Jaczko under fire

12 December 2011

 Severe criticism of Gregory Jaczko's chairmanship of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been made public by Congressmen looking into the matter. 



As chairman, Jaczko is one of five NRC commissioners appointed by the President and approved by the Senate for five-year terms. They consider and vote on important matters of nuclear safety and are supported by a workforce of permanent expert staff in Washington DC and around the country. Currently Jaczko and two other commissioners are appointees of President Barack Obama, while the other two are completing terms to which they were appointed by President George Bush.


All four other commissioners have formally expressed their "grave concern" that Jaczko's leadership is causing "serious damage" to the NRC. They expressed this in a letter to Jaczko and the White House chief of staff on 13 October. This has now been picked up by Darrell Issa, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who wrote again to the White House, making the complaints public in the process.


Jaczko was accused of "intemperate and disrespectful behaviour and conduct" towards the other commissioners as exemplified by yelling down the telephone and storming out of meetings. He was also said to intimidate and bully NRC staff, "strongly criticise" their views and even direct them to withhold certain views from the rest of the commission.


One senior member of staff was even dismissed without proper liaison with the commissioner affected. The four commissioners attest that this was because the staffer did not follow Jazcko's view on what should be presented as the staff's policy position. "This impairs the ability of the commission to function effectively" they said, adding that it is contrary to how the organisation has worked until now.


Jaczko was also said to have made remarks at a senior leadership meeting showing "disdain for the internal commission procedures" and "contempt for the commission." The four commissioners said these were part of "a long series of very troubling actions" that have "undermined the ability of the comission to function as prescribed by law and decades of successful practice."


One fundamental of nuclear safety is the ability of staff at all levels to speak their minds on nuclear safety matters without fear of losing their jobs. Another is for a regulator to be sufficiently independent of both industry and politics - a point that has been a focus of concern thanks to Jaczko's former roles with Senators Harry Reid and Ed Markey.


Reid has been a longtime opponent of the Yucca Mountain waste storage project with Jaczko acting as a scientific advisor. Soon into President Barack Obama's term his energy secretary Stephen Chu shelved the project without giving a reason, while Jaczko directed the NRC to stop work on its analysis of the project's safety. These actions were soon disputed by the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) which said Chu had no power to stop the Congressionally-mandated project and that the NRC had no choice but to follow through on its portion of the work. A seven-month review of the affair upheld Jaczko's authority to cut funding for NRC's work on Yucca. The five NRC commissioners declared themselves "evenly divided" but nevertheless signed off an order for staff to wrap up remaining work on Yucca Mountain and place it all in storage.


Issa invited the White House chief of staff William Daley to nominate a spokesman for a 14 December hearing. He noted: "The President has the authority to take action to address these concerns... The White House has now been aware of the commissioners' concerns for nearly two months and the public deserves to understand what actions have been taken and whether the President still believes that chairman Jaczko is capable of leading the NRC."


Speaking for the US nuclear industry, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute Marv Fertel said, "The issue that is of most concern is the question of a chilled working environment at the agency, including the possibility of staff intimidation and harassment, at a time when the senior management and staff are working on critical licensing activities and post-Fukushima safety recommendations. The industry takes safety culture very seriously and we expect the same priority treatment of these issues by our regulator."
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News