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Tales of Nuclear Bureaucracy!

The title puts you through a bit of a two-step: Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear ... (ooh, sounds intriguing!) ... Regulator (wut?!). A rogue ... bureaucrat? And, indeed, there is plenty of bureaucracy in Gregory B. Jaczko’s account of his time at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Simon & Schuster, $26), first as a science-besotted commissioner, then as its politically divisive chairman — both positions he owes to the juice of mentor Harry Reid. But if you care about how government works, or doesn’t, this is anything but dull. “Every disaster makes its own rules,” he writes; he’s talking about Fukushima and the unpredicatability of nuclear accidents, but it’s just as apt for the catastrophe of nuclear regulation, at least as he describes it: a system lousy with conflicts, lobbying dollars, and obsequeous regulators who see themselves as allies of the nuclear industry. A scientist rather than a born politico, Jaczko is often at odds with power companies, other commissioners, even his bosses. (“You’re a f***ing asshole and nobody likes you,” snarled Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff.) This comes through in his account of Yucca Mountain: “My tombstone will likely read, ‘The guy who killed the Yucca Mountain project.’ Over that epitaph will be spray-painted grafitti: ‘Clown. Bozo. Inmate.’” As you can see, this isn’t an impartial, objective book, and the nuke industry might object to a point or two. But it’s direly vital stuff nonetheless — his chapter on a near-disaster in Ohio presents a troubling picture of high-stakes ineptitude — that shouldn’t be ignored.

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Feb 26, 2009

Yucca Mountain