NEWBURY — Gregory Jaczko, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, discussed his controversial time on the commission and alternatives for nuclear power during a lecture at First Parish Church this week.
Jaczko was named chairman of the NRC by President Barack Obama in 2009 and played a role in the U.S. government’s response to the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, before he resigned a year later. He is now an adjunct professor at Princeton and Georgetown universities, and an entrepreneur with a clean-energy development company.
Jaczko gave several readings from his new book, “Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator" during his talk, which drew about 30 residents. The book contains detailed insights into the NRC's response to the Fukushima accident, which Jaczko said "really forever changed my thoughts about nuclear power, what this technology meant and what it can do.
"It was a wake-up. People realized we had to change how we operate the plants, how the NRC functions, how the government has dealt with accidents," said Jaczko, adding that he recommended that people in and around the area of the Fukushima reactor stay 50 miles away from the site afterward.
"In hindsight, we were probably a little bit over conservative, but contamination had spread beyond 10 miles from those plants in Japan," said Jaczko. "It certainly was the right decision for the people in and around that facility."
After the Fukushima incident, Jaczko discussed how he tried to put more requirements in place for newly planned nuclear reactors in the United States, and how he voted against the licensing of four reactors before his resignation.
The event on Thursday was hosted by the C-10 Foundation, the Newburyport-based group that monitors the safety of Seabrook Station nuclear power plant. The group has long pushed for closer monitoring of alkali-silica reaction at the New Hampshire plant, known as ASR, a chemical process that creates small cracks in concrete structures.
While none of Cape Ann’s communities lie within the recognized 10-mile evacuation zone in the event of any accident at the plant, Seabrook Station sits just 17 miles across the water from Rockport’s Halibut Point State Park, and on clear days is visible from Rockport and Gloucester’s village of Lanesville.
Jaczko also discussed his belief that nuclear power is "not a viable solution for climate change," despite the fact that it is often viewed as a cleaner alternative to coal and oil-fired power plants that produce high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
"There are now things you can do to save the climate that don't involve nuclear power. In fact, nuclear has proven to be a very very poor solution to that problem," said Jaczko, highlighting the high cost of operating nuclear facilities as opposed to "cheaper" alternatives in the renewable energy field.
"Something has changed dramatically over the last 10 years or so, and that is that there are now alternatives... It's not worth it anymore because we don't need it because of these new technologies, and that to me is the profound revolution that is happening in the marketplace," said Jaczko. "We don't have to be at potential risk for these catastrophic accidents, we have alternatives, and that is the direction I think we'll go in this country and in the rest of the world."
Contacted on Friday, NRC representative Neil Sheehan declined comment on Jaczko's remarks.
Jack Shea may be reached at 978-961-3154 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.