ANS weighs in on NRC vacancies

December 8, 2021, 7:00AMANS News

In a November letter to President Biden, ANS president Steven Nesbit and U.S. Nuclear Industry Council president and chief executive officer Bud Albright urged the president to proceed with nominations for the two open seats on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The letter stated, “The NRC operates best with a full complement of five qualified commissioners who have diverse and complementary backgrounds. . . . Unfortunately, the commission was last at full strength in January 2021, nearly a year ago.”

The letter explains that a full commission is essential to the effectiveness of the NRC in protecting public health and safety while enabling the deployment and applications of nuclear technology. Nesbit and Albright urged Biden to act expeditiously to fill the vacancies created by the departure of Kristine Svinicki in January and Annie Caputo in June, leaving the NRC with only three commissioners. (The NRC requires a quorum of at least three commissioners.)

The terms: NRC commissioners are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate for staggered five-year terms, and no more than three may be from the same political party. The current commission consists of one Republican, David Wright, and two Democrats, Jeff Baran and Christopher Hanson. Svinicki, who had served as chairman from January 2017 to January 2021, and Caputo are both Republicans.

Nesbit and Albright point out that it is essentially in Biden’s best interest to restore the NRC to a full complement of commissioners, since “a well-functioning NRC will support your administration’s policy of sustaining and expanding nuclear power to help achieve your goal of 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity generation by 2035.”

Experience and qualifications: In a letter sent to the president in July, Nesbit and ANS executive director/CEO Craig Piercy stressed the importance of the next nominees’ background, experience, and qualifications. (The backgrounds of the NRC commissioners were discussed in detail in the February 2021 issue of Nuclear News). They said that with Caputo’s departure, the NRC has no remaining commissioners with a strong technical foundation. (ANS Position Statement 77 states, “It is not essential that all commissioners be scientists or engineers, but the nature of commission responsibilities makes a technical background a highly desirable trait.”)

The letter continued, “To restore the needed balance, the White House should seek nominees who are scientists or engineers with significant, recognized accomplishments in their field. Fortunately, the nation has many such qualified candidates, including Ms. Caputo.”

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