* NRC's Jaczko has powerful ally in Senate's Reid
* Murkowski says Obama needs to address "serious concerns"
* Jaczko's fellow commissioners complained to White House
* Boxer calls on commissioners to stop "attacking" Jaczko
* White House declines comment on spat
(Recasts with details and background throughout)
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The embattled chief of the
U.S. nuclear safety regulator found some powerful political
support Saturday ahead of Capitol Hill hearings next week
that will scrutinize his bid to enact sweeping safety reforms.
Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, is locked in a bitter battle with fellow regulators
over how to move forward on expensive changes for the nation's
104 nuclear reactors - reforms prompted by Japan's Fukushima
nuclear accident in March.
The four other commissioners at the helm of the agency -
two Democrats and two Republicans - took the highly unusual
step of writing a formal complaint to the White House that
Jaczko's "behavior and management practices have become
increasingly problematic and erratic."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid defended Jaczko, a man he
helped put into power. Reid dismissed the complaints as "a
politically motivated witch hunt against a man with a proven
track record of ensuring that nuclear power is produced as
safely and responsibly as possible," a Reid spokesman said.
The White House declined comment on the spat, which will be
the focus of a House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday
and a Senate Environment Committee hearing Thursday.
"We must move away from the 'do nothing' culture of the
NRC," said Barbara Boxer, the Democratic chairman of the
environment panel, criticizing the commissioners - William
Magwood, Kristine Svinicki, William Ostendorff and George
Apostolakis - for "attacking" Jaczko.
Jaczko told the White House in a letter this week he has
done nothing wrong and has never behaved unprofessionally with
his colleagues. He called some of their concerns "absurd."
The most powerful Republican on the Senate Energy
Committee, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, said Jaczko's alleged
behavior was "unacceptable" and asked Obama to take action.
"The president needs to immediately address the concerns
raised by the four commissioners if he wants members of
Congress and the public to have faith in the agency," Murkowski
said in a statement.
An NRC spokesman declined to comment. The commissioners did
not immediately respond to requests for comment.
TENURE MARKED BY POLITICS
Jaczko was first appointed to the NRC in 2005, and his
friends have described him as an independent thinker who made
the politically powerful nuclear power industry nervous.
The NRC's post-Fukushima changes to safety regulations for
existing plants are expected to cost millions for operators
including Exelon and Entergy Corp.
Previously, Jaczko worked on Capitol Hill for Reid, who
helped install him on the commission where he often found
himself on the losing end of commission votes.
He has publicly prodded his commission to speed up, and has
also chided industry about being slow to act. His critics have
complained he has a short fuse.
In a memo, the four commissioners described him "storming
out of an agenda planning meeting while a colleague was
speaking," and complained that he yelled at them on the phone.
The U.S. nuclear industry is the world's largest, and the
regulator is admired around the world for its high standards.
But critics complain it takes the agency years to examine
and act on changes - a plodding process that its supporters
describe as methodical and necessary given the complexity of
Emails obtained by Reuters show a power struggle between
Jaczko, seeking to take charge of the day-to-day decisions at
the NRC, and the four commissioners, who sought majority-rule
decisions and who resented Jaczko's efforts to cut them out.
The commission uses a complicated written voting process,
and the internal emails showed commissioners and their staff
working to build consensus, often against Jaczko.
In October, Jaczko told his fellow commissioners they were
"bogging down this process in a seemingly endless series of
papers" and trying to "micro-manage" post-Fukushima decisions.
In the email, Jaczko accused commissioners of looking for
future openings to be able to nix staff decisions requiring
expensive mandatory retrofits of nuclear plants.
In his letter to the White House, Jaczko complained the
commissioners didn't understand the difference between their
role and his, and said he has "about the same number of years
of experience on the Commission as all four of them added
The commissioners have "established policies that have
loosened the agency's safety standards," he said.
"While I personally worry about the long-term affect those
decisions will have on the safety and security of the industry
we regulate, I hold no personal animosity toward my colleagues
for their policy views," Jaczko said.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and Alister Bull;
editing by Anthony Boadle and Todd Eastham)
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