Commissioner McGaffigan's Remarks: Nuclear Safety Professional Development Program Graduation

Commissioner McGaffigan's Remarks
Nuclear Safety Professional Development Program Graduation
Thursday, September 28, 2006

On behalf of the Commission, I want to congratulate all of the Class of 2006 graduates and any family members present.

You have been part of a unique program tailored to grooming a new generation of safety and security professionals for this great institution, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Brian Sheron, the Director of the Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research, told me just the other day that the Nuclear Safety Professional Development Program is gaining word-of-mouth recognition among undergraduate and graduate students in a growing number of colleges and universities. He had just returned from Penn State.

I want to start today by thanking you for being willing to serve your country at NRC. I think that it is harder to make that decision today than when I began considering Federal service three-and-a-half decades ago. Then government service was regarded as a noble occupation. NASA had gone to the moon in response to President Kennedy's challenge. The federal interstate highway system was moving along smoothly in response to President Eisenhower's vision. Government scientists and engineers were pioneering medical breakthroughs, developing reconnaissance satellites, and establishing the precursors to the Internet (ARPANET). Yes there was controversy, particularly tied to the terribly divisive Vietnam War. But that did not keep a whole generation of Americans from answering President Kennedy's challenge to "ask what you can do for your country" by entering Federal service. It was particularly easy for an Irish Catholic from Boston like myself.

Today you come to serve your country at a time when government service has been routinely denigrated for two decades. You come to an institution, NRC, that is routinely subject to baseless attacks by groups opposed to nuclear power that call themselves "nuclear watchdogs." These groups need to demonize NRC, you and me, to fund themselves and their anti-nuclear agenda. When I arrived at NRC in 1996, I had spent two decades working on national security issues first as a Foreign Service Officer, and then as an aide to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). I did not know that I was a demon, but it did not take long for me to cast votes, based on my scientific, technical, and policy judgment, that were not to the liking of the anti-nuclear zealots and so I became a demon.

You are the nation's nuclear watchdogs. You, like I, have come to this institution with a dedication to protect and serve the American people. You, like I, may have specific friends or family in mind who live near nuclear power plants as you go about your job. I am proud that you were not deterred from service here at NRC by the ugly attempts to label NRC employees as "lapdogs of the nuclear industry," and "wholly owned subsidiaries of the Nuclear Energy Institute" or to label NRC as a place where the NEI banner should be flying outside rather than the American flag.

My advice to you at the outset of your career is to bear in mind the word "honor" throughout your service. If you conduct yourself with honor, with integrity, and with diligence, you will have a great career. "Honor" often involves telling people, perhaps colleagues, perhaps supervisors, what they do not want to hear. I have throughout my career let the facts determine my position on issues. That can upset ideologs and theorists of all persuasions who do not let facts get in the way of their ideologies or their theories. And it may make you enemies. But stories I could tell you from my own career would persuade you that you can afford such enemies, but you can not afford to compromise your honor, your personal compass.

Honor involves questioning why things are the way they are. George Bernard Shaw wrote: "Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not." That was one of Robert Kennedy's favorite quotations. And yes, I believe there is a place for dreams in the career of a Federal civil servant. Dreams that the Cold War might end. Or that smallpox could be eradicated. And looking forward that cancer or AIDs might be cured, or closer to home, that nuclear power might safely and securely help us avoid the danger of global warming.

One of my favorite quotes that I came across during a year-long fellowship spent traveling in Europe after college goes like this. The author is Thomas Edward Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia. "All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it is vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible."

I hope that you will be dangerous men and women, who will honorably serve their country and help build an NRC far better than the one you receive from my generation, the generation represented in the left three front rows here.

It is going to be an enormous challenge for you. My generation has laid a pretty sound foundation, but we are far from perfect and we know that there are improvements to be made as you, a new generation of bright minds, seeks to protect the safety and security of the American people.

So be proud of yourselves for successfully reaching this early milestone in your careers. You have many more milestones before you. Serve honorably throughout that career and I guarantee you that you will look back with satisfaction and pride.

Good luck and God bless you all.

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