Rod Adams' Blog, Greg Jaczko, and Veterinarians Leading Academic Medical Centers

Surgical suite, in honor of the medical contributions of the nuclear industry and International Day of Radiology. Drawing in marker by the author.

I would like to call everyone's attention to Rod Adams' blog post over at Atomic Insights regarding former NRC charman Dr. Greg Jaczko's "concerns" about future nuclear power and possible safety issues germane to America's next generation of nuclear power plants. Mr. Adams goes into detail on the matter probably better than I can sum it up here, so please, if you've not already, check out what he has to say:

All I can really add is a couple observations as to how the public probably sees comments coming from someone like Dr. Jaczko and how his views—and moreover, the manner in which he's expressed them—are cause for concern. Hearing that a man who held the highest office at the NRC—a man whom we could argue while in that office was in fact the most powerful person in the arena of commercial nuclear power in the United States—has these concerns would cause most people in the lay public to pause and take his concerns very seriously. After all, certainly he's an expert, right? He was the chair of the NRC, he holds a doctorate—this is like having a four-star admiral tell us we need to be concerned about the safety of our new aircraft carriers. Well, kinda . . . it's more like, say, the admiral who is over the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery telling us how he's concerned about the weapons Navy SEALs use or the navigation systems on the Navy's ships: it's a matter of someone very high-ranking and a bona fide expert in his own area speaking outside of that area. Dr. Jaczko's PhD is in  theoretical physics and I'm sure it's well-deserved and he's a very bright guy, but he's not a nuclear engineer. He probably understands nuclear science very well, but he's never been directly involved in the nuclear power industry except as a commissioner and then chairman of the NRC. Prior to being the chairman of the NRC he was a commissioner, and prior to that, a senator's advisor on science issues. Before that, he was an associate professor of physics and involved in other science-related policy work. I've not read his CV: I do not know what his published research as an academic concerns but I do know that even if every single peer-reviewed publication the man ever wrote did in fact concern nuclear power, he's still not an engineer. Nor to my knowledge has he ever worked in the industry outside of government service or academia. That bothers me, and it obviously bothers Mr. Adams, too, who is, by the way, a retired USN submariner and nuclear engineer. As it's Veterans' Day, allow me to also say, thank you for your service, Mr. Adams. 

If all I wrote above sounds even a bit familiar already, that may be because I wrote a blog a couple months back about the current NRC chair, Dr. Allison Macfarlane, who also is not a nuclear engineer and is instead a geophysicist. She also comes from a background of government service (in her case, even less than Jaczko and mostly on committees) and as an academic. She has studied in depth the geological issues germane to Yucca Mountain and other underground repositories for nuclear waste, which is seriously great and very necessary, but is this—in her case or Jaczko's either—the types of backgrounds that really prepare someone to head the NRC? I would agree their backgrounds are awesome for people involved in specific areas of technical research that fall under the scope of the NRC, but for the highest level of leadership?

Rod Adams also has a really good interview with Dr. Macfarlane he did some time ago, and you can read the transcript at his blog, here:

I like it when Dr. Macfarlane says in that interview, regarding how she went from working on the geology of mountain ranges to nuclear policy:

"For a long time I worked on mountain formations, which doesn’t really have a lot to do with nuclear issues, but I got into them. It was sort of a side interest and I was a professor teaching geology and decided that I was a little bored with the research I was doing."

I often get bored with the programming I do in software development and dream of playing professional soccer but alas, I doubt I will be able to develop that into something quite as far as Dr. Macfarlane did her side interest. =]

On a more serious note though by far, something I find very disturbing in this interview is that Dr. Macfarlane declares herself an "agnostic" regarding nuclear power. She more or less paints herself, in her own words, as indifferent to nuclear and not being either for or against it. Yet she heads the NRC. This is something I simply cannot understand: Would you appoint as Secretary of the Interior someone who had an indifferent view towards our national parks? Would you want a Secretary of Defense who was neither really pro-military nor anti-military? Yet at the NRC, this is the person we have, mainly, probably as a way to kowtow to those who claim that the NRC is a victim of regulatory capture. I'm sorry, but look, the chair of the NRC and everyone at the NRC should be 100% able and willing to recognize specific "bad" situations or plans or operations within the nuclear industry and in accord with their mission and extant law, act as required. However, everyone at the NRC I would hope would be pro-nuclear, would be people who believe in nuclear and are dedicated to ensuring that America's nuclear industries are as safe and competitive as possible. That is the NRC's stated mission. It is not a random court of opinion to mull over whether nuclear is a good choice for energy then to think about "clean" coal a while then . . . no: the NRC is to regulate an industry, to be sure, but it should—everyone at One White Flint should—firstly believe in that industry.


I once worked in medical research and while at a certain academic institution, the vice president over the university's health science campus resigned, and they attempted to appoint a professor who was a veterinary researcher to that office. She apparently was an utterly remarkable and very accomplished researcher in animal health, held both a DVM and PhD, and was a tenured full professor (a note: I don't think either Jaczko nor Macfarlane were higher in academic rank than an associate professor when they were appointed to the NRC, in contrast). The veterinarian's appointment to this position was greatly objected to by the (human) medical faculty, college of nursing, and other stakeholders. The reason? Despite the fact she was outstanding in her own field, she had hardly any experience germane to the lion's share of what this campus did, which was the provision, education, and research related to human health care. The vet school was the outlying college: it was only related to the rest of the campus as it concerned a biomedical discipline. The highly-respected veterinary researcher would seem to make for a great dean of the vet school but was she right to lead a major academic health center where most of its daily concerns were fields far removed from everything she had done to date in her own career as a professor and researcher? Probably not. 

From all I know of them, I have the utmost respect for Drs. Jaczko and Macfarlane for their contributions as scientists and academics in their fields. However, I feel we really need either a nuclear engineer or very-experienced power executive running the NRC. And the industry and academia alike do not lack for such people; it's not like finding someone with that background should be very hard, honestly. 

Oh, and the veterinary professor? She served as the acting VP a short time and someone else was appointed to the office—from what I heard, a situation that made everyone happy including the vet who frankly was (supposedly) only too content to return to the research she loved doing and was very good at. At least, however, I would presume she believed in the general benefits of and common goals germane to medical science and practice. 

Speaking of medicine, Friday was International Day of Radiology, so a belated thanks to everyone in radiology and nuclear medicine and all they do to make our lives healthier. The illustration today is in their honor.

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