Embattled Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko has announced his resignation after weathering months of charges that he bullied NRC staff and for his role in resisting plans to put a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a project long opposed by his sponsor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Jaczko’s resignation is contingent upon the confirmation of his successor, an event that may not occur until after the elections in November and perhaps not until January when a new Congress is sworn in and the winner of the presidential election is inaugurated.
“After nearly eight years on the commission, I am announcing my resignation as chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, effective upon the confirmation of my successor,” Jaczko said in his letter of resignation. “My responsibility and commitment to safety will continue to be my paramount priority after I leave the Commission and until my successor is confirmed.
“After an incredibly productive three years as chairman, I have decided this is the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum. 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 was nominated to the chairman’s position by President Barack Obama and served in the post for three years. He was originally named to the NRC by President George W. Bush in January 2005 and was chosen by Sen. Reid, on whose staff he served. His resignation letter did not mention or address the controversy surrounding his tenure, and he has denied the accusations.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, whose committee was investigating Jaczko, said in a statement that “the resignation of Chairman Jaczko will close an ugly chapter and allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to focus on its mission — ensuring the safe operations of the nation’s nuclear plants.”
Issa added: “I commend the four NRC commissioners who came forward to testify about Chairman Jaczko’s abusive behavior in order to put an end to a culture of retaliation and a polarized political atmosphere. This was never about nuclear safety, but rather poor leadership that created an abusive and hostile work environment. I urge the White House to move quickly in nominating a replacement so that this matter finally reaches its end.”
Issa’s statement noted that the committee asked Jaczko in March and May to clarify inconsistent testimony he delivered to the committee but he has yet to respond.
Jaczko’s management style was such that the four other members of the commission wrote to the White House to complain, explaining he “intimidated and bullied career staff” and created a “chilled work environment.”
The letter prompted congressional hearings and a majority staff report from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform entitled, “A Crisis of Leadership: How the Actions of Chairman Gregory Jaczko Are Damaging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
“The leadership of Chairman Gregory Jaczko has undermined Commissioners, staff, and the public confidence that the NRC can continue to remain focused on its vital mission,” the December 2011 report said. “The Committee’s investigation initially focused on the Commission’s actions during three series of events: the termination of the NRC’s technical review of the Yucca Mountain license application, the emergency response to the reactor accidents in Japan in March 2011, and the evaluation of lessons learned from the Japanese accident . . . . In the course of the committee’s investigation, it became apparent that the controversy surrounding these events was symptomatic of a more pervasive problem at the NRC.”
Among the report’s findings:
- Jaczko and his staff used political considerations to try to intimidate and influence other Democratic commissioners’ votes on matters related to Yucca Mountain.
- When fellow commissioners did not agree on a Jaczko plan for a post-Fukushima proposal, he stormed out of the meeting and announced his plans in a speech at the National Press Club.
- Jaczko strategically withheld information to gain the support of Democratic NRC members for his plan to end staff review of the Yucca Mountain license application.
- Jaczko’s aggressive behavior and attempts to threaten or intimidate his colleagues prevents constructive discussion.
- Jaczko’s “tendency to game the system has forced his colleagues to rely on formal votes” making it difficult for the commission to carry out its basic functions.
- Jaczko used his supervisory authority “to berate and compel staff to withdraw a voting paper that — although consistent with the expectations of his colleagues — included a suggestion, not even a recommendation, that was contrary to his preferred course of actions.”
In a statement, Reid thanked Jaczko for his service and said he had “dedicated his tenure to improving the safety of nuclear energy.”
“His work toward a safe and effective nuclear energy policy has left Nevada and the nation more secure. 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.
“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. I wish him well in his future endeavors.”
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