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July 30, 2015

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Politics:

Where Nevada’s delegation stands on the NRC mutiny

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U.S. Department of Energy

Yucca Mountain is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

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Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko answers a battery of questions pertaining to Yucca Mountain from members of the House Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Energy and Environment May 4, 2011.

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers will weigh in this week on the mutiny at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as representatives from the House and Senate get the opportunity to question Chairman Gregory Jaczko about allegations leveled by the other four commissioners, who are pressing the White House for Jaczko’s ouster.

It’s a he-said, they-said situation, focusing on Jaczko’s conduct after March’s meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor.

His fellow commissioners charge that Jaczko’s conduct was that of, at best, a bully and, at worst, a tyrant.

Jaczko and his allies say he has simply tried to focus on improving public safety against the resistance of commissioners who are in the pocket of the nuclear industry.

The White House sent a letter Monday to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee expressing its continued support of Jaczko.

While Nevada has no nuclear reactors that would be affected by the post-Fukushima debate, it does have a big stake in how it’s settled because of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Officially, Yucca Mountain is dead. Last year, commissioners resolved that they would not be able to break a 2-2 deadlock (one commissioner, George Apostolakis, abstained). And there’s no funding for the site’s development in the federal budget — something Sen. Harry Reid makes sure of when it’s time to dole out federal funds.

But there’s always the fear of what will happen in a post-Reid era.

For Nevada, Jaczko — a former Reid employee who shares his adamant opposition to the project — is synonymous with Yucca Mountain. Jaczko’s term expires in June 2013.

Likewise, Nevada lawmakers who support Reid’s strategy of blocking federal funds for the project’s development are supporting Jaczko. But those with a more lax view are being cagey in their reactions to the chairman’s fight with his colleagues.

“Sen. Reid continues to support Chairman Jazcko,” Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said. “His leadership during the Fukushima nuclear crisis was instrumental in ensuring the safety of Americans in the wake of that disaster, and his safety-oriented approach is what we need to protect the American people from a similar crisis in our own backyards.

“It is sad to see those who would place the interests of a single industry over the safety of the American people wage a politically motivated witch hunt against a man with a proven track record of making sure nuclear power is produced as responsibly as possible,” Orthman added.

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley and Republican Sen. Dean Heller — rivals in 2012 for the Senate seat that John Ensign vacated this year — see eye to eye on Yucca Mountain and the need to support Jaczko through this crisis.

“This is nothing more than an attempt by those who want to dump deadly nuclear waste in Nevada to turn our state into a radioactive wasteland that will endanger hundreds of thousands of Nevada families and destroy our tourism industry,” Berkley said in a statement. “I continue to fight against dumping nuclear waste in Nevada as I always have.”

“This is an unfortunate distraction from the real issue, which is finding an alternative to Yucca Mountain and developing a solution for the long-term storage of the nation’s nuclear waste,” Heller said in a statement. “The commissioners should be focusing on the safety of the American public, not internal politics.”

The rest of the Nevada delegation, however, hasn’t rushed to Jazcko’s defense.

Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both freshmen Republicans, have deviated from Nevada’s long-held opposition to the project since arriving in Congress — they are not advocates for turning Yucca Mountain into a nuclear waste dump, but have also not supported zeroing out funding for it.

Heck, who opposes carting any nuclear waste into Nevada for dumping or any other purpose, would like to see the site developed as a research park to study best nuclear reprocessing practices.

Heck wants the charges against Jaczko to be vetted in a full investigation.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s top priority should be our citizens’ safety, not internal personality conflicts,” Heck said in a statement. “I support Chairman Issa’s decision to investigate this matter: If there is evidence, as the complaints allege, that public safety is being jeopardized by the NRC’s actions, Congress has a responsibility to act to protect our citizens.”

Amodei has said he is open to discussing the carting of waste to the state for research, though he remains opposed to Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository.

Asked about Amodei’s position on Jaczko, spokesman Brian Baluta said: “In the interests of being constructive and factual on Yucca Mountain, I don’t think that the president is waiting by the phone for our recommendations on personnel issues. However, if he is, I’m sure that we could come up with a list, starting with the cabinet.”

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