Saturday, July 2, 2011

Comm. Rogers on the Current NRC:

Too much politicization?

I recently became aware that my former boss, Commissioner Kenneth C. Rogers had published a guest column in the Seattle Times addressing what he sees as the politicization the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) under the current Chairman.

Since I know Japan is now considering how to change its regulatory approach, some of Commissioner Rogers' comments on this issue, and some of my recollections of my time at the NRC, may be useful.

Commissioner Rogers refers to the Principles of Good Regulation, which were developed under his leadership during his time on the Commission. The very first principle is independence. One of the main criticisms of the Japanese regulatory system was its lack of independence--from licensees, from the promotional parts of the government, and from politics. What Commissioner Rogers' guest column makes clear is that an organizational structure can help foster independence, but structure alone is not enough, and saying you are independent is not enough. The ongoing commitment of all parties to maintaining independence is required.

Commissioner Rogers identifies his concerns about some of what we are hearing is happening at the Commission now, and says that, in his 10 years on the Commission, he "even though there were policy disagreements between commissioners...I never identified any initiatives by a member as politically driven."

This is very true. The Commission of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I worked for him, was an excellent model for how a commission should act. The commissioners set the tone. Athough it was surely not perfect, as far as I could ever tell all information was shared, and all the commissioners' offices were invited to meetings where issues were discussed and views were exchanged. The commissioners didn't always agree on everything, but the tone was open and professional. And it was usually apolitical. I once commented to my husband that I usually couldn't tell by their votes what party each commissioner came from. Occasionally, yes. But often not.

By contrast, my husband worked, at the time, for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). There, every vote was strictly along party lines. There, every commissioner actually had either a donkey or an elephant after his name in the annual report! But communications issues are financial issues and nuclear issues are health issues, and therein lies the difference. Or so I thought at the time.

It is for just that reason that I think Commissioner Rogers' guest column is important. As he so eloquently said, the Commission must have "a status of independent, solidly based integrity in which broad public interests rather than narrow partisan interests must dominate. Dedicated adherence to The Principles of Good Regulation could provide the way to get there, if all commissioners shed the political attachments they entertained before joining the commission."

This also is the goal to which the new Japanese regulatory organization, whatever form it takes, must constantly strive.


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