Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Staffing Up the NRC

As you may know, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has five commissioners. Currently, the count is three: Gregory Jaczko, who chairs, Kristine Svenicki and Dale Klein, the former chairman. Nils Diaz left in 2006 and Peter Lyons earlier this year. Terms run for five years, which keeps electoral politics from interfering overly, though of course, commissioners can and have left before their terms end for various reasons.

The reason for this potted lesson? President Obama has now announced his intention to put forward two names to fill out the commission.

clip_image001First up: Bill Magwood. He was DOE’s Director of Nuclear Energy from 1998 to 2005, during which time he championed the forward-looking Nuclear Power 2010 initiative and also took a hand in the Global Nucelar Energy Partnership (GNEP). The former is still going strong, the latter less so, but both show his interest in keeping the technology moving forward. Along the same lines, he was chairman of the Generation IV International Forum. Lately, he founded Advanced Energy Strategies, an energy consulting firm.

Here’s a paper Magwood co-wrote this year on used nuclear fuel.

clip_image002Second: George Apostolakis. A Greek immigrant, his long tenure as KEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, and professor of engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (whew!), may suggest Obama’s decided taste for raiding academia for government positions. You can read about Apoktolakis on his MIT page. You’ll see the word “risk” a lot. Here’s where his current, well, until very recently current, research interest lies:

Methods for probabilistic risk assessment of complex technological systems; risk management involving several stakeholder groups; decision analysis, human reliability models; organizational factors and safety culture; software dependability; risk-informed, performance-based regulation; risk assessment and management of terrorist threats.

Risk assessment and security are very big topics in the nuclear industry – start here for more - so it’s extremely interesting Obama chose an decidedly expert figure for the commission.

The industry is certainly pleased. Why?

The industry is particularly pleased that the NRC will be fully staffed at the commissioner level. The NRC operated at its best when there is a collegial dialogue on the issues among the full complement of commissioners.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bill Magwood is an excellent choice. Knows his stuff and communicates well. The other choice? Not sure, but we have to be fair and give him a chance.

Ioannes said...

Maybe those who have been victim of Apostolakis at ACRS meetings might want to speak up. "Constant analysis is a paralysis." Note also that he's a "software expert" of some kind - which is why digital I&C (all that SQA and Cyber Security analysis) will be 80% of the cost of a new plant. Hey, but if NEI is happy, why shouldn't we be?

Adam said...

Your Commissioner history is a bit off:
Nils Diaz left in 2006 when his term expired, replaced by former Chairman Dale Klein.
There was a full Commission until late 2007, when Ed McGaffigan passed away and Jeff Merrifield's term expired.
Kristine Svinicki was appointed in 2008, and Peter Lyons' term expired in 2009, leaving the Commission at its current size of three.

Professor Apostolakis is a former chair of the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safety (ACRS) and has extensive experience with the NRC. He's certainly qualified.

Both men are supportive of nuclear power, and their nominations ought to kill the notions promoted by some readers here that the Obama administration will kill nuclear power by appointing anti-nuclear Commissioners.

Anonymous said...

"digital I&C (all that SQA and Cyber Security analysis) will be 80% of the cost of a new plant."

I assume this is extreme hyperbole to make some oblique point? If not, please provide a source for that figure.

perdajz said...

Ioannes hits the nail on the head. Apostalakis has impeccable academic credentials and an incredible PRA resume, but he will have to overcome the risk analyst mind set in his new role. He has spent a career calculating very obscure and arcane metrics that rarely have anything to do with actually building or operating a nuclear power plant. Studying airplane crashes, to draw an analogy, is a useful and serious endeavor. But would you want someone who spent a lifetime studying the fracture mechanics of airplane crashes regulating commercial aviation?

He will have to stop thinking about the nuclear power industry as a reliability problem and act like a regulator. He'll have to put away the magnifying glass and put on some sunglasses.

That said, the choice could have been a lot worse and I wish him well.

Anonymous said...

"very obscure and arcane metrics that rarely have anything to do with actually building or operating a nuclear power plant."

this is NOT the industry's position on PRA!! anyone from NEI want to weigh in?

David Bradish said...

I'd have to agree with the last anon. Here's the NRC's definition of PRA:

"PRA provides insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the design and operation of a nuclear power plant."

If it's obscure and arcane for anyone to understand, there is training available I believe through the NRC and definitely through a company called Scientech who I trained from.

I've gone through a little bit of PRA training and have learned that PRA is the key to operating nuclear plants safely and efficiently. That's why all 104 nuclear plants in the US have bought into the program.

It's not a secret. Here's NRC's contact page about PRA if anyone's interested in asking for more info.

perdajz said...

I did PRA for many years, and that's my opinion of it. I am fully aware of its applications.

Figuring out the likelihood of a small LOCA, or a station blackout, isn't really good preparation for regulating the industry. PRA necessarily involves the study of things that are extremely unlikely, rather than the day to day operation of the plant. Apostalakis will need to stop thinking about a nuclear plant as a set of accident sequences waiting to happen, and start thinking about how to safely and efficiently regulate the rebirth of the industry.

perdajz said...

David,

Nuclear plants are safe, efficient and reliable for two reasons: the technology itself is superior, and the people who run them are well-trained and dedicated. PRA simply confirmed these facts; it did not create them. Saying that PRA is a key to operating nuclear plants safely is like saying an accurate bathroom scale is the key to a weight loss.

David Bradish said...

perdajz, appreciate the response. With your years of experience in PRA, why do you consider it secretive? It sounds like something an anti would say.

Brian Mays said...

David - "Obscure and arcane" (at least the way that I interpret how perdajz is using the words) are not the same as secretive. For example, to the layman, quantum mechanics seems very obscure and arcane, but it is hardly a secret.

PRA is transparent, but it is only fully transparent to someone who has been trained to understand the methodology.

I think that the point that perdajz is trying to make is that there are many little details associated with this methodology that, while interesting in themselves, have nothing to do with the basic question that needs to be answered: is the plant safe? Thus, it is important for the regulator not to get bogged down in these details, since that is not his job. His concern is safety, not answers to questions that have only academic value.

In other words, there is a danger of failing to see the forest for all of the trees, and this could be an expensive mistake.

Anonymous said...

A selection of current and future applications of PRA:

* Engineering
Input to 50.59: Evaluate plant modifications
Recommend new plant modifications
* Training / Procedures
Recommend procedural changes
Identify critical operator actions
Prioritize training issues
* NRC / Licensing
Licensee Event Reports: Evaluate plant problems/errors
Prioritize inspection resources
License Amendment Request: Evaluate licensing basis changes
FSAR Chapter 19: New Plant Design
* Maintenance
Maintenance Rule 50.65: Prioritize preventative maintenance
Risk-Informed Tech Specs, Initiative 5b: Determine testing frequencies
Risk-Informed Tech Specs, Initiative 4b: Schedule when equipment is removed from service

It is no longer just the industry that is pushing PRA. The NRC (without a PRA specialist commisioner) has been jumping on using PRA as one means to regulate. I am well aware that PRA is considered "black magic" even within the nuclear industry, but I do not think that having a commissioner that understands the uses and limitations of PRA is a bad thing.

We all have to put on different thinking hats every day - some people are better at that than others. Merely having had a career in PRA does not mean Apostolakis will be unable to do so.

-Sarah

Anonymous said...

"His concern is safety, not answers to questions that have only academic value."

NEI and the industry want to risk-inform much regulation of power reactors, including key core cooling requirements, using PRA models and the analyses they produce as the basis for future regulation. That means PRA issues are directly related to safety, not "only academic value."

Brian Mays said...

Anonymous - You have done a fine job of trying to misrepresent what I wrote. Nobody is arguing that PRA is not a useful tool for understanding risk and assessing the safety of a plant.