March 25, 2023

Parliament Hearing to Focus on BBC Severance Dispute

Mr. Thompson, who left the BBC in 2012 and is now the president and chief executive officer of The New York Times, has challenged July testimony by Mr. Patten about how much the trust was told about a series of large severance payments to executives who left the corporation in an effort to reduce costs.

In a 25-page witness statement submitted to Parliament on Friday, Mr. Thompson has accused the trust, which represents the interests of ordinary Britons who pay an annual television fee that goes to the BBC, of misleading the committee and the National Audit Office.

In July, Mr. Patten expressed surprise at the details of important severance payments, which were larger than contractually mandated, according to the auditors, while Mr. Thompson insisted that the trust had been fully informed and raised no objections. In particular, Mr. Thompson’s deputy, Mark Byford, was given a full year’s salary in lieu of notice despite having worked an additional eight months when the deputy’s job was eliminated.

One of the documents Mr. Thompson has presented is a briefing memo prepared for Mr. Patten explaining the payments, which were approved before Mr. Patten became chairman of the trust. He said that Mr. Patten’s testimony in July was “fundamentally misleading about the extent of trust knowledge and involvement.”

In a statement, the trust called Mr. Thompson’s submission “a bizarre document,” said that “we completely disagree with Mark Thompson’s analysis,” and said that Mr. Patten and Anthony Fry, a trustee, had not misled Parliament. Mr. Patten had not had “a full and formal briefing on the exact terms of Mark Byford’s departure,” the trust said.

Mr. Patten has come under considerable criticism for the large severance given to Mr. Thompson’s successor, George Entwistle, who lasted only 54 days in the job. He resigned in November over a reporting scandal, but was given a full year’s salary in addition to a normal severance payment. The furor over that package has made the earlier payments more politically delicate.

Both Mr. Thompson and Mr. Patten will appear before the Public Accounts Committee on Monday.

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Green Blog: A Hard Look at U.S. Reactor Hardware After Fukushima

Green: Politics

Over the objections of the nuclear industry, the staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is planning to recommend the adoption of a new rule requiring American reactors similar to the ones at Fukushima Daiichi to install emergency vents with filters on them.

The filtered vents would be required on two of the oldest reactor designs sold by General Electric. The idea is that their containments could be opened early in an accident to vent a puff of slightly radioactive gas and explosive hydrogen and thus prevent a buildup in pressure or explosions as an accident unfolds. The reactors did not have such vents originally, but most of the oldest models, equipped with Mark I containments, added vents in the early 1990’s.

After the Fukushima accident of March 2011, the commission ordered that vents be added to Mark II reactors as well but told its staff to quickly study whether filtered ones were necessary.

The United States has 23 Mark I reactors, all of which now have vents, and eight Mark II reactors, none of which have vents. None have filtered vents.

The question to be considered is whether the releases would have enough particles of radioactive materials, called radionuclides, to contaminate surrounding areas or result in radiation doses to the population.

At a cost of at least $16 million per reactor, the changeover to filtered vents would be one of the most significant ordered on plants that already have operating licenses. Some plants that installed vents in the early 1990s would probably have to remove those and substitute vents with filters.

The commission usually applies a cost/benefit analysis, calculating the potential damage to be avoided by a hardware improvement by taking into account the severity of an accident and the probability of the accident’s occurring. But through a technique called probabilistic risk assessment, it calculates the probability of an accident in which a vent would be useful as very low.

On that basis, the filtered vents cannot be justified, the staff said on Thursday as it presented its position to a committee of senior nuclear experts. But installing filtered vents does fit in with the commission’s philosophy of “defense in depth,” meaning several layers of protection, the staff said. It is due to report to the five-member commission at the end of November.

At a meeting conducted by the commission’s advisory committee on reactor safeguards, a panel of senior nuclear experts that writes letters to the commission endorsing or contradicting staff positions, a representative of the nuclear industry, Steven Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the industry was “committed to mitigating releases of land-contaminating radionuclides through a performance-based approach.”

“Performance-based” means setting a goal and letting each license holder meet it in whatever way is most appropriate at that site.

Mr. Kraft said the $16 million estimate for installing filtered vents in a reactor was too low because it counted what outside vendors said they would need to do the job but not the costs to plant owners should other modifications be needed to accommodate the vents.

When the reactors were designed, planners assumed that in the event of an accident, excess steam would be bubbled through a reservoir near the reactor vessel to scrub out radioactive particles. Now the industry is discussing whether it would also flood parts of a reactor building that are normally dry, providing yet more water to filter out radioactive materials. The industry hopes it can demonstrate that existing vents are thus adequately filtered.

If filters were added outside the reactor building, they could take the form of tanks of water or beds of sand, through which the gas would be bubbled; one design uses a venturi, which has a shape similar to an hourglass. When gas is passed through the constricted waist of the structure, particles are flung to the sides, allowing them to be collected.

One reason to favor a filtered vent, said John D. Monninger, associate director of the commission’s Fukushima “lessons learned” group, was to remove any hesitation in an operator’s mind about whether the best course was to vent the containment. “We believe adding the passive system there takes some of that burden from the decision-maker away,’’ he said. Others disagreed, suggesting that operators would feel safest following established procedures.

The commission staff’s position puts it in the unusual position of winning praise from nuclear opponents. Jim Riccio of Greenpeace told the advisory committee, “This is the only country except for perhaps Slovenia that is not moving to put these filters in place.’’

In fact, an N.R.C. document he cited shows that Mexico and India are also in that nonadopter category. Others are installing them.

Another opponent, Mary Lampert of Pilgrim Watch in Massachusetts, addressed the group by speakerphone. “We have seen three core melt accidents in real time,’’ she said, referring to Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Speaking of the staff’s use of probabilistic risk assessment, she said, “It’s time to learn from real experience, not P.R.A. theoretical games.’’

A filtered vent is a “no-brainer,” she said.

The staff is somewhat less emphatic; it will present the commission with a range of options, including a performance-based approach that could leave some plants installing filters and others demonstrating that the water provides adequate filtration.

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Head of Web Address System to Leave Post

PARIS — Rod Beckstrom, chief executive of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the Internet address system, plans to leave the organization next July.

Mr. Beckstrom plans to complete his three-year contract with Icann, a term that has been marked by moves to expand and internationalize the Internet address system. But these efforts have also brought the organization, and Mr. Beckstrom, into conflict with governments, brand owners and others.

Mr. Beckstrom announced the news himself late Tuesday via Twitter. Later, in a news release, he said: “I am incredibly proud of Icann’s achievements throughout my tenure. In two short years we have advanced this organization to a new level of professionalism and productivity, and turned it into a genuinely multinational organization that will serve the world community long after my time here.”

The announcement of Mr. Beckstrom’s departure could set off a new round of international wrangling over control of Icann and Internet governance. Set up by the U.S. government, the organization gained greater autonomy in 2009, around the time that Mr. Beckstrom took over.

But some governments, including those of Russia and China, are said to want to exercise greater control over Internet governance, perhaps via an organization like the International Telecommunications Union, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations.

Buring Mr. Beckstrom’s term, Icann has moved to reflect the increasingly international nature of the Internet, adding the ability to render addresses in non-Latin alphabets, for example.

Other changes have brought objections. A number of governments, for example, were opposed to Icann’s move this year to add a “.xxx” address suffix for pornographic Web sites.

Also this year, Icann approved a plan for a vast expansion of so-called generic top-level domains — the letters that follow the last “dot” in an Internet address. Some governments say they were not properly consulted, while brand owners and others continue to oppose the plan.

“Icann’s potentially momentous change seems to have been made in a top-down star chamber,” Randall Rothenberg, chief executive of the U.S. Interactive Advertising Bureau, said in a letter to Icann this week. “There appears to have been no economic impact research, no full and open stakeholder discussions, and little concern for the delicate balance of the Internet ecosystem. This could be disastrous for the media brand owners we represent and the brand owners with which they work. We hope that Icann will reconsider both this ill-considered decision and the process by which it was reached.”

Icann gave no indications on the hunt for a successor to Mr. Beckstrom, who said that in the meantime he remained “committed to leading this critical organization with the utmost dedication, and to living up to our common vision: One world, one Internet.”

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