THE NEW YORK TIMES
Monday, May 21, 2012 | 8:56 a.m.
WASHINGTON — Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko announced Monday morning in a letter posted on the commission’s website that he would be resigning as soon as Congress could confirm a replacement.
His announcement heralds an end to a particularly acrimonious period in the NRC’s history, in which the infighting and power-struggles between the chairman and other commissioners over licensing Yucca Mountain and the U.S.’s response to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown alarmed lawmakers to such an extent that they launched congressional inquiries and investigations into the inner workings of the organization.
But Jaczko’s resignation also throws a monkey wrench into future planning for the commission: In the next month, Congress was supposed to be deciding whether to renew the term of commissioner Kristine Svinicki, a Republican appointee vehemently opposed by Sen. Harry Reid and not particularly well-liked by Sen. Barbara Boxer, though Boxer did agree to hold a hearing on her re-nomination in the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Now, there’s a chance that Congress will have to debate two nominees instead of just one.
“This is the right time to pass along the public safety torch to a new chairman who will keep a strong focus on carrying out the vital mission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Jaczko said in his parting statement.
Jaczko, a Democratic commissioner, was first appointed to the NRC in 2005; he became chairman in 2009. Prior to his career on the NRC, he worked as an adviser on science and nuclear policy to Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.
It was Reid who initially recommended him for consideration to the NRC, and strongly defended him throughout the last year, when Republican lawmakers came down on hard on Jaczko, accusing him of running the NRC like a dictatorship and manipulating agency processes to attain politically-desirable outcomes for Democrats — including the shutdown of the nuclear waste repository being constructed at Yucca Mountain.
“Greg was my trusted aide for many years and his talent in applying science to public policy was an asset to my staff and the state of Nevada,” Reid said in a statement about Jaczko’s announced departure. “He dedicated his tenure to improving the safety of nuclear energy and his leadership during the Fukushima nuclear crisis protected millions of Americans ... I am confident whomever replaces Chairman Jaczko will share his commitment to protecting the safety of the American people over the interests of a single industry.”
The White House has not yet said if they intend to move quickly to identify a nominee to replace Jaczko or if it plans to wait, letting Jaczko operate as a lame-duck chairman for an unspecified length of time. Neither has the White House identified a potential replacement for Jaczko as chairman, though there are two other Democrats on the commission who may be considered for the job: William Magwood and George Apostolakis, both of whom were sworn in to their terms in April 2010. The five-member commission is made up of two Democratic members, two Republican members, and one chairman who affiliates with the party of the sitting president.