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Nuclear Regulator Undermining Safety of Nuclear Power Plants in the United States

NRC Inspector General Report Exposes NRC Chairman

House Hearing (House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy)

Senate Hearing (Full Committee and Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety)

Gregory Jaczko
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory Jaczko's covert undermining of Yucca Mountain puts the nation at risk because nuclear waste should not reamain in fuel pools and dry caste storage at nuclear power plant sites.  The Nuclear Waste Policy Act was passed to provide a safe haven for the permanent storage of nuclear waste.  Yucca Mountain was selected by Congress in 2002 as the site for the nation's high-level nuclear waste.  The Center supported that congressional decision. 

According to a June 6 report by Nuclear Regulatory Commission Inspector General (IG) Hubert T. Bell , Jaczko is undermining this intent of Congress and the American people.  For this, he should step down as director of the NRC.

According to the IG report, Jaczko "strategically" withheld information from his colleagues in an effort to stop work on  Yucca Mountain.  The Center supports Yucca Mountain as the repository for our nation's nuclear waste. At issue is a directive by Mr. Jaczko to agency staffers that effectively halted work on a key NRC report about a proposed waste repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. The inspector general alleges that Mr. Jaczko wasn't forthcoming with his fellow NRC commissioners about the implications of his directive.

Construction and opening of the repository stalled amid opposition from Nevada's congressional delegation, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the Obama administration, which says the repository is not a "workable" option because it lacks support from the state. Even though federal law requires NRC to make a final decision on whether to build the facility, "there are various factors preventing the agency" from doing so, including the Obama administration's effort to terminate the project.  The Center opposes the administration's position on Yucca Mountain.

Opposition in Congress has been led by Mr. Reid, for whom Mr. Jaczko once worked as a science-policy adviser. President George W. Bush, after some initial resistance, appointed Mr. Jaczko to a seat on the NRC in 2005 after Mr. Reid blocked Bush nominees for dozens of positions. President Barack Obama elevated Mr. Jaczko to the chairmanship in 2009.

The dispute stems from a decision Mr. Jaczko made last fall to direct commission staffers to wind down the NRC's technical review of an application in favor of the proposed Yucca repository. A memorandum issued by Mr. Jaczko's office to NRC staffers said that because Congress hadn't passed a budget for fiscal 2011, which began last Oct. 1, the staff should use instead Mr. Obama's budget request, which called for terminating the project.  The report says Mr. Jaczko "was not forthcoming with" his fellow commissioners about his intent to use the budget guidance to halt work on the Yucca report.

The safety evaluation would have determined whether Yucca met NRC health and safety regulations. The safety report should be made public because it will support the technical and scientific case for the repository. The IG report noted that Mr. Jaczko anticipated that using the budget guidance to halt work "could be controversial" and acknowledged that others might see it as requiring consideration by the full commission. As a result, Mr. Jaczko "strategically provided" three of the four other NRC commissioners "with varying amounts of information" about his intention to prevent publication of the safety documents. The report says that two of the three commissioners "did not fully understand" the implications of Mr. Jaczko's budget guidance, and that a majority of the commissioners "disagreed with" the outcome. (WSJ, 6/10/2011)