By EDWARD BIRNBAUM
In writing my Los Alamos Daily Post letter on “regulations” (link), I confess to having focused primarily on the positive role that regulations play in keeping us safe and in protecting our environment.
Mr. Nebel in his letter (link), has rightly pointed out that regulations, and the bureaucracy that supports them, often has trouble dealing with new technologies, especially if the appointees heading the organizations responsible for promulgating and enforcing the regulations are former CEO’s or executives of the companies whose legacy technologies will be displaced by the new ideas being proposed.
His other major point is that regulation is no guarantee of safety, as exemplified by the Martin County, Kentucky breach he described. The recent King Gold mine breach in Colorado that severely impacted parts of New Mexico would work equally well as an example.
On the other hand, I am not particularly sanguine about lowering the bar to allow construction of new designs for coal plants or new nuclear reactors with little regulation and without a rigorous, independent testing regimen. The Los Alamos County’s Board of Public Utilities is currently exploring the option of getting electricity via the proposed Small Modular Nuclear Reactor (SMNR) plant (12 SMNR’s) planned for a site in Idaho.
Although like a pebble bed reactor, the SMNR is purported to be a lot safer than the large 1000 MW reactors currently providing nuclear power in the U.S., without regulatory oversight of the design, construction and operation of such a reactor complex, a lot of short cuts could be taken which might result in a major disaster in the future. Regulation is not a panacea, and it can be costly in terms of both time and money, but I don’t think I want to leave things solely to the good will of the CEO and his/her major investors.
My primary point is that we should not be ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water’. Most of the time, people opposed to imposition of regulations are not selective, i.e. focused on getting rid of “bad”, or “unnecessary”, or “duplicate” regulations, but rather, they want to get rid of any regulation (or agency) that gets in the way of a business or corporation making money, regardless of the negative impact on the Public down the road that might result from the lack of effective regulation up front.
I would also agree that the desire for power is a problem for all organizations, including those involved in regulation, but I didn’t see anything in Mr. Nebel’s response that would provide a mechanism for sorting between “good” and “bad” regulations, or how we might “regulate” the “regulators” in a way that makes it easier for businesses and corporations to accomplish their goals, while still protecting the interests of the Public.