Photo courtesy of the Athens Banner-Herald.

State public service officials are gathered in Washington, D.C., this week for the winter meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. One of shining stars involved in NARUC is a Georgian named Tim Echols, who hopes to transform America’s system of nuclear waste management.

Echols won a statewide election in November 2010 to serve on the Georgia Public Service Commission. Today he leads the commission as its chairman.

With nuclear energy making a strong resurgence in Georgia — two new plants are under construction — Echols has taken the lead on the issue of waste management. He wants NARUC to advocate for market-based reforms.

Even though NARUC won’t tackle the issue at its winter meeting this week, Echols has high expectations for improving an outdated system in dire need of reform. He’s in the process of building support for his plan.

“In Georgia, we have four nuclear reactors on two plants,” Echols said. “I feel the Achilles heel of nuclear power is the management of the waste.”

Echols said he took interest in nuclear waste management upon visiting The Heritage Foundation after his election in 2010.

“Heritage has called for a new approach that would use market solutions and essentially apply to nuclear waste management what’s been applied to every other aspect of nuclear power,” he explained.

Echols said he would like to move responsibility for nuclear waste management to producers. He noted that commercial nuclear plants are run by private companies, resulting in the cheapest form of electricity in America. The enrichment industry is also privatized.

Achieving these reforms won’t be easy. President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future issued a disappointing report last month. And NARUC will consider a resolution that is largely based on that report.

Echols described his approach as “controversial” for the association. He said it has inspired opposition from the nuclear industry as well.

Echols is one of five public service commissioners in Georgia — one of only 12 states to elect its commissioners. He’s raised the issue of nuclear waste management in Georgia and said he’s fortunate to come from a state with a pro-nuclear approach.

“Our state, for the most part, wants to see additional reactors built,” Echols said.

Before winning election in 2010, Echols founded the Family Resource Network, which created TeenPact, a program teaching the importance of citizenship to teenagers in almost 40 states. Echols continues to serve as president of the organization and has authored a book called “Real Citizenship.”

“In teaching citizenship skills, I had a chance to learn and become politically active,” Echols said. “When there was an opportunity for me to run for political office, I was, by God’s grace, elected. Naturally, I gravitate to those who taught me everything I know. The Heritage Foundation was one of the first places I contacted.”