Today’s confirmation hearing of President Obama’s three nominees to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) did little to relieve POGO’s concerns about longtime nuclear power proponent William Magwood’s ability to serve as an independent NRC Commissioner and stringent overseer of the nuclear power industry.
None of the Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee probed Mr. Magwood's handling, or lack thereof, of security vulnerabilities at the lab once called Argonne National Laboratory West.
Nor did the Members’ questioning shed light on precisely what Mr. Magwood has been doing for the last five years as a consultant for Advanced Energy Strategies (AES) and president of Secure Energy North America Corporation (SENA). As there is very little public information available about these two companies, POGO was hoping that the Committee would have carefully examined the work of these companies and asked Mr. Magwood to disclose their investors and officers, and any specific activities he engaged in to develop opportunities for foreign investment in U.S. energy projects.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asked Mr. Magwood if any of his former clients would come before the NRC. Mr. Magwood said “no.” However, the extent of this questioning did little to assure the public that there was a thorough vetting of the actual issues that would challenge Mr. Magwood's independence as a Commissioner. For example, in 2007, an AES client, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., applied for Design Certification of the Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor (US-APWR) Standard Plant Design. The staff of the NRC is currently performing a detailed review of that application that will likely conclude in 2011. POGO would have wanted to hear Mr. Magwood’s answers to the questions:
- "Is there any conflict of interest with you overseeing the staff and the the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards' decision making?"
- "How can you ethically fulfill your duty to oversee this decision, given that Mitsubishi was one of your firm’s former clients?"
While Committee Chair Barbara Boxer opened the hearing with her warning that the NRC should not reverse course to the days of the conflicted Atomic Energy Commission, and Mr. Magwood spoke eloquently about the challenge of the NRC to increase public trust in the oversight of nuclear power, the confirmation hearing did not give him a chance to address the detailed concerns that the public asked the Committee to raise.
The Committee Chair promised to schedule a vote on the nominees as soon as possible -- likely at the end of February -- after the nominees respond to any questions for the record posed by the Members.
-- Ingrid Drake