Jaczko Heads For The Exit | May 28, 2012 Issue - Vol. 90 Issue 22 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 22 | p. 10 | News of The Week
Issue Date: May 28, 2012 | Web Date: May 25, 2012

Jaczko Heads For The Exit

Government: Embattled NRC chairman says he is stepping down
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: NRC, Jaczko, Fukushima
Credit: AP/David Goldman
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko speaks to members of the media Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011 in Atlanta.
Credit: AP/David Goldman

After a contentious three years as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Gregory B. Jaczko announced last week that he is leaving before his term expires in June 2013. His resignation, he added, is contingent upon Senate confirmation of a successor.

As C&EN went to press, President Barack Obama nominated Allison M. Macfarlane to replace Jaczko. Macfarlane is a geologist and a professor at George Mason University. She served on a presidentially appointed expert panel examining radioactive waste issues.

Jaczko’s time at NRC has been controversial. He has had conflicts with the other four board members, who complained that he had intimidated and bullied them as well as staff. Jaczko has denied the allegations, most recently at a May 23 press briefing. He acknowledged differences between his views and those of other commissioners but attributed them to his “passion for safety.”

Those differences also emerged in February, when Jaczko was the lone commissioner to oppose a permit for the first new NRC reactor license in more than 30 years. Jaczko said NRC should defer issuing a permit until new provisions were developed that reflected lessons learned from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdowns in March 2011.

Nuclear power advocates in Congress dislike Jaczko, primarily because he supports Obama’s and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) intent to terminate the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. Several Congress members, such as Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Environmental & Public Works Committee, have called for Jaczko’s resignation, but he has publicly refused, until now.

But Jaczko also has defenders in Congress. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) calls Jaczko “one of the finest NRC chairmen” and says that he led “a Sisyphean fight against some of the nuclear industry’s most entrenched opponents of strong, lasting safety regulations.”

At last week’s briefing, Jaczko restated his concern about safety and urged the commission and the nuclear power industry to be “more timely” when executing safety changes. The impact of the Fukushima disaster was a “wake-up call” for NRC and the nuclear energy industry, he said. The three reactor meltdowns at Fukushima, he added, showed the need for a more proactive response to nuclear plant emergencies.

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