NRC Issues
The New York Times
FULL STORY – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/business/energy-environment/08nrc.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2

NRC Issues
The New York Times
FULL STORY – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/business/energy-environment/08nrc.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2

Nuclear Agency Is Criticized as Too Close to Its Industry

By TOM ZELLER Jr.    Published: May 7, 2011

EXCERPTS

Critics have long painted the commission as well-intentioned but weak and compliant, and incapable of keeping close tabs on an industry to which it remains closely tied. The concerns have greater urgency because of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, which many experts say they believe was caused as much by lax government oversight as by a natural disaster.

Congressional critics and even the agency?s own internal monitors say the N.R.C. is prone to dither when companies complain that its proposed actions would cost time or money. The promise of lucrative industry work after officials leave the commission probably doesn?t help, critics say, pointing to dozens over the years who have taken jobs with nuclear power companies and lobbying firms.

Now, as most of the country?s 104 aging reactors are applying for, and receiving, 20-year extensions from the N.R.C on their original 40-year licenses, reform advocates say a thorough review of the system is urgently needed.
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.?

David Lochbaum, a frequent critic of the N.R.C. who recently worked as a reactor technology instructor there, said the agency too often rolled the dice on safety. ?The only difference between Byron and Fukushima is luck,? he said. ?How does a place like that get a license renewal?? Mr. Lochbaum said. ?Because they asked for one. Absent dead bodies, nothing seems to deter the N.R.C. from sustaining reactor operation.? The agency has little choice but to tolerate violations, said Mr. Lochbaum, who heads the Nuclear Safety Project with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental and nuclear watchdog group based in Cambridge, Mass. ?Otherwise, nearly all the U.S. reactors would have to shut down,? he said.

?The N.R.C. is like a prep school for many of these guys, because they know they?ve got a good shot at landing much higher-paying work with the people they?re supposed to be keeping in line,? Mr. Mulley said. ?They?re not going to do anything to jeopardize that.?