Dr. Gregory Jaczko has successfully elevated the office of Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission into a position of far higher visibility than the often obscure office has received in a very long time – at least since it was an office called the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and inhabited by David Lilenthal. I am not sure that he is enjoying the attention.
Kimberly Strassel at the Wall Street Journal published an excellent piece today titled Obama’s Nuclear Politics: Congress has approved plans to go ahead with the Yucca Mountain waste facility. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko has other ideas. She has discovered good sources of information and tells a well paced tale about the bureaucratic trickery and deceit that Jaczko used to further the agenda directed by his patron, Senator Reid and by President Obama in political payment to the Majority Leader for his endorsement during the campaign.
Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat chimed in with NRC IG Report – Jaczko withheld information on Yucca. Here is a quote from Dan’s post:
The WSJ reports the IG study paraphrases Mr. Jaczko as having acknowledged to investigators he sometimes uses “forceful management techniques to accomplish his objectives,” but also said that such techniques were “necessary to facilitate the work of the commission.
Translating this into plain English, Jaczko played the Washington game of controlling the flow of information about the project and reportedly has a short fuse when it comes to people and things that frustrate his purpose.
Aside; One thing that strikes me – and perhaps I am a bit different in this opinion – is that I have rarely backed down from a position of principle because my boss yelled at me or lost his temper. As I used to tell my colleagues in the Navy – it is not like it is the first time anyone ever yelled at me.
For me, the yelling during plebe summer was a bit of a joke. I actually got in trouble once for laughing when my squad leader yelled – it amused me that he believed he was more intimidating than my dad or my sports coaches. After all, he was only a few years older than I was at the time. I would find it equally amusing if a young whippersnapper like Jaczko tried to intimidate me – he is ten years younger and has a lot less knowledge and experience in the ways of the world.
Of course, some successful careerists might remind me that I served for 29 years after graduating with distinction from the Naval Academy and retired as a “mere” Commander – (the Navy equivalent of a Lieutenant Colonel). Sometimes principled stances can limit career advancement. That is a price that one might have to pay for crossing swords with powerful people. I generally figured that I only have one soul, so I put a pretty high valuation on acting with integrity. End Aside.
Ed Morrissey at Hotair.com also has an interesting take on Jaczko’s Yucca Mountain affair at IG report rips NRC chair as abusive, misleading, and political. Here is how he describes the way that Jaczko has stonewalled decision making processes with regard to reviewing the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board decision to refuse to accept the DOE withdrawal of the Yucca Mountain application:
That didn’t stop Jaczko, however. The administrative decision was appealed to the commissioners themselves, comprising three Democrats and two Republicans. One Democratic commission recused himself from the vote (Strassel doesn’t explain why), and a tie vote would leave the administrative ruling in place. The vote took place last September, and it resulted in … well, no one actually knows for sure. Shortly after conducting the vote, Jaczko withdrew his own and stalled the appeal.
Why is this timing important? Jaczko’s former boss, Harry Reid, had to stand for re-election in Nevada, where Reid had promised to end the Yucca Mountain repository project. An adverse ruling would mean that the NRC would have to consider the safety report, which has been finished for some time. What does it say? We don’t know, because Jaczko has been using his executive authority as chair to keep the report from being published. We can assume, however, that if the report concluded that the Yucca Mountain site would not safely contain nuclear waste, Jaczko would be the first to proclaim it from the rooftops.
After reading all of those reactions, I focused on a short excerpt from Kimberley Strassel’s article and decided to “pull the string” to see what might unravel. Here is the quote that raised my ire and led me to contact the NRC Public Affairs office.
Through a spokesman, Mr. Jaczko said he believes “very passionately” in nuclear safety and that he holds people “to a high standard.”
I was offended by that statement because it gives the impression that Jaczko is somehow uniquely passionate about nuclear safety and has earned the right to hold others to a high standard that he has not attained himself. Nuclear safety is a fundamental obligation of all trained nuclear professionals; we live and breathe our responsibility in that area every working day and often after hours.
(I have written several times about the incredibly weak resume that Jaczko brought with him to the NRC and about his lack of basic nuclear knowledge with regard to radiation protection standards.)
Here is the quoted email exchange – redacted to remove email addresses and other personal information.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the conduct of Chairman Jaczko on Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Here is a link to a background memo describing the purpose of the hearing. I wish I still lived in the DC area and could find the time to drop by to watch the fireworks and the squirming. I will have to settle for the next best thing and plan to watch the archived web cast.
Just before posting this, I came across an enlightening article in the Winter 2004 issue of a newsletter publication called Yucca Mountain News. That article, titled Reid adviser granted limited role on NRC, details how Jaczko’s appointment to the NRC was, from the beginning, part of a politically organized strategy to derail the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository. Here is a key quote:
“We made it clear that a nominee as controversial as Greg Jaczko will not be confirmed by the Senate for the sake of political expedience regardless of the pressure exerted by his advocate, Sen. Reid,” Domenici said in a statement. Domenici added, “I hope we have ensured the impartiality and fairness of the NRC.”
In two years, Reid plans to use his powers as Democratic leader to fight to get Jaczko more time on the commission, Hafen said.
Despite the limits on Jaczko’s nomination, the deal on the nomination was still a good one, Hafen said.
“It allows Greg to do good work on the NRC and prove that he is fair and objective,” she said.
It is not immediately clear just how much opposition Jaczko could mount, even behind the scenes, against the project with limited power during a limited term.
Update: (Posted at 4:20 PM on June 11, 2011)
NRC Inspector General Report June 6, 2011 – OIG Case No. 11-05.
This report conveys the results of an Office of the Inspector General (OIG), US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), investigation into an allegation that the NRC Chairman, Gregory Jaczko, unilaterally and improperly closed out the NRC’s review of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Yucca Mountain repository license application while the Government was operating under a continuing resolution (CR) in fiscal year (FY) 2011.
Here is a quote from the findings of the IG report. Please read it carefully.
OIG determined that although the Chairman had the authority to direct staff to follow the FY 2011 budget guidance, he was not forthcoming with the other Commissioners about his intent to stop work on the SER (Safety Evaluation Report) as part of implementing close-out activities. This included stopping work on SER Volume 3 (Review of Repository Safety After Permanent Closure), which NRC staff believed to be near completion by the end of FY 2010. The Chairman anticipate that proceeding to close-out in this manner could be controversial and viewed as a policy decision for full Commission consideration. Therefore, prior to directing issuance of the CR budget guidance memorandum, he strategically provided three of the four other Commissioners with varying amounts of information about his intention to proceed to closure and not complete SER Volume 3. He did not provide Commissioner Svinicki with any information about his intentions. Although two of the three Commissioners he spoke with did not fully understand the implications of the CR budget guidance memorandum, the Chairman told the EDO and the Chairman’s Chief of Staff told the CFO, prior to their signing the memorandum, that all the Commissioners were informed and supported issuance of the CR budget guidance memorandum. In fact, subsequent to the issuance of the CR budget guidance memorandum, a majority of Commissioners disagreed with the outcome of the memorandum, which was the Chairman’s direction to stop work on SER Volume 3. Additionally, a majority of the Commissioners did not think the conditions to proceed to closure (i. e. withdrawal or suspension) had been met.