Activists Call for Resignation of Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Commissioner William Magwood testifies during a 2011 congressional hearing. Activists on Wednesday asked the outgoing commissioner to resign, saying his new job creates conflict of interest concerns.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Commissioner William Magwood testifies during a 2011 congressional hearing. Activists on Wednesday asked the outgoing commissioner to resign, saying his new job creates conflict of interest concerns. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Activist groups are asking an outgoing U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner to resign immediately and recant his recent votes on key safety and security issues.

In a Wednesday letter drafted by the groups' attorney, the activists say Commissioner William Magwood's new job as head of an international nuclear energy organization would create a conflict of interest, and they suggest that he should have recused himself from certain votes.

Starting in September, Magwood will be director-general of the Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency, a subdivision of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The activists note that, according to the NEA website, the organization works to promote "the development of production and uses of nuclear energy." The organization's policies "are set by member governments," including France and the Netherlands, which have a financial stake in certain nuclear facilities in the United States.

"Having accepted the position of NEA Director-General, you now appear biased towards the protection of NEA's interests … especially when you are forced to consider a solution to a safety issue that could significantly increase the cost of nuclear power production and limit its viability in the marketplace," the letter to Magwood says.

The letter was written on behalf of Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Sierra Club, along with 31 other groups.

Among the NRC actions activists are concerned about is the commission's decision recently to not pursue regulations that would force nuclear power plant operators to accelerate the transfer of spent fuel rods into dry cask storage containers. Accelerating the transfer would reduce the chance of a catastrophic fire in a spent fuel pool as the result of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, activists and some Democratic lawmakers say.

The spent-fuel decision was finalized in May, and activists are raising concerns that Magwood may have been making NRC decisions in a biased matter as far back as September. This is the date that a posting on the LinkedIn website lists as the deadline for applying for the NEA job, the activists note.

NRC Spokesman Eliot Brenner said the "NRC has no comment on the letter" but that Magwood's office is reviewing it. "In the meantime, [Magwood] will continue to follow all legal and ethical obligations related to his position as a commissioner."

The activist complaints follow recent controversy over NRC staffers reporting backlash for disagreeing with commission decisions. They also come after Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) raised concerns about the amount of international travel Magwood has done while an NRC commissioner.

At a June 4 Senate hearing, Boxer said Magwood had spent 127 days on international travel since 2010, and had plans to spend an additional three weeks traveling before resigning his position in September.

"I do think my travel is appropriate," Magwood said in response to Boxer's inquiry, adding that it was important for the U.S. agency to have a presence in countries that are considering nuclear power and setting up a regulatory structure.

"The fact that the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission goes to these countries and represents the causes of regulatory independence is very important to these people," Magwood said.

A Boxer spokeswoman could not be reached for comment by press time.

Magwood is no stranger to controversy. Activists strongly opposed his presidential appointment to the commission in 2010, saying his prior role with the Department of Energy also suggested a pro-nuclear bias. The Department of Energy's role in promoting nuclear power is different from that of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is meant to ensure the industry is operating safely, the detractors have argued.

The outgoing commissioner has also drawn the wrath of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). In 2012, the Huffington Post quoted Reid as describing Magwood as a "first-class rat," a "tool of the nuclear industry" and one of the "most unethical" people he had ever dealt with. Reid's comments came after Magwood apparently changed his position on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump project in Reid's home state, which the Obama administration has canceled but which some lawmakers are still looking to revive.

June 19, 2014

Activist groups say the outgoing commissioner's new job creates conflict-of-interest concerns arising from recent votes on key safety and security issues.