Top Nuclear Watchdog to Resign

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Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, announced unexpectedly Monday that he plans to resign.

Jaczko is seen as the leading safety advocate of the five-member commission, which oversees safety at nuclear power plants. His time as chairman, however, has been fraught with allegations of mismanagement and abusive comments to agency staff.

“I thought it was really the right time to make that announcement, to give the president an opportunity to take whatever time may be needed to identify and work through the process of selecting a successor,” Jaczko told the New York Times.

In a very public fashion, Jaczko visited the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station last month, promising accountability for design changes by Southern California Edison if they caused rapid degradation of a key radiation barrier that led to a small radioactive leak this year.

After an expert alleged an improper approval process for the changes and after a record of a presentation by Edison on the changes took a long time to be produced, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer last week asked for all documents on how the agency came to authorize the changes.

While Jaczko will likely stay on for several months until a replacement is confirmed, his absence could shift the dynamics of the regulatory agency.

From the New York Times article:

Dr. Jaczko, chairman since May 2009 and the longest-serving member of the five-member commission, was an outsider and a maverick when he joined the panel more than seven years ago. He has drawn sharp criticism for helping to end the government’s consideration of a proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert and for assuming some emergency powers at the commission after the triple meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors in March 2011.

He sought to address some longstanding safety problems at the 104 nuclear power reactors in the United States, but with a background in nuclear physics and nuclear policy and not in the nuclear industry, Dr. Jaczko was viewed with skepticism and mistrust by some industry insiders …

Last year, all four of his fellow commissioners — two Democrats and two Republicans — sent a letter to the White House chief of staff complaining about his management style. They told a House committee in December that Dr. Jaczko had withheld information from them, unprofessionally berated the agency’s professional staff and reduced female employees to tears with his comments.

But beyond friction with his fellow commissioners, he often found himself the lone dissenting vote on important issues. Among them were the speed with which American reactors should be reanalyzed and improved to incorporate the lessons learned from Fukushima Daiichi and whether licenses should be granted for new reactors before those changes were in the pipeline.

— NICK GERDA

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