US Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner William Magwood is leaving the States to become Director General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), a mouthful based in Paris, France. As NRC commissioner in 2011, Magwood faced the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident just three weeks into the job (11 NRC volunteers were on site), and a public lashing from Harry Reid who wanted to shut down Nevada’s Yucca Mountain operation, which stores nuclear waste. Magwood brought an unusual resume to Washington politics: positions at the DOE and Westinghouse and Edison Electric Institute aren’t uncommon, but a Masters in English from Carnegie-Mellon and an MFA in writing from the University of Pittsburgh (after, of course, earning a BS in Physics) isn’t the norm. Perhaps it was Magwood’s writing that sealed the deal with the OECD. The organization does after all revere another American politician who was good with words: George C. Marshall. The OECD was founded in 1958 to administer American and Canadian aid under the Marshall Plan for reconstruction of Europe after World War II.
Today OECD’s NEA membership consists of 31 countries in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region, which together account for approximately 90% of the world’s installed nuclear capacity. After the nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi, the words of Marshall in his famous speech at Harvard University (June 5, 1947) are still relevant: “We are remote from the scene of these troubles. It is virtually impossible at this distance merely by reading, or listening, or even seeing photographs or motion pictures, to grasp at all the real significance of the situation. And yet the whole world of the future hangs on a proper judgment.” Of the 31 members, the US has the most nuclear power plants connect to the grid (104), France is second (58), Japan third (50), and the Russian Federation fourth (33). The NEA is now focusing on Asia as it is expected to be the main region of growth for nuclear power, with China (not a NEA member) leading the way in terms of planned nuclear power capacity additions and reactor design developments. Perhaps Magwood’s writing as heard in his most recent speech “The Seven Pillars of the Nuclear Safety Future” – a spin on T.E. Lawrence’s memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph – will resonate abroad and bring change for a safer future.