The NRC And The Nuclear Option

Posted by | May 8, 2011 21:22 | Filed under: Planet Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

The type of people that populate a federal agency matters.  The EPA is so effective (or so hated) because it is staffed with diehard environmentalists who deeply believe in the agency’s mission.  The ill-fated Minerals Management Service failed because it was staffed with people who believed their job was to open land for drilling.  Today the New York Times has a long expose on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Money quote:

The agency’s shortcomings are especially vexing because Congress created it in the mid-1970s to separate the government’s roles as safety regulator and promoter of nuclear energy — an inherent conflict that dogged its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission.

“It wasn’t much of a change,” said Peter A. Bradford, a former N.R.C. commissioner who now teaches at Vermont Law School. “The N.R.C. inherited the regulatory staff and adopted the rules and regulations of the A.E.C. intact.”

If the staff of the NRC believe their job is to keep nuclear plants open, then they cannot effectively ensure that the plants are safe (and the article has numerous examples of NRC failures).  Even in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, I don’t see how we deal with our dependence on foreign oil and global warming without nuclear power.  But one nuclear disaster in this country and nuclear power will be finished for generations.  That means we need an agency that can police the nuclear industry impartially and harshly if necessary.  Better to shut down a few plants then to be forced to shut down all of them.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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