hours is no longer acceptable!

      Also mission from above:

      *Nuclear Denial

      * http://is.gd/XPjMd0

      The illogical belief that Nature cannot destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7/365!

      • Moderator August 8, 2012 at 8:25 am

        WordPress is the platform the NRC uses for its blog, and it does not provide a spellcheck feature for comments.

        Most comments are approved and posted within 24 hours. We are also looking at avenues that would allow for online real-time discussions in the future — so stay tuned!

  7. steamshovel2002 August 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Call me anytime if you need some advice?

    I like you already with this comment…

    Thanks,

    Mike Mulligan

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