Thursday, March 20, 2003 | 10:57 a.m.
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pushing the nomination of one of his own staffers, physicist Greg Jaczko, to fill one of two seats being vacated on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The five-member commission is important to Nevada's future because it is responsible for deciding whether Yucca Mountain ultimately can be used as a national nuclear waste repository. The Energy Department plans to submit a Yucca license application to the NRC as early as December 2004.
The action by Reid, who has long battled the Yucca plan in the Senate, comes just a few weeks after one of the Senate's leading Yucca Mountain advocates, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, asked President Bush to consider one of his staffers -- senior policy adviser Kristine Svinicki, for a seat on the commission.
Reid said he was not motivated to respond in kind to Craig. Opposition to Yucca Mountain was not a "prerequisite" used in selecting Jaczko, Reid said.
Jaczko's resume includes two years on Reid's staff where he "led efforts to defeat proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain."
But Reid said he expects President Bush will be open to Jaczko's nomination. It's not known exactly how many potential NRC nominees the White House is considering. President Bush formally approved Yucca Mountain as the best site for a national high-level nuclear waste dump last year.
Commissioners are appointed by the president but must be confirmed by the Senate to five-year terms. Two commissioners are leaving the panel this year; chairman Richard Meserve is stepping down from the post this month to take another job; commissioner Greta Joy Dicus' term ends in June.
Although the NRC is a policy panel that regulates and licenses nuclear reactors and nuclear materials, including waste, the commission is required to be politically balanced. Meserve and Dicus are Democrats. So it's likely Bush would name a Democrat to one of the two open seats.
Senators typically recommend nominees to the White House. On Wednesday, Reid ally and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle sent Bush a letter formally recommending Jaczko to fill the Democratic seat, saying Jaczko had "a unique blend of technical expertise and policy experience that would make him a valuable member of the Commission."
Daschle noted Jaczko has the bipartisan support of Reid and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.
Ensign today said corralling GOP support for Jaczko might be a "challenge" because of Jaczko's close work with Reid against Yucca.
"But the guy is brilliant," Ensign added.
It's too early to say if Sen. Craig would consider supporting Jaczko, Craig spokesman Will Hart said.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry's top trade group and leading Yucca advocate, declined comment on Jaczko. Institute officials typically do not comment on any NRC nominations because the industry works so closely with the agency, institute spokesman Mitch Singer said.
Jaczko is also an adjunct professor in science policy at Georgetown University. He received his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin and his bachelor's degree in physics and philosophy from Cornell University.