Dr. Gregory Jaczko, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), delivered his first major address since being appointed six weeks ago this morning at the Heritage Foundation.

Jaczko’s talk was encouraging for its discussion of the need to enhance agency decisiveness and regulatory preparedness for dealing with new challenges, such as waste management and other fuel-cycle related activities. Both will be key factors in any future nuclear renaissance. Jaczko explained:

“Decisiveness means the ability to come to resolution in a predictable manner after open and informed debate. To be decisive, we must understand the public interest and as much of a complicated issue as possible so we can make a policy decision that ensures public health and safety…The public demands that from a regulator. The licensees should expect that from a regulator.”

The emphasis on developing predictable behavior is critical. Predictable behavior reduces uncertainty for licensees, thereby increasing their confidence and helping facilitate investment. Jaczko continued, expressing a desire to ensure an efficient regulatory process.

While we’d like to see a streamlined process, the Chairman’s remarks demonstrate his commitment to efficiently carry out the Commission’s current responsibilities:

Decisiveness will also be important as the NRC continues to review applications for new power reactors, fuel cycle facilities and uranium recovery facilities. With a strong foundation, good communication, and a decisive ability to move forward, I believe we will be well positioned to address the challenges posed by the new licensing work.

As Chairman, I intend to keep the staff’s focus on safety and security with clear guidance and expectations for their review and to keep the applicants focused on high quality applications. Applicants should provide complete applications and they should prioritize those facilities that they intend to build in the near future…

There are also areas where we are not quite as certain we will see activity, but where advanced planning, at least at a basic level, should be explored. For instance, we should transparently communicate licensing requirements for the review of potential reprocessing or recycling applications. The agency will need to develop its regulatory infrastructure to be able to effectively complete such reviews, and we should be communicating with all of our stakeholders now to determine the appropriate timeframe for such a resource intensive effort. This, in turn, allows us to provide more predictability to the applicants as a whole, better resource planning for our staff, and ultimately more public confidence for those on whose behalf we regulate.”

This theme of regulatory preparedness is important, since any nuclear revival will depend on the NRC’s capacity to adapt quickly to the expanded regulatory responsibilities that are sure to accompany any serious growth in the nuclear industry.

An important element of the Jaczko lecture was that he portrayed himself as a fair regulator. Ultimately, that is all we can ask of a government regulator; it is simply not the place of the regulator to advocate or oppose that which they regulate. They should be dispassionate parties that carry out their duties to protect public health and safety in a fair and efficient manner.

Advocacy or opposition of commercial activities by public figures is inappropriate. It too often leads to corruption, special interest politics, and fewer choices and higher prices for consumers.

Would we have liked to see the chairman stand before the crowd and talk about how he was a sharpened knife ready to have at the notorious red-tape at the NRC? Absolutely.

But short of that, he did the next best thing. In a nutshell, he said that he’s a regulator and that he would ensure that public health and safety will be protected and that he would carry out his duties in a transparent and efficient manner.

Despite our general dislike of regulators and unnecessary regulation, at least when it comes to nuclear energy, we recognize that regulation has its place. And while no one knows for sure what Dr. Jaczko’s tenure as NRC Chair has in store, he’s off to a fine start.