Five Questions With: Andrew Averbach

Andrew Averbach is the NRC’s Solicitor

  1. How would you describe your job in three sentences or less?5 questions_9with box

Under the supervision of the General Counsel, I’m responsible for the NRC’s federal court litigation – representing the NRC in the courts of appeals when the agency is sued about a rule or an adjudicatory order. When a case is filed against us, I’ll typically work with the attorney within OGC’s Legal Counsel division assigned to the case, as well as with the Department of Justice, to write the agency’s brief. Either the OGC attorney or I will argue the case in court. I also provide my views within OGC and to the Commission and the Office of Commission Appellate Adjudication as to how proposed courses of action are likely to be viewed if they are challenged in court.

  1. What is the single most important thing that you do at work?

The single most important thing I do is working with OGC attorneys to articulate and defend the position of the Commission to federal courts. This typically involves defending the agency’s actions against complaints – some exaggerated, some that have at least an arguable legal or factual basis — that the agency has acted illegally or unreasonably.

  1. What is the single biggest challenge you face?andrew

The biggest challenge I face is explaining things in a way that provides reassurance to the courts the agency has thoroughly addressed whatever problem is being raised. The NRC has historically been regarded by the courts as an independent and highly competent agency, and the criticisms that underlie many of the cases brought against us often unfairly suggest otherwise. It requires a good deal of patience to absorb criticism of this type and to explain the agency’s view, without slipping into jargon. Very often this involves trying to explain why the complaints raised against the agency have been oversimplified or are misleading.

  1. If you could change one thing at the NRC or within the nuclear industry, what would it be?

Having a national strategy for the management of spent fuel nuclear fuel would certainly make defending the cases against us easier, as the uncertainty about what will happen to reactor sites over the long term undermines people’s willingness to accept the agency’s assurances of safety, no matter how justified they may be. Specific to the NRC, I would also like to impose a requirement that the salad bar in our cafeteria always have curried cauliflower; I am very disappointed on those days when it is removed.

  1. What one thing about the NRC do you wish more people knew?

I wish more people understood the depth of people’s commitment here to do the right thing. One of the things that’s disheartening in many of the legal briefs filed against us is the pervasive allegation that the agency has acted with an improper motive. On some level, that’s just the hyperbole that some people think is effective in court. However, on another level there’s an element of distrust out there that just doesn’t square up with the way that the agency goes about its work.

Five Questions is a new, occasional blog series in which we pose the same questions to NRC staff members from across the agency.