Report: White House drops Jeff Baran as NRC nominee

January 23, 2024, 9:30AMNuclear News


The White House has given up on the renomination of former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Jeff Baran because of bipartisan opposition in the Senate, according to multiple media reports. After a handful of Democrats joined Senate Republicans to block the nomination last year, President Biden has decided to drop Baran as his pick, HuffPost first reported on Monday.

Baran joined the five-person federal panel in 2014 as an appointee of former president Barack Obama. The NRC oversees atomic energy and radiation safety and has become increasingly politicized in recent years, as different parties push for new processes and procedures for building new reactor types and expanding nuclear infrastructure.

Baran’s term ended in June 2023, and since then the commission has been without a tie-breaker for party-line votes among the four current members. Come June 30, NRC chair Christopher Hanson will complete his term and has yet to be renominated.

Baran's opposition: A coalition of environmental organizations launched a campaign against Baran’s renomination last year, pointing to his record of repeatedly being the deciding vote against reasonable steps to improve NRC efficiency, which hindered the deployment of new nuclear.

The groups—Build Nuclear Now, the Breakthrough Institute, Generation Atomic, Nuclear New York, and Green Nuclear Deal—cited seven arguments against Baran’s renomination, all centered on his votes against streamlining NRC review processes and his support of “overly burdensome” regulations around the current U.S. nuclear fleet.

Ted Nordhaus, executive director of the Breakthrough Institute, is calling the news “a watershed for efforts to modernize the NRC and for Congressional Democrats.”

Nordhaus and others have said Baran’s heavy-handed approach to nuclear regulation has stood in the way of growth in the nuclear sector at a time when more reactors should be added to the energy mix to combat climate change.

“America, the world, and the climate needs a nuclear regulator that takes the benefits of nuclear energy seriously,” he added in a statement to Nuclear Newswire. “Radiological safety is important, but current regulatory practice at the NRC sacrifices public health and safety in an endless effort to minimize exposure to low levels of radiological exposure that are so infinitesimal as to be unobservable epidemiologically. For over 70 years, nuclear energy has been an extraordinarily safe technology… New nuclear technologies will be safer still and have the potential to save millions more lives all over the world.”

Baran's supporters: Good Energy Collective, a progressive policy research organization, endorsed Baran last year, saying, “He knows that the NRC needs a plan for how to license new reactors in a safe and timely way.”

During his 2017 reconfirmation process, Baran told a Senate committee that his job is “to focus on nuclear safety and security. . . not to weigh in on the pros and cons of the merits of nuclear power.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling the loss of Baran on the NRC a “great loss for the agency and for public health.”

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