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July 19, 2019

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Jaczko’s successor at NRC could be another staunch Yucca opponent

nuke agency


From right: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, NRC Commissioner William Magwood and NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki are sworn in before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 14, 2011. Jaczko faced criticism over his management style from fellow commissioners.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 29, 2011.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 29, 2011.

The White House says it will move quickly to nominate a replacement for outgoing Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, heralding an end to a particularly acrimonious period in the commission’s history.

The decision by the White House to quickly nominate a replacement means Jaczko won’t linger as a lame-duck chairman — provided the new commissioner-designate has a smooth ride through the congressional approval process.

The White House has not identified a potential replacement for Jaczko as chairman, though there are two other Democrats on the commission: 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.

Because Yucca Mountain is still in the hands of the courts, Jaczko’s resignation likely won’t have any immediate effect on the fate of the project.

Jaczko’s replacement will be a Democrat — an anti-Yucca Democrat if the president hopes to get his nominee confirmed in Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Senate. That means the commission’s balance of power relating to Yucca Mountain would remain the same.

In a letter posted on the commission’s website Monday, Jaczko said he would resign as soon as Congress confirms a replacement.

His resignation comes amid infighting and power struggles between Jaczko and other commissioners over licensing Yucca Mountain and the United States' response to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown.

Jaczko’s tumultuous tenure was marked by congressional inquiries and investigations into the inner workings of the organization and Jaczko’s leadership style. His departure comes as the inspector general’s office is expected to deliver another report on personnel issues at the NRC.

His departure does throw 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 Reid.

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 Reid.

Jaczko was recommended for the post by Reid, who strongly defended him against heated Republican criticism. Republicans accused Jaczko 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.

Reid continued to praise Jaczko in parting remarks Monday — but didn’t criticize his departure.

“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 energ,y 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.”

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