Jaczko probe concludes

27 June 2012

Gregory Jaczko did not exceed his authority as chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) during the Fukushima crisis, although he intimidated staff and gave 'inconsistent' evidence to a Congressional hearing, an investigation has concluded.

A probe by the Inspector General of the NRC, Hubert Bell, was launched last year on the request of four senators sitting on the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Separately, a complaint by other NRC commissioners gave rise to a December 2011 session of the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform during which Jaczko and the other NRC commissioners publicly addressed the commissioners' problems with his behaviour.

"It is critical that the NRC leadership... take the steps necessary to ensure that the agency is an efficient, effective regulator."

Marv Fertel
President and CEO
Nuclear Energy Institute

The conclusions of the Inspector General's report, leaked to Washington bloggers today, absolve Jaczko of some charges and confirm wrongdoing in others. Jaczko has already announced his resignation from the NRC, effective on the confirmation of his successor, Allison Macfarlane.

On the principal allegation of exceeding his authority during the Fukushima crisis, the report found that Jaczko had not acted improperly. Although the increased emergency powers of the chairman had been intended for use during an incident at an NRC-licensed facility in the USA, Jaczko's use of them during the Fukushima crisis was in line with the precedent that they had also been used during the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

Jaczko did not actually clarify to the Inspector General whether certain actions had been taken under emergency authority, but in the end the Inspector General determined that Jaczko had never been formally required to make such a declaration. Although this led to the situation that other commissioners did not know under what authority Jaczko had been operating, the Inspector General decided that the other commissioners had been kept well enough informed.

Jaczko responded to the report by saying he had always been confident his actions had been consistent with his responsibilities and authorities as chairman. He said he was glad the matter could now be put "behind us" and that "The report raises nothing new of substance."

However, the report noted that Jaczko's testimony to the Congressional hearing in December 2011 "was inconsistent, in five areas, with testimony provided [to the Inspector General] by NRC senior officials during this investigation." The leaked executive summary of conclusions did not include details of these inconsistencies.

The report confirmed disturbing practices at the NRC in which Jaczko's behaviour "was not supportive of an open and collaborative work environment." During the investigation, NRC executives and commissioners gave examples of when Jaczko had used "intimidating or bullying tactics" to make staff members side with him despite their own judgements.

 "The chairman says he welcomes disagreement and challenges the staff for the good of the agency. However, many of the people who personally experienced or witnessed these interactions did not perceive these exchanges in a positive manner."

Jaczko was concluded to have attempted to control the information passing from NRC staff members to the other commissioners, on one occasion ordering a senior official to change a staff recommendation. The other commissioners disagree with this kind of influence and "uniformly expressed a need to receive the staff's unaltered expert recommendations to support their decision-making."

Senator James Inhofe, the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said the report was a "vindication" for the efforts of the other four commissioners. "On several occasions, some members of Congress attacked these commissioners for daring to come forward and do the right thing... I look forward to a new chapter at the NRC beginning with the confirmation vote for Jaczko's replacement, Allison Macfarlane, and especially one of the whistleblowers, Kristine Svinicki, who should be re-confirmed to serve another term as an NRC commissioner."

Responding to the affair, head of the the US trade body the Nuclear Energy Institute Marv Fertel said "The industry takes safety culture issues seriously, and we expect the same priority treatment of these issues by our regulator." The NRC's credibility is as important to confidence in nuclear energy as the safe performance of US nuclear facilities, said Fertel, "It is critical that the NRC leadership, including Allison Macfarlane if confirmed by the Senate, take the steps necessary to ensure that the agency is an efficient, effective regulator."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News 

Filed under: Regulation, USA