Web Date: May 24, 2012
Jaczko Heads For The Exit
After a contentious three years as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Gregory B. Jaczko announced earlier this week that he is leaving before his term expires in June 2013. His resignation, he added, is contingent upon Senate confirmation of a successor.
Late last year, a conflict between Jaczko and the other four NRC commissioners became public during hearings before the Senate and House of Representatives. The commissioners complained that Jaczko had intimidated and bullied them as well as staff members, particularly women (C&EN, Dec. 19, 2011, page 8).
Jaczko denied the allegations both at the hearings and during 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 again emerged during a regulatory vote 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 following the March 2011 tsunami.
Nuclear power advocates in Congress dislike Jaczko, primarily because he supports President Barack Obama’s and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) intent to terminate the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. These Congress members have called for Jaczko’s resignation but he has publicly refused, until now. Jaczko is a former Reid staff member.
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 the 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 and a greater emphasis on safety.
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