Activists Call for Resignation of Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Commissioner William Magwood testifies during a 2011 congressional hearing. Activists on Wednesday asked the outgoing commissioner to resign, saying his new job creates conflict-of-interest concerns.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
June 19, 2014, 10:48 a.m.

Act­iv­ist groups are ask­ing an out­go­ing U.S. Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion­er to resign im­me­di­ately and re­cant his re­cent votes on key safety and se­cur­ity is­sues.

In a Wed­nes­day let­ter draf­ted by the groups’ at­tor­ney, the act­iv­ists say Com­mis­sion­er Wil­li­am Mag­wood’s new job as head of an in­ter­na­tion­al nuc­le­ar en­ergy or­gan­iz­a­tion would cre­ate a con­flict of in­terest, and they sug­gest that he should have re­cused him­self from cer­tain votes.

Start­ing in Septem­ber, Mag­wood will be dir­ect­or-gen­er­al of the Par­is-based Nuc­le­ar En­ergy Agency, a sub­di­vi­sion of the Or­gan­isa­tion for Eco­nom­ic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment.

The act­iv­ists note that, ac­cord­ing to the NEA web­site, the or­gan­iz­a­tion works to pro­mote “the de­vel­op­ment of pro­duc­tion and uses of nuc­le­ar en­ergy.” The or­gan­iz­a­tion’s policies “are set by mem­ber gov­ern­ments,” in­clud­ing France and the Neth­er­lands, which have a fin­an­cial stake in cer­tain nuc­le­ar fa­cil­it­ies in the United States.

“Hav­ing ac­cep­ted the po­s­i­tion of NEA Dir­ect­or-Gen­er­al, you now ap­pear biased to­wards the pro­tec­tion of NEA’s in­terests “¦ es­pe­cially when you are forced to con­sider a solu­tion to a safety is­sue that could sig­ni­fic­antly in­crease the cost of nuc­le­ar power pro­duc­tion and lim­it its vi­ab­il­ity in the mar­ket­place,” the let­ter to Mag­wood says.

The let­ter was writ­ten on be­half of Friends of the Earth, Phys­i­cians for So­cial Re­spons­ib­il­ity and the Si­erra Club, along with 31 oth­er groups.

Among the NRC ac­tions act­iv­ists are con­cerned about is the com­mis­sion’s de­cision re­cently to not pur­sue reg­u­la­tions that would force nuc­le­ar power plant op­er­at­ors to ac­cel­er­ate the trans­fer of spent fuel rods in­to dry cask stor­age con­tain­ers. Ac­cel­er­at­ing the trans­fer would re­duce the chance of a cata­stroph­ic fire in a spent fuel pool as the res­ult of a ter­ror­ist at­tack or nat­ur­al dis­aster, act­iv­ists and some Demo­crat­ic law­makers say.

The spent-fuel de­cision was fi­nal­ized in May, and act­iv­ists are rais­ing con­cerns that Mag­wood may have been mak­ing NRC de­cisions in a biased mat­ter as far back as Septem­ber. This is the date that a post­ing on the Linked­In web­site lists as the dead­line for ap­ply­ing for the NEA job, the act­iv­ists note.

 

NRC Spokes­man Eli­ot Bren­ner said the “NRC has no com­ment on the let­ter” but that Mag­wood’s of­fice is re­view­ing it. “In the mean­time, [Mag­wood] will con­tin­ue to fol­low all leg­al and eth­ic­al ob­lig­a­tions re­lated to his po­s­i­tion as a com­mis­sion­er.”

The act­iv­ist com­plaints fol­low re­cent con­tro­versy over NRC staffers re­port­ing back­lash for dis­agree­ing with com­mis­sion de­cisions. They also come after Sen­at­or Bar­bara Box­er (D-Cal­if.) raised con­cerns about the amount of in­ter­na­tion­al travel Mag­wood has done while an NRC com­mis­sion­er.

At a June 4 Sen­ate hear­ing, Box­er said Mag­wood had spent 127 days on in­ter­na­tion­al travel since 2010, and had plans to spend an ad­di­tion­al three weeks trav­el­ing be­fore resign­ing his po­s­i­tion in Septem­ber.

“I do think my travel is ap­pro­pri­ate,” Mag­wood said in re­sponse to Box­er’s in­quiry, adding that it was im­port­ant for the U.S. agency to have a pres­ence in coun­tries that are con­sid­er­ing nuc­le­ar power and set­ting up a reg­u­lat­ory struc­ture.

“The fact that the United States Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion goes to these coun­tries and rep­res­ents the causes of reg­u­lat­ory in­de­pend­ence is very im­port­ant to these people,” Mag­wood said.

 

A Box­er spokes­wo­man could not be reached for com­ment by press time.

 

Mag­wood is no stranger to con­tro­versy. Act­iv­ists strongly op­posed his pres­id­en­tial ap­point­ment to the com­mis­sion in 2010, say­ing his pri­or role with the De­part­ment of En­ergy also sug­ges­ted a pro-nuc­le­ar bi­as. The De­part­ment of En­ergy’s role in pro­mot­ing nuc­le­ar power is dif­fer­ent from that of the Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion, which is meant to en­sure the in­dustry is op­er­at­ing safely, the de­tract­ors have ar­gued.

The out­go­ing com­mis­sion­er has also drawn the wrath of Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id (D-Nev.). In 2012, the Huff­ing­ton Post quoted Re­id as de­scrib­ing Mag­wood as a “first-class rat,” a “tool of the nuc­le­ar in­dustry” and one of the “most un­eth­ic­al” people he had ever dealt with. Re­id’s com­ments came after Mag­wood ap­par­ently changed his po­s­i­tion on the Yucca Moun­tain nuc­le­ar waste dump pro­ject in Re­id’s home state, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has can­celed but which some law­makers are still look­ing to re­vive.

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