President Obama has nominated a Bush-era DOE official, Jessie Roberson, to fill the final seat on the five member Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Roberson also worked for Exelon, the largest nuclear utility in the U.S., from 2004-2006, as Director of Nuclear Regulatory Programs. She has worked for Georgia Power, which is building the Vogtle reactors in that state and as President of the Nuclear Services Division at CH2M Hill. Currently, she is vice-chair of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. Her official bio is here.
The nuclear industry appears to like the nomination but, despite her industry-oriented background, sounded a note of caution: “The nuclear energy industry believes the nation is best served by a fully functioning, five-member commission to carry out the NRC’s safety mission, and looks forward to learning more about Ms. Roberson’s views during the confirmation process,” said Nuclear Energy Institute CEO Marvin Fertel.
Activist groups who have had contact with Ms. Roberson report that she has been reasonably transparent and has appeared committed to safety at DOE nuclear facilities–criticizing the agency openly at times over safety issues. That would in itself be an all too rare attribute at the NRC.
Still, activists on commercial nuclear power issues complain about the seemingly endless revolving door at the NRC between the Commissioners and the industry and suggest that Roberson’s nomination is an unwelcome continuation of this trend.
By law, the NRC is a divided agency: only three of its five Commissioners can be from the same political party–normally the party that occupies the White House. Roberson would be the third Democrat on the Commission, joining recent Commissioners Stephen Burns and Jeff Baran.
Roberson’s nomination requires Senate confirmation; it’s safe to say that no one knows at this point whether that will be forthcoming. In the past, the Senate has sometimes preferred a less-than-complete NRC to one with a dominant party position in place–especially when the Senate has been controlled by the other party, as it is today–even though party affiliation has never been a good predictor of how an NRC Commissioner will vote or approach the job.
In other Inside Washington news, the Senate Finance Committee voted 23-3 today to extend wind power’s renewable tax credit–a big victory for clean energy. The margin of the vote indicates that it is likely to pass the full Senate with a bipartisan majority.
The news caused the President of Nuclear Fantasyland, Senator Lamar Alexander, to throw an absolute hissy fit and repeat his favorite line: “Relying on windmills to produce electricity when nuclear power is available is the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats when nuclear ships are available.” He added his other favorite line, “For more jobs and cheap, reliable power, our country needs more nuclear reactors—not more windmills.” There, there, Senator. Calm down. You’re still living in nuclear fantasyland. Remember: in the real world, wind power is safe, clean, nearly carbon-free and cost-effective. It is an important part of the future. Nuclear power is none of those things.
July 21, 2015
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