(Updates with comment from Jaczko spokesman in fifth paragraph.)
Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Gregory Jaczko’s “propensity for angry outbursts and aggressive behavior” as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has created a toxic environment at the safety regulator, Republicans on a U.S. House panel said.
Jaczko “gaveled down a fellow commissioner in mid- sentence” at a July 18 meeting amid objections to his plan for reactor safety after Japan’s nuclear crisis, “stormed out” and announced his proposal at a news conference, in an incident cited in the report today from Republicans on the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
House Republicans are investigating discord at the NRC, citing an Oct. 13 letter from the four other commissioners to White House Chief of Staff William Daley that expressed “grave concerns” about Jaczko, named chairman by President Barack Obama. The commission is responsible for regulating the 104 commercial reactors in the U.S. and is weighing applications for a new generation of power plants.
“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,” according to today’s report by the committee, which will hear testimony tomorrow from all of the commissioners.
Jaczko “will be happy to discuss these issues during his appearance before the committee,” Eliot Brenner, a spokesman for the chairman, said today in an e-mail.
Jaczko Ouster Sought
Jaczko should be removed as chairman to restore trust in the agency and its “ability to regulate our nuclear industry,” Representative Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who heads the energy and power panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said today in a letter to Obama.
Jaczko, in a Dec. 7 letter to Daley responding to his colleagues’ concerns, said the commission’s majority has “loosened the agency’s safety standards” over his opposition.
The White House chief of staff told the House Oversight Committee yesterday in a letter that the divisions at the NRC stem from different views of the chairman’s authority.
“We have concluded that while there are tensions and disagreements among the commissioners, these management differences have not impaired the commission’s ability to fulfill its mission,” Daley wrote to the committee in the letter released last night by the White House.
Jaczko, Svinicki Meeting
The committee report cites a meeting between Jaczko and Commissioner Kristine Svinicki in her office that “got out of hand,” prompting her to request that he leave. He remained in the office, according to the report, citing an interview with Jeffry Sharkey, Svinicki’s chief of staff.
“I can see the chairman is very agitated, he is sitting down, but he is clearly very agitated,” Sharkey told the committee staff. He said Svinicki’s request that Jaczko leave “got him to calm down a little bit.”
The Republican’s report said Jaczko may have let political considerations influence the commission’s actions. His chief of staff suggested that Commissioner William Magwood, appointed by Obama, may be viewed as disloyal for a vote in favor of continuing work on Yucca Mountain, a nuclear-waste repository the Energy Department moved to kill after Obama opposed the site during the 2008 campaign, according to the report.
Jaczko, a former science adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has denied that politics has played a role in his decisions. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, is a long-time Yucca opponent.
“His actions undermine the commission structure and demonstrate a blatant disregard for decades of established practice at the NRC,” the report said of Jaczko.
“I tend to argue vociferously for my positions, and I think that’s healthy,” Jaczko said during a Dec. 8 interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters office in New York.
Jaczko has attributed his authority to powers granted to the NRC chairman in 1980, following a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the previous year.
Other commissioners have a “lack of understanding” about their role on the regulatory board, which is limited to “policymaking, rulemaking and adjudications,” Jaczko said in his letter to Daley. He called his colleagues’ accusations “absurd.”
“Chairman Jaczko broadly interprets the authority granted to the NRC chairman,” the House committee report said. His interpretation of the 1980 reorganization plan “has been his justification for centralizing power within his office, limiting the role of the other four commissioners and exerting greater control over the NRC staff,” it said.
NRC staff were “forced to adapt” to Jaczko’s vision of the agency’s actions after the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, caused by a March earthquake and tsunami, according to the report.
Jaczko was “shaking angry” during a July meeting with Martin J. Virgilio, the deputy executive director for reactor and preparedness programs, according to the report. Jaczko believed a document prepared for a commission vote didn’t match his views and “demonstrated a lack of support” for the task- force that examined U.S. reactor safety after the Fukushima incident, Virgilio said, according to the report.
Jaczko has used his status as the NRC’s chairman to pressure staff to support him, the report said.
“This tactic leaves NRC staff to decide between following the chairman’s orders to the dismay of the majority” or “disobeying the chairman and incurring his wrath,” it said.
The themes raised by the committee echo a June 6 report by the agency’s inspector general, which said Jaczko “was not forthcoming” with his colleagues about his intent to stop work on Yucca Mountain and questioned his management style.
“Jaczko acknowledged that he sometimes loses his temper,” Inspector General Hubert T. Bell said in his report, which found that the NRC chairman acted within the law.
--Editors: Steve Geimann, Larry Liebert
To contact the reporters on this story: Brian Wingfield in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Jim Snyder in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at firstname.lastname@example.org