House panel not done with outgoing NRC chairman

Although he has already announced his plans to leave, the House Energy & Commerce Committee plans to hear testimony from departing NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko along with the four other commission members on May 31.

The title of the hearing is “NRC Policy and Governance Oversight.” 

Members will question Jaczko and his fellow commissioners “about the conduct of certain Commission actions and policy decisions under his leadership,” the committee said in a news release. “In recent weeks, the committee has launched a series of inquiries into the Commission’s governance, chilled work environment, and recent votes.”

Jaczko announced his decision to resign May 21, saying he would leave NRC as soon as a replacement is appointed. Jaczko has been an NRC commissioner since January 2005 and has been chairman since May 2009. Had he not resigned, his term was supposed to last through June 2013.

The chairman is the principal executive officer of and the official spokesman for the NRC and Jaczko has had a stormy tenure. Jaczko, who previously worked for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., angered the nuclear industry and congressional Republicans for shutting down the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

Jaczko also faced criticism in handling’s NRC’s response to the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan. The tipping point, however, was probably late last year when testimony before Congress by the four other commissioners, including the Democratic appointees, depicted him as an autocrat and backroom bully.

Jaczko’s former boss, Harry Reid, and other nuclear critics have urged the Obama Administration to appoint someone who will be a tough nuclear watchdog. “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. This is an opportunity for the nuclear industry to demonstrate its commitment to public safety by supporting a Chairperson who puts the safety of American citizens first,” Reid said.

“I look forward to the President’s nomination of a successor that will carry the same level of concern in this post-Fukushima era,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

The Washington Post speculated that the Obama administration might look to nominate a woman. Commissioner Kristine Svinicki’s term will expire June 30. The administration has re-nominated Svinicki, who previously worked for some congressional Republicans.

The Las Vegas Sun also suggested that Jaczko’s successor is also likely to be unsympathetic to the costly Yucca Mountain project.

A Politico article makes the case that a resolution could come soon because the Obama administration might want to swiftly end more negative headlines about Jaczko’s leadership style. Both the nuclear industry and GOP members of Congress have stressed the importance of keeping a full five-member panel at NRC with no vacancies.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.