Friday, March 21, 2014

New Director-General for the OECD/NEA:

USNRC Commissioner Magwood to Take the Post

It has just been announced that NRC Commissioner William Magwood will leave the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to take the position of Director-General of the OECD/Nuclear Energy Agency in September.  That position is being vacated by Luis Echavarri of Spain, who is retiring at the end of April after having served as the DG of NEA since 1997.  (There is no word yet on who will serve at acting DG between April and September.)

The NEA's current membership consists of 31 countries in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region.  Together they account for approximately 90% of the world's installed nuclear capacity.  The NEA's scope of work covers issues related to both nuclear regulation and development, and Magwood has substantial experience in both areas.  Prior to becoming a Commissioner of the US NRC, Magwood served as the Director of the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology of the US Department of Energy, and before that, he worked in industry.  He also knows the work of the NEA well, having chaired its Steering Committee while he was at DOE.

NEA has had only 6 DGs in the more than 55 years of its existence, and it has been so long since an American held the position that I find many of my colleagues assuming that Magwood will be the first American to hold this position.  That is not the case.  Howard Shapar held the position from 1982 to 1988.  Shapar had also come from the NRC, in his case, from the legal office.  In addition, Sam Thompson served as acting DG between 1995 and 1997.  Thompson had come from State Department, and was serving as the Deputy DG when the DG position was vacated.  A full list of the previous Directors General can be found in the historical review of the NEA and its committees that I prepared for the 50th anniversary of the organization in 2008.

Magwood is taking the helm of the NEA at an interesting time in its history.  It will be the first change in leadership in 17 years.  During that time, several new countries have joined the NEA.  The program of work of the agency has always been a delicate balancing act, as the member countries have different interests.  Since Fukushima, the number of countries in the organization that have rejected nuclear power has grown.  At the same time, the Fukushima accident identified new needs for international coordination and exchange, especially among countries that continue to use nuclear power.  In addition, the global economic situation has put pressure on the budget.  Thus, Magwood will face some interesting challenges as he begins his new assignment.

Magwood will be leaving the NRC before the expiration of his term (June 30, 2015).  Since Commissioner George Apostolakis' term expires June 30, 2014, this will create two vacancies on the Commission in the coming months.  Commissioner Apostolakis has not announced officially whether he wishes to be nominated for a second term, but some sources suggest that he is interested in continuing to serve on the Commission. 

When there are two vacancies from opposite parties, the pairing allows for some balancing of viewpoints, at least theoretically.  However, this time, the two positions being vacated are both held by Democrats.  Furthermore, of the three Commissioners remaining, two are Republicans.  The makeup of the remaining Commissioners will increase the political pressure to fill the vacancies quickly.  At the same time, given the ongoing politics of Yucca Mountain, the selection of an individual for Magwood's position (presuming that Apostolakis is renominated) is likely to be fraught.  Senator Harry Reid will seek a candidate who is opposed to Yucca Mountain, while others will oppose a very biased selection.


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