Guest Post: Nuclear Overseers Are “Fake” Agencies Funded and Controlled by the Nuclear Power Industry

Washington’s Blog

The Christian Science Monitor noted recently:

Just as the BP oil spill one year ago heaped scrutiny on the United State’s Minerals Management Service, harshly criticized for lax drilling oversight and cozy ties with the oil industry, the nuclear crisis in Japan is shining a light on that nation’s safety practices.


[Russian nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev, who as director of the Soviet Spetsatom clean-up agency helped in the efforts 25 years ago to clean up Chernobyl ] has also accused the IAEA of being too close with corporations. “This is only a fake organization because every organization which depends on the nuclear industry – and the IAEA depends on the nuclear industry – cannot perform properly.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is no better.

As nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, Duane Peterson (president of VPIRG & coordinator for the campaign to retire Vermont Yankee nuclear plant), investigative reporter Harvey Wasserman and Paul Gallay (executive director of Riverkeeper) point out in a roundtable discussion:

  • The NRC won’t even begin conducting its earthquake study for Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York until after relicensing is complete in 2013, because the NRC doesn’t consider a big earthquake “a serious risk”
  • Congressman Markey has said there is a cover up. Specifically, Markey alleges that the head of the NRC told everyone not to write down risks they find from an earthquake greater than 6.0 (the plant was only built to survive a 6.0 earthquake)
  • The NRC is wholly captive to industry
  • The NRC has never turned down the request of a nuclear power plant to be relicensed in the United States. Relicensing is solely a paper process; there is no safety review.
  • The NRC’s assumptions regarding a worst-case accident are ridiculous. For example, the NRC assumes only 1% of the fuel could meltdown, while 70% melted down at Fukushima. The NRC assumes no loss of containment, while there has been a major loss of containment in reactors 1-3 (especially 2) at Fukushima.
  • “If there was a free market in energy, nuclear power would be over … immediately”. Nuclear plant owners can’t get insurance; they can only operate because the U.S. government provides insurance on the taxpayer dime. The government also granted a ridiculously low cap on liability
  • If we had no subsidies for nuclear, coal or oil, we’d have a clean energy economy right now
  • We have 4 reactors in California – 2 at San Onofre 2 at San Luis Obisbo – which are vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • No state or federal agency knows who would be in charge in case of an accident at Indian Point. It’s like the Keystone Cops

    Note: The videos appear to rotate, so if the nuclear roundtable is not playing at first, keep on watching, and it will eventually loop back.

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    About George Washington

    George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander…


  1. Chicken Lit

    If we had no subsidies for nuclear, coal or oil, we’d have a clean energy economy right now

    To the contrary–if there were no subsidies for nuclear, coil, or oil, we’d be freezing in the dark, with the majority of the population working on farms, and paying exorbitant prices for food and imports.

    Which, curiously, is likely what we’ll be doing if the energy industry isn’t properly run as well.

    1. John Emerson


      You just said, I guess, that energy production is financed by magic money that the government gets from nowhere, and the industry otherwise wouldn’t produce energy because it’s intrinsically unprofitable.

      1. Chicken Lit

        I guess, that energy production is financed by magic money that the government gets from nowhere,.

        The amount of energy produced would be far less, and the price paid for it would be much, *much* higher.

        and the industry otherwise wouldn’t produce energy because it’s intrinsically unprofitable

        Isn’t that what thepost is saying when it states that, “•If we had no subsidies for nuclear, coal or oil, we’d have a clean energy economy right now”?

        Clean energy means much less energy (and, if the energy is mostly wind-based, unerliable energy as well–at least until better storage techniques come about).

        1. John Emerson

          If the money exists to pay subsidies, the money exists to buy the energy on the market. Energy usage would normalize at the level people would be willing to pay for. They might know a little better what the cost of the energy was and pay a higher direct cost.

          Mainly there’d be different sources of energy. Usage might be less, costs to the consumer would be higher, but what the guy was saying is that people would switch to energy from different sources if they had to pay the real price. Not the disaster scenario you are wetting yourself about.

  2. mitchw

    I agreed to a phone survey a few weeks ago which was most certainly funded by the owners of Indian Point. I live in Westchester County. Whoever was calling wanted to know my thoughts and feelings about nuclear energy. They wanted to know what I knew about the fault under the plant(you mean the Ramapo fault? Yes, I know). They wanted to know if I knew that if the plant were de-certified that it would still be ten years before it could be decommissioned, and would cause rates to go up. Did I think the plant was being run in a professional and safe manner? Did I think the cooling pools were safe? Did I value nuclear energy as a non green house gas producing energy source ( well actually, I understand that lots of CO2 is made in mining and processing the fissile material, to say nothing of the CO2 released during the production of concrete for the plant). Did I find the NRC credible? Had I heard such-and-such a quote from such-and-such an administrator from the NRC? Sorry Yves, can’t remember what or who. Whom did I find credible in the media, CNN, River Keeper, my congresswoman? What do I know about the evacuation plan?

    This went on for 20 minutes. So these guys are surveying people in Westchester, and developing a campaign in the media to get re-licensed.

  3. mitchw

    Addendum, I took notes

    They also wanted to know where I got my information about what was happening in Japan. I told them I was watching Al-Jazeera and NHK. It’s true, but I watched CBS one night and saw only goo-goo talk. No more.

    Did I trust the govt?(sometimes)
    Was I familiar with Three Mile Island?
    Did I favor re-licensing Indian Point?
    Rate the credibility of Chuck Schumer, Cuomo, Gillibrand, Obama.(you might guess who the industry will lean on for support)

  4. sleeper

    Here’s how the game is being played –

    The IOUs generally get paid at a set rate say cost plus 5%

    To continue their monopoly they have a vested interest in large central power plants which are made as complicated as possible to limit competion.

    So the IOU builds a large nuke plant – remember 5% of a billion is a lot more money than 5% of 100 million (a large wind farm)

    And what no one is willing to talk about are the give backs that come with refueling. Or the factthat we’ll be paying the French for the MOX fuel.

    So the IOUs have a vested interest in building large expensive nuke plants.

    The path forward ought to be
    1) Efficiency ( and we are seeing the dawn of LED lighting)
    2) Repowering existing dams (there are some 80,000 dams without hydropower turbines)
    3) Wind (The wind resource is large enough to supply all of the demand in the US and more)
    5) Landfill Gas (one of the leading sources of methane are potent green house gas)
    6) Cogenerationfor large campuses(cogeneration or combined heat and power is at least 30% mre efficient than a standard coal or nuke plant.

    How about we use what we already have before we chase a bit of French fuel ?

  5. gruntled

    Washington’s blog sounds more and more like a tinfoil hat site. IAEA is UN agency funded by member nations. For it to function effectively, of course it needs the cooperation of both the member nations and the nuclear industry. Duh!

    1. scraping_by

      “Washington’s blog sounds more and more like a tinfoil hat site”

      Yes, but look back over the last 30 years and see how many paranoid ravings turn out to be simple fact. The conventional wisdom is a machine product, cranked out by the people who can pay for it.

      Ranting is growing legs. Scary, to old guys like me.

    2. YankeeFrank

      What does a tin foil hat site sound like? What specifically do you take issue with in this post?

      Tin foil hat/conspiracy theory websites generally ascribe all sorts of incredible planning powers and control to shadowy organizations. Washington’s blog tends to avoid all that and just show us the incredible corruption and incompetence of our “leaders”. Occasionally he will state something that is difficult to prove (e.g., above he states that without subsidies nukes, coal and oil would’ve been replaced already by renewables). I don’t know if this is true but its certainly within the realm of possibility, and it makes a good point that all these “cheap” energy sources are anything but.

      Its hard to accept the truth when things are so fucked up but given the incompetence, grotesquely violent behavior and sheer stupidity displayed by our government over the past 12 or so years, if anything I tend to think Washington’s blog actually misses more real horror than it captures.

      1. Hal Horvath

        Probably the guest posts on nuclear stuff come under so much fire because plenty of engineering graduates are interested in economic issues/finance, but aren’t easily mislead by alarmist stuff by seeming experts. The engineering mindset is to focus on details, try for precision, have a naturally questioning attitude, and to look for solutions. So just a “sky is falling” kind of argument bothers us naturally, and tends to make us point out flaws.

  6. Lyle

    Go to Google Earth and look at Diablo Canyon, it sits on ground about 60 feet above sea level while the Fukishima plant sits at 20 feet. In addition note the configuration of the little bay it sits in. It does look like it could take a tsunami of the size of the one at the Fukishima plant. Actually if TEPCO had just moved the plant back about 1000 feet and dug a canal for cooling water there would not have been a problem. But in general in the 1960s when the design basis events were set, big events where such black swans that they were not seen. (Of course the work to find the 869 event had not yet happend, and in fact the 869 event was found after work in the Pacific Northwest established the Tsunami threat there, due to a proposal to build a nuclear power plant near the ocean. ) You will note that the design basis event was the 1952 Kern County event, folks were suprised by some of the ground accelerations of the 1971 San Fernando event that exceeded 1 g.
    So now lets look at the risks involved in shutting down an existing plant after the new work came in. There is about a .1% chance of a similar event in any given year (since its about 1200 years since 869 and there were earlier events about once every 1000 years. So as with everything in life a risk reward decision was made, and the plants were allowed to keep operating. If cost to clean up is $50 billion than the risk per year is 50 million, or over the 40 years the plants have left about $2 billion. So as usual on weighs the risk reward ratio. (As indeed you do if you drive a car or take a plane)

    1. Anon

      The point is that earthquakes wreck the pipes that feed into/are the reactors’ cooling systems, as appears to have happened at Fukushima, which then leak into the sea.

      Long article today on AP about earthquake/tsunami risks for nuclear, especially in relation to Manila Trench, which, when it goes (not if), will affect heavily populated areas in Hong Kong/Taiwan/south China coast:

      Also, climate change itself is beginning to butt its head against nuclear – because of the environmental constraints that act on how nuke plants can be cooled as global temperatures rise.

      This piece discusses the effect of the 2003 European heatwave on reactors, which was so intense that it forced the powering down of nuclear reactors across France, leading to blackouts there and in Italy:

      With sea levels rising, heatwaves increasing, and earthquakes/tsunamis becoming both more frequent and more powerful, the conditions for nuclear are deteriorating, both physically and financially.

      Nuclear is yet another example of TBTF, yet it fails all the time. We continue to bail it out, though, the way we bailed out the idiot banks.

      Long term, nuclear is our suicide note to the universe, because the motile earth’s crust will eventually take it down, plant by plant – maybe not in our lifetimes, but nothing can stop it. Fukushima is the start of this process.

      And as increasing amounts of I131, Cs137, PuX, UrX, Te129, Sr90 are liberated from “containment” as a result of pipes being cracked, and fuel pools blowing up, these radionuclides with go forth and accumulate, circling the global via wind and water, until we’re all gifted with the nuke industry’s ultimate legacy: irreversible human genomic instability, and all its attendant horrors.

  7. Elliot

    I’m surprised anyone is questioning this assessment. Like the USDA with ag, the NRC is a creature of its industry. I have only been surprised by the protestations in Japan of how suddenly they have noticed that this is true in their industry. They are shocked! shocked! that people from METI are taking jobs with industry.
    “METI officials urged not to seek post-retirement jobs at utilities

    TOKYO, April 18, Kyodo (News Agency)

    The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has urged its senior officials not to seek post-retirement jobs at utility firms, as it prepares to review its handling of atomic energy in the wake of the emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, industry minister Banri Kaieda said Monday.”


    “Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Wednesday he believes that former government officials taking senior posts at Tokyo Electric Power Co. is ”socially unacceptable.”

    Over the years, many industry ministry officials have taken highly paid post-retirement jobs at the utility, the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

    Since the crisis at the plant, caused by the March 11 deadly earthquake and tsunami, many people have suspected that cozy ties between the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the power company, known as TEPCO, have prevented Japan from having strict safety control of nuclear facilities.

    Edano, the top government spokesman, said at a news conference he cannot overlook that such mistrust is growing among the public, even if close ties between the ministry and the company are not affecting nuclear safety management.

    Most recently, Toru Ishida, a former head of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, which is under the wing of the ministry and plays a pivotal role in formulating nuclear policies in Japan, became a senior adviser to the utility in January.

    Ishida’s case is widely seen as so-called ”amakudari” — a practice in which Japanese senior bureaucrats retire to highly paid posts at government-affiliated bodies or private-sector firms related to their former areas of supervision.

    Edano said, ”Regardless of whether his case is amakudari from a legal standpoint, I believe it should not be accepted socially.”

    Edano said the government will do all it can to block officials of the ministry from taking jobs at TEPCO or other power companies.


  8. John Seal

    I don’t necessarily disagree with any of this, but you might gain some credibility if you learned how to spell San Luis Obispo.

    1. Rex


      Spelling errors on the web? How horrible. Granted, if we could expunge posts with spelling or grammatical errors we would have a lot less stuff to sort through. Our gracious host, Yves, acknowledges that in creating her prodigious amount of postings, she often makes spelling or grammatical mistakes.

      I’d put Yves’ credibility up near the top. Try to find a way to ignore the small stuff, especially if it is the only thing you find worthy of posting about.

  9. charles 2

    “The budget for the NRC comes from the nuclear power companies [just like banks fund the Federal Reserve]”

    AFAIK, the NRC fees paid by the power plants are put in the General Budget. The NRC budget comes from an appropriation process by the Congress. So this is not like the Fed.

    “Congressman Markey has said there is a cover up. Specifically, Markey alleges that the head of the NRC told everyone not to write down risks they find from an earthquake greater than 6.0 (the plant was only built to survive a 6.0 earthquake)”

    Huh ? The Chairman of the NRC is an ex-aide of Congressman Markey, and he would do that ?!

  10. Dismayed

    Chicken Lit said:

    “To the contrary–if there were no subsidies for nuclear, coil, or oil, we’d be freezing in the dark, with the majority of the population working on farms, and paying exorbitant prices for food and imports.”

    So you’re arguing that unsubsidized markets don’t work?

  11. windcatcher

    I don’t agree with the video presented, now is the time for people to become kick-ass political activist not pacifist learning to accept their fate and to die peacefully. If we are to win, we need people “who are as mad as Hell and are not going to take it anymore”!

    Here is a video link to Leuren Moret, a wise and knowledgeable scientist with Geological and Chemical expertise that presents a summary of the nuclear danger and the present nuclear situation in Japan. The video is long but much important evidence is presented on the secrecy and cover-up of the real damage from nuclear energy, nuclear weapons and Bush’s depleted uranium weapons (a gift that goes on giving). Moret also exposes HARP as an offensive weapon; the ultimate weapon of mass destruction that may have been involved in the Japanese earthquake.

    Youtube blocked the video. See the video on the Coming Depression.

    1. Eolous

      “If we are to win…”

      Actually, you’ve already lost, and will keep on losing until the end of time. Sorry, but that’s just how it goes.

  12. Hans Christian

    Some commenter made the point a while ago that while most of the finance links/guest posts are excellent, the same cannot be said for the science stories. This seems to support that assertion, a very weak post. There may well be issues with nuclear regulation, as there are in all other energy regulation, finance regulation, housing, military, etc… Oh and being funded by levies on an industry does not per se make you the creature of that industry. Finally topped off with a silly alarmist headline.
    Disappointing to find this stuff on such a class website, pulitzers missed a trick with you Yves…

  13. Curious and uninformed

    I remember at least parts of the history of nuclear power development in this country. Lets see, my recollection is that in the early 1970s, utility companies were seeing very high sales growth rates, unknown costs of initial implementation of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, the price of oil had begun its climb (it was $3/barrel, right?), capital costs were rising, and a few years later the nation discovered that the historical practices of regulating natural gas were causing severe supply problems (fixed rates set by antiquated federal regulation that offered zero incentive for new supply). Sure, there was the zealous pursuit of commercial nuclear development, and if I had been a utility CEO at the time looking at the options, none of them would have looked very appealing. What other options existed at the time, especially in an environment where capital investment for generation was amortized through retail rates over 30 years (and quaintly called ‘consumer protection,’ and not economic disincentives).

    Today, a strong global natural gas markets exists, where natural gas had been flared as a byproduct. At one time, a wholesale electricity market had started in this country and, thanks to Enron, that market has struggled in the past ten years. Wind generation at long last has become an economic alternative, and why? Well, the government subsidized the R&D that led to GE turbine advances. After all, since many utility companies still own generation facilities, still amoritzed over 30 years to ‘protect consumers,’ from higher (economics-based) rates, what incentive do they have to reduce the value of their assets with newer and more advanced technology?

    Curious and uninformed, I wonder how energy markets in the U.S. would look if they were ‘deregulated’ a la the money and banking sector. Whoa, on second thought, I am grateful for the nutty Rube Goldberg -style regulatory structures of the energy sector, but for the Enron scandals (and please do check which federal and state regulators were sleeping at the switches, they don’t call it the Golden State for nothing), I am grateful for the reliability and relative stability of the U.S. energy sector.

    I myself would be curious to know how many federal and state regulatory staff were fired after the Enron fiasco, because I feel fairly strongly that I would take the ‘under’ on a number not greater than one. I would also be curious to understand how efficient the production and delivery of energy might be in this country without the benefit of the thousands of ‘consumer protection’ experts who hold such enormous amounts of wisdom on what ails the various parts of the industry. Their track record to date speaks for itself.

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