Nuclear Regulatory Commission Approves First Domestic Small Commercial Reactor

“The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week approved a design application for the first domestic small commercial nuclear reactor. These types of reactors are smaller, simpler, cheaper, and feature more advanced safety systems than traditional reactor designs. It has the potential to generate enough electricity to power more than 50,000 homes.

The reactor design was submitted by NuScale Power, an Oregon company that plans to build at least a dozen small reactors by 2030 at a site in eastern Idaho. NuScale has received $288 million from the Department of Energy for the development of modular nuclear reactors, but a complex regulatory system for nuclear power means there’s a long way to go before construction can begin.

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems—a consortium of 46 public utilities in six western states that plans to work with NuScale on the small reactor project— is now required to submit a combined construction and operating license application, and must complete an environmental analysis in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Utah Associated spokesman LaVarr Webb told the Associated Press that he estimates these applications will likely take two years to prepare.”

“NuScale submitted its 12,000-page application to the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2017 and has responded to more than 1,500 formal requests from the commission for more information. There’s a reason that NuScale’s design is the first that the NRC has approved since 2014.

While NuScale is moving forward, NRC regulations seem to be discouraging innovation. Carrie Fosaaen, a licensing specialist at NuScale, told Science Magazine that the NRC regulations, strictly interpreted, would push NuScale towards just building a miniature version of a conventional reactor—rather than being able to incorporate the design improvements that make NuScale’s design safer than conventional reactors.

As more states shift away from generating electricity from fossil fuels, nuclear power should be part of the mix. California’s rolling blackouts show how an increased focus on renewable energy comes with a problematic lack of durability for the power grid. The sun and wind do not care about the demand for electricity. Sometimes the sun doesn’t shine, or there is no wind. Nuclear power, however, produces a consistent amount of electricity that can be dialed up or down to meet demand.”

Federal Regulations Have Made Western Wildfires Worse

“Take controlled burns: fires that are lit on purpose, intentionally burning tinder to keep potentially larger, unintentional wildfires from finding fuel. Especially since the 1960s, efforts to extinguish all fires—even natural, low-impact forest fires that serve as nature’s equivalent of a controlled burn—have made forests more susceptible to larger fires and have made controlled burns more and more necessary.

But the regulatory requirements one must meet before starting a controlled burn are complex and lengthy. According to Jonathan Wood, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation and an adjunct fellow with the Property and Environment Research Center, the National Environmental Policy Act requires “a couple-thousand-page document analyzing every single conceivable impact to the environment that the plan might have.” This is a public process, Wood adds, that “often results in litigation.” There’s even more paperwork when the controlled burn might overlap with areas designated as critical habitat for an endangered species.

“What you’ll often find,” Wood says, “is that there are projects which have been extremely well-vetted, which have been years in the work, there will be a 5,000-page document, which no one could conceivably ever read because it’s so long and complicated, but then the project will still get put on hold for an indefinite period of time, because some special interest group filed a lawsuit.” So much time is spent considering the ramifications of an action; little is spent considering the impact of doing nothing.”

“The Clean Air Act of 1990 creates another obstacle. The law treat the smoke from a controlled, prescribed burn as a pollutant that must be analyzed and permitted before the burn can be done. The smoke from a wildfire is not similarly scrutinized. But needless to say, the environmental impact of a multi-state wildfire is much larger than that of a smaller controlled burn.

There is no magic bullet when it comes to the issue of preventing wildfires. But if we want to stop disasters of the scale, state and federal governments need to rethink forest management. They could start by easing the regulatory burden upon proven techniques.”

What You Need to Know About the New Title IX Regulations

“The new regulations address two broad categories of institutional obligations. The first is jurisdictional: When does a university have a responsibility, under Title IX, to take action? The second is substantive: When a university does take action, what must it do?
In terms of when a university must take action, the new regulations use a speech-protective definition of sexual harassment that mirrors the definition established by the Supreme Court in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999). Under the new rules, hostile environment sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would determine is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity.” This is a critically important provision because the previous administration had employed an overly broad definition—”any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature”—that led students and faculty to be punished for speech and expression protected by the First Amendment. The regulations also make clear that Title IX prohibits physical sexual misconduct such as sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.

The new regulations also make clear that universities must respond to any sexual harassment that takes place “in the school’s education program or activity.” This includes not only incidents that occur on school grounds, but also incidents that occur in contexts where the university has “substantial control,” including in buildings owned or controlled by recognized student organizations (such as fraternity houses.)

The regulations also contain a lot of information about how schools must conduct their Title IX grievance procedures. While Title IX has long required a “prompt and equitable” process, colleges’ handling of these cases in recent years has been anything but equitable. Ever since the 2011 Title IX Dear Colleague letter—which eliminated important procedural protections for the accused and ushered in an era of aggressive federal investigations that led schools to abandon even more due process protections—students have been forced to defend themselves in biased, inquisitorial proceedings, often with little to no information about what they allegedly did wrong.”

Physicians Should Be Allowed To Practice Across State Lines—and Not Just During a Pandemic

“Medical professionals are typically licensed on a state-by-state basis, so a doctor licensed in one state can’t practice in another without receiving an additional license. The patchwork of licensing requirements across states is a major obstacle to the use of telemedicine because physicians are generally only permitted to provide telemedicine services to patients in states where they are licensed.

States are recognizing the cost of these onerous regulations in light of the current crisis. Over the past few weeks, governors and medical boards in every state except for Alaska, Arkansas, and Minnesota have temporarily suspended their licensing rules to allow out-of-state physicians to work in their state. Most of them have also waived restrictions on the use of telemedicine across state lines.”

“Some states are in greater need of physicians than others. On average, there are roughly 263 physicians per 100,000 people in the United States. But in Massachusetts, there are 449 physicians compared to just 191 in Mississippi. Moreover, the number of COVID-19 cases is expected to peak at different times in each state, so the peak demand for health care providers will vary. Allowing physicians to practice across state lines grants them flexibility to help where they are needed most.”

“Beyond the current crisis, telemedicine has the potential to connect patients with specialists across the country. Telemedicine may also reduce inefficiencies that result from schedule gaps, unexpected appointment cancellations, and the uneven geographic distribution of physicians.

A growing, aging population is expected to generate a national shortage of nearly 220,000 physicians by 2032. As with the current distribution of physicians, shortages will not be evenly distributed across states. Regional projections from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicate that the Southeast will have a shortage of approximately 13,860 primary care physicians as early as 2025, while the Northeast will have a surplus of around 810 physicians. Telemedicine offers a solution, but states will need to reform their licensing laws for the technology to reach its full potential.”

U.S. Needs Billions of New Masks to Combat Coronavirus. Feds Say It’ll Take Up To 90 Days to Approve New Mask-Making Facilities.

“America is suffering from a shortage of almost everything it needs to combat the spread of COVID-19. Hospital beds, ventilators, gloves, and gowns are all in short supply.
That’s particularly true of the N95 masks that help medical professionals avoid catching and spreading the virus as they tend to patients. The N95 designation refers to the ability of these masks to filter out 95 percent of airborne particles.

In early March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said that the country’s stockpile of N95 masks was enough to meet about 1 percent of the three billion masks we would need during a true pandemic.”

“government regulations are stifling the ability of manufacturers to set up new N95 mask production facilities—handicapping the private sector’s ability to respond to the current crisis.”

“The production of N95 masks is regulated by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Prospective makers of N95 masks must submit detailed written applications to NOISH, and send finished products to its Personal Protective Technology Laboratory for testing. NIOSH staff must also personally inspect new manufacturing sites before they’re allowed to start pumping out masks.

Chisholm says regulators have told the Open PPE Project that getting agency approval could take anywhere from 45 to 90 days.”

“3M, one of the largest makers of N95 masks, says that it is producing 35 million respirators per month in the U.S. and that within 12 months it plans to double global production capacity to 2 billion masks a year. It also says it is exploring coalitions with other companies to expand mask production further.

Honeywell, another major mask manufacturer, claims it has more than doubled its mask production, according to The New York Times.

That’s a lot of masks, but nowhere near enough to meet the current demands of the country’s medical sector, let alone the demands of other essential workers and volunteers who are out in public right now, potentially dealing with sick people.”

Health Bureaucrats Botched the Response to Coronavirus. Trump Made It Even Worse.

“The single most important failure of the U.S. response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has been the slow rollout of testing. This was an abject failure of bureaucracy. But it was also a failure of presidential leadership.
The countries that have had the most success in containing the outbreak, such as South Korea and Singapore, have done so through early, rapid, and widespread testing and contact tracing, followed by targeted quarantines. South Korea and the United States discovered initial cases of the coronavirus on the same day in January. Since then, some 290,000 people in South Korea have been tested and new daily cases have fallen from 909 to just 93. Despite a much larger population, the United States, tested just 60,000 people in the same period of time.”

“Much of the failure to make mass testing available lies with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a Wall Street Journal report makes clear, the CDC, which managed the development of the initial test kits, botched the job in just about every possible way: The CDC not only produced a faulty test that had to be retracted but adopted narrow testing criteria that meant many people with symptoms simply couldn’t be tested.

Perhaps most disastrously, as The Washington Post reports, federal health agencies initially declined to certify tests produced by private companies that were better suited for rapid mass testing anyway. This is despite the fact that experts, including the former head of the FDA, were publicly recommending that they do so as early as February 2.

The CDC was following its usual protocols, developing initial diagnostic tests on its own in order to maintain quality control, as it usually does. But that’s exactly the problem.”

“But this was also a failure of political leadership, most notably from President Donald Trump. For weeks, Trump and senior White House officials actively downplayed the threat of the virus.

As late as February 25, National Economic Council adviser Larry Kudlow was offering assurances that the coronavirus was “contained” and that it was “pretty close to airtight.” Trump treated the virus with similar breeziness, suggesting that the virus was “going to disappear” and that while it might get worse, “nobody really knows.””

“The problem here is obvious: Trump, who as the head of the executive branch oversees federal agencies such as the FDA, did not view the virus as a serious problem—and did not want others to view it that way either. That, in turn, translated into a downstream lack of urgency, which meant that critical aspects of the response were not prioritized. According to The Wall Street Journal, health officials who have examined the testing calamity have concluded that it was a result of both bureaucratic bumbling and a “broader failure of imagination,” in which Trump and other administration officials “appeared unable or unwilling to envision a crisis of the scale that has now emerged.”

The job of a president is to make decisions, set priorities, and convey clear information to both the public and the staff of the executive branch. This is especially important in a moment of crisis, when the executive is in charge of acting both quickly and with sound judgment. In this outbreak, Trump has failed on every count. Not only did he fail to see the threat even when it was apparent to experts, but he actively undermined preparedness by downplaying its significance far long after the problem was apparent, and by providing false and misleading information as the mitigation effort proceeded.”

“The federal health bureaucracy deserves much of the blame for America’s faltering response to the coronavirus outbreak. But the president has made the fiasco worse.

The bureaucracy reports up to an executive, who is tasked with setting priorities and ensuring performance—and for taking responsibility when there are failures. Instead, Trump has inaccurately blamed the Obama administration for failures that occurred on Trump’s watch. (Indeed, under Barack Obama, diagnostic tests for swine flu were designed and approved in less than two weeks.) Asked whether any of this is his fault, the president rejected the idea, saying, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Trump’s refusal to admit failures makes it more likely that he will repeat them, and that more Americans will pay the price.”

Tired: There Are No Libertarians in a Pandemic. Wired: There Are Only Libertarians in a Pandemic.

“If the policies and decisions above are worth tossing out in an emergency, maybe they ought to be sidelined during normal times too.

Situations like the 9/11 attacks and the coronavirus outbreak often open the door to naked power grabs whose terrible consequences stick around long after the events that inspired them (looking at you, TSA!). Governments rarely return power once they’ve amassed it. But if you listen carefully, you can hear them telling us what stuff they realize can be safely tossed. When the infection rates come down and the theaters and schools and everything else get back to normal, it may be tempting just to go back to the way we were. Resist the temptation: A lot of the rules we put up with every day are worth reevaluating, and not only during an emergency.”

Oregon Tried To Silence This Engineer’s Red Light Camera Research. Now Experts Say He Was Right All Along.

“Oregon board said Järlström’s research amounted to practicing engineering without a license. In a 2014 letter, the board told Järlström that even calling himself an “electronics engineer” and the use of the phrase “I am an engineer” were enough to “create violations” that could result in a $500 fine.

Järlström fought back. With the help of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that often challenges ridiculous licensing laws, Järlström took his case to federal court. The trial was a disaster for the licensing board, which was forced to concede that its attempt to silence Järlström “was not narrowly tailored to any compelling state interests.” The board refunded the $500 fine, was prohibited from targeting Järlström again “for his speech about traffic lights and his description of himself as an engineer except in the context of professional or commercial speech,” and got a public dressing-down from Judge Stacie F. Beckerman.

Beckerman’s ruling ordered the Oregon board to restrict its policing of licensing issues exclusively to individuals who are working as professional engineers—that is, being hired to do engineering work—rather than simply practicing engineering skills. That seems like a necessary restriction, considering the board’s history of investigating everyone from amateur engineers like Järlström to political candidates who promised to “engineer solutions” and even a Portland magazine that credited a local leader for being the engineer, metaphorically, of a new bridge project in the city.”