Nuke Notes: New names for the NRC and another, lame poll on public support for nuclear power

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, OCTOBER 23, 2009 — The Obama administration is moving to get the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission fully staffed, naming two Democrats, MIT nuclear scientist George Apostolakis and former Clinton administration Department of Energy nuclear chief Bill Magwood, to the commission That fills two vacancies on the five-member commission.

At the same time, NRC Commissioner Dale Klein, chairman during the Bush administration, announced he will resign his term, ending June 30, 2011, when a successor to his Republican seat is sworn in.

Klein’s resignation creates the possibility of a nomination trifecta. Under the law that governs the NRC, three members of the five-member commission should represent the party of the president. The Obama administration elevated Greg Jaczko, a Democrat (who is tied to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada) to chairman , The other sitting commissioner is Republican Kristine Svinicki, an appointment pushed by former Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig.

So far in his tenure Jaczko has been outvoted by the Republican holdovers, limiting what he has wanted to do. With the two vacant seats to be filled by Democrats and Klein’s vacancy (a Republican seat), Jaczko should be able to assert greater control at the NRC.

In his Oct. 16 letter to President Obama, Klein, protege of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, wrote, “I offer my resignation effective upon my nominated successor taking office as a member of the commission.”

In other atomic energy political news, the Nuclear Energy Institute has issued the latest in its yawn-inducing, predictable, periodic public opinion polls, finding that Americans prefer nuclear power plants over hot dogs, baseball, apple pie and Chevrolets.

The pollster, no surprise to followers of nuke politics over the past 30 or so years, is Ann Bisconti. She’s been finding overwhelming public support for nukes from the days of the Atomic Industrial Forum through the U.S. Committee for Energy Awareness to the NEI. The name changes, but the institution remains the same – the Washington lobbying group for the nukes.

NEI’s latest poll finds that 80% of Americans favor “low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, hydro, and renewable” technologies. Golly, what a surprise. According to the survey, 60% of Americans said they favor nukes. The straight-faced news release from the NEI said, “This the ninth straight year that favorability levels have averaged more than 60% in surveys conducted by Bisconti Research Inc.”

Well, duh? How many new nuclear plants have begun construction in that nine-year string? None. How many new nuclear plants have begun construction since Bisconti began polling for the nuclear lobby? None.

Could it be that survey research on the support of Americans for nuclear power is meaningless? That’s the conclusion I draw from this long record that suggests that public opinion polling has no impact on nuclear power development. Maybe the respondents are lying? Or maybe they don’t much care?

I’ve long argued that this sort of public opinion polling is wasteful and useless. The latest poll doesn’t change my mind in the least. Nothing about it is persuasive, as it simply repeats what NEI, and predecessor organizations, have found for decades, and validates what they have wanted to find, which, I suspect, is why they commissioned the polls.