WSJ cites an “unflattering portrait” of the NRC and its leader
What's new is an NRC Inspector General report that revealed some insights about about NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko and his decision to terminate NRC's review of the license application for the repository
The situation now looks a lot like that of a truck driver who ignored signs about a bridge with low clearance. There are some things you just can’t do, even in Washington, without getting into a tight spot.
The Inspector General of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released a report to Congress that says NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko “strategically withheld” information from the other NRC commissioners in an effort to advance his agenda to halt work on the project.
According to media summaries of the leaked IG’s review in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, Jaczko issued controversial budget guidance to his staff to stop the work and brushed off complaints from other commissioners about it. The WSJ also spent some time reviewing the IG’s notes on Jaczko’s management style which is harshly described in a review of how well he works with others. Apparently, he does not.
According to the WSJ, the IG report says Mr. Jaczko's colleagues are sometimes "uncertain" whether he keeps them "adequately informed" on policy matters, and portrays the chairman as controlling.
The NRC IG report was posted online by the Republican members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
Jaczko’s political patronage
Jaczko, who got the job as NRC Chairman with the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), is widely assumed to have had just one thing on his mind since taking office, and that is to stop the Yucca Mountain project, located in Nevada, from ever getting an NRC license.
Jaczko came to the job with Reid having previously worked for Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass), which is one of the arch druids of the anti-nuclear movement and recently has issued a string of press releases attacking the NRC for alleged lapses in its regulation of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors.
It is ironic that Jaczko is now on the receiving end of attacks from one of his former political sponsors. Of course, it could just be a side show in the Washington 3-ring circus with hints and winks of who is doing what and why.
Not forthcoming even if he didn’t violate the law
According to the New York Times, Jaczko “was not forthcoming” adds fuel to the fire lit by the GAO that the budget guidance was issued for “political reasons.”
The House Science Committee got its hands on the NRC's review of the Yucca Mountain license and issued a press release pointing out the scientific issues that got trampled by Jaczko's budgetary maneuvers.
"Most noteworthy in this regard is the 695-page Volume III of the NRC’s Safety Evaluation Report (SER). Obtained by the Committee only after repeated demands and over the objections of the NRC Chairman, SER Volume III demonstrates in excruciating detail the level of technical support among NRC and Department of Energy (DOE) experts in favor of the site’s advancement. Overall, the NRC staff review concluded that DOE‘s Yucca Mountain License Application complies with applicable NRC safety requirements necessary for the site to proceed to licensing for construction."
Although the IG report points out Jaczko did not break the law, the media coverage about it will renew Jaczko’s status as a favored dartboard for House Republicans to use to attack the Obama Administration and score points with the nuclear industry.
The seven month long investigation will be the subject of congressional hearings by the House Energy & Commerce Committee next week.
Playing the Washington game
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.
In point of fact, given the mission handed to him by Sen. Reid, and the air cover he gets from that patronage, Jaczko may not much care who he offends in achieving his objectives.
The WSJ says the IG report got started when Kenneth Rogers, a former NRC Commissioner, called on the NRC IG to investigate whether Jaczko had broken the law with his budget directive. The IG report says while Jaczko did not violate the law, he “strategically provided” information to the other commissioners and that they failed to fully understand the implications of his actions.
So what does it mean?
In the context of how things go wrong in Washington, Jaczko’s alleged misdeeds don’t rank very high. He didn’t jump into the reflecting pool with a stripper, nor did he get caught taking money from others or stealing it. And so far as we know he’s kept his pants on which cannot be said for some in Congress.
Republicans will get a media show out of asking Jaczko to defend his actions and that’s what he’ll do. Will it really change anything about the future of Yucca Mountain? The U.S. will likely remain stuck with managing spent fuel at reactors though perhaps with more dry cask storage as time goes on.
According to CNN, Jaczko said a seven-month probe by the NRC's inspector general determined he acted within his authority in ending licensing studies for the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste project in Nevada. Investigators found that Jaczko's actions "have been and remain consistent with established law, guidance and my authorities as chairman," Jaczko said in a written statement.
As a leader of a regulatory agency, Jaczko has done little to advance its agenda as an impartial regulator of the nuclear industry. Here he has done real damage. If House Republicans have any sense, this is where they will take their stand. Don’t hold your breath.
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