NRC must do more to insure civility at its public hearings

  • The disruption of a recent NRC hearing in Vermont by clown acts from anti-nuclear activists descended into bullying of speakers including a 60 something grandmother.
  • Over at Atomic Insights Rod Adams has the full story including video from the hearing. Also, he publishes his email exchanges with the NRC about the hearing and its disruption by anti-nuclear groups.
  • Why hasn’t the NRC taken a more proactive approach to prevent their meetings there from running off of a cliff? Like a measles virus, this kind of anti-social behavior could spread to licensing hearings across the country.

Over at the Atomic Insights blog published by my friend and colleague Rod Adams is an important post on the subject of civility at public hearings held by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  At a recent hearing on the closure on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, the NRC lost control of the meeting allowing a rough group of  clowns to disrupt the meeting.

Adams documents the disruptions, including video from the meeting, and then publishes the email responses from the NRC to his inquiries about the issue. It is well worth your time to read Rod’s report.

Things also took a darker turn at this meeting as one of the activists reportedly bullied Meredith Angwin, the publisher of the nuclear energy blog Yes Vermont Yankee.  Ms. Angwin, for those of you who do not know her, is in her late 60s.

The fact that anti-nuclear activists bullied a 60 something grandmother to make their point deserves a swift response. One of them threatened her saying “your next Meredith.” The NRC had plenty of people at that meeting. Why didn’t they act to stop this bullying behavior?

Angwin had a long and distinguished career at EPRI working on chemical corrosion issues so she knows her way around a nuclear reactor. Bullying her was clearly an attempt to intimidate an expert speaker and perhaps even deter her from speaking at all. To her credit. Angwin stood up to the bullies and did speak at the hearing.

Bullying behaviors rarely stop at verbal threats. What is to say that the next time these people get rev’d up, that the situation may descend into physical violence? How dangerous does it have to get in attending an NRC hearing before the feds will act?

What’s even more strange about this hearing is that it is about a closed nuclear reactor. While anti-nuclear groups might think they won this round, the fact is Entergy closed the Vermont Yankee reactor, which still had 18 years to run on its NRC license, because the record low price of natural gas made it unprofitable to continue to operate the plant. No business is in the business of racking up continued losses.

So why are anti-nuclear groups bringing their version of guerrilla theater to a government hearing? Is it a case of wanting to pitch fork the dead?

When I first heard about this bizarre session, like Rod Adams I emailed the NRC Office of Public Affairs to ask for an explanation.  Eliot Brenner, who heads it has long experience at the NRC, and he understands the environment in which the agency lives. He told me this:

“I was at that meeting and Gary Sachs was not well-behaved at all, to put it mildly. Chip Cameron, our facilitator,  tried to keep him restrained. One of the difficulties we face is that there is a pretty high hurdle in Vermont for throwing some one out of a meeting.”

“I will forward this information to the folks who run the meetings so they are aware. I am acquainted with Meredith Angwin, at least by phone, and did not realize she was at the meeting. I would have enjoyed speaking with her.”

I wrote back to Brenner . . .

” I realize that an NRC meeting in Vermont over the closure of the reactor is a highly charged environment.

I chaired the planning commission in Idaho Falls, ID, for two years and served on that body for seven years. There were plenty of times we had people who were not well-behaved. Invoking police powers was more of a threat than a reality, but it did cool some folks down. 

In the case of a committed activist, a night in jail for a misdemeanor charge becomes a badge of honor so the threat of being hauled off by the cops, and the exercise of it, can backfire.”

What surprises me about all the noise is that the anti-nukes won in Vermont, though not, for the most part, because of their efforts. Entergy recouped their investment in the plant a long time ago. Once it was no longer a cash cow, due to changes in rates and the competitive effects of low gas price, they walked away.

So I remain puzzled by all the turmoil over a closed reactor. The NRC is caught in the middle.

NRC hearings are not grade school playgrounds. They are forums for serious business. If anti-nuclear activists want to appear in public as stand up comics, they should hop on a bus to New York city and sign up to present at any of the many free forums for amateurs.

The NRC needs to realize that if its meetings can be disrupted in Vermont, that these tactics may show up elsewhere, perhaps at the next licensing hearing for Davis-Besse in Ohio or Indian Point in New York.

The NRC’s credibility is on the line which is why it needs impose rules of civil behavior on everyone who attends their meetings. Failure to do so undercuts the agency’s credibility and its claim of fairness and impartiality in considering the views of diverse public opinion.

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7 Responses to NRC must do more to insure civility at its public hearings

  1. Dan.

    Thank you so much for this post. I am a short older woman and the bully is a tall and imposing man. He is frightening to many people, including me. Partially his size, partially his out-of-control demeanor. What will he do? Can anyone predict?

    Mr. Brenner may not have noticed I was at the meeting because of the general circus atmosphere of the meeting. If he looks at the two hour and about ten minute mark of the tape, he will see me.

    In terms of “ejecting someone” will make him a martyr…well maybe. But he’s already a hero to the people to whom he is a hero. Ejecting him from the meeting will make the meeting more civilized. That the ejection might enhance the status of the ejectee with a small group of people: my answer is “So big deal.” To me, the possibility of such an enhancement among the group of opponents would be a VERY small price to pay. The reward would be a civil and safe meeting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rodadams2013 says:

    Dan:

    Thank you for the kind words and the link to my post.

    There were some other disturbing features of the meeting that I did not get around to mentioning. I was reminded of one of them by Eliot’s response to you about Meredith’s presence. Meredith has been writing about Vermont Yankee for more than 5 years and has attended numerous public meetings associated with the plant.

    However, the meeting moderator, who apparently knew and recognized virtually all of the antinuclear activists at the meeting could not pronounce Meredith’s name and treated her as a complete stranger. Eliot attended the meeting; I believe he was there the whole time. It is rather difficult for me to believe that he did not recall one of the two members of the public who stood out from the crowd and actually said positive things about the NRC, Entergy and the PSDAR.

    Thank you for mentioning your experience in running public meetings. Perhaps you can serve as an advisor and share more of your “best practices” with NRC moderators.

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  3. Jeff Walther says:

    “NRC hearings are not grade school playgrounds.”

    It sounds like they are exactly like grade school playgrounds.

    The authorities fail in their duty to exercise their power to keep the infantile, violent and/or foolish from ruining the experience for everyone else, thus defeating the entire purpose of the institution.

    This seems to accurately describe both grade school playgrounds and NRC public meetings.

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  4. Robert says:

    “One of them threatened her saying ‘your next Meredith.'”

    That is especially scary because the bad grammar was actually audible.

    Cheer up, guys. It’s civil disobedience. Didn’t any of you go to college?

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  5. djysrv says:

    Comments are closed for this topic

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