NRC Chief Withheld Information on Yucca Plans, Watchdog Says

(Corrects Ostendorff appointment in fourth paragraph.)

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko selectively provided information to colleagues to keep plans for the Yucca Mountain waste dump from advancing, the agency’s inspector general said.

The chairman “was not forthcoming with the other commissioners about his intent to stop work” on the Nevada site, according to a report by Inspector General Hubert T. Bell that also questioned management style. “Jaczko acknowledged that he sometimes loses his temper,” Bell said in the report.

Jaczko said in a statement on June 8 that the agency’s watchdog had concluded the NRC’s handling of the Yucca Mountain waste project was “consistent with established law.”

Lawmakers and NRC colleagues have faulted Jaczko for his actions after the nuclear crisis in Japan along with his Yucca Mountain decision. Commissioners William Ostendorff, nominated by President Barack Obama, and Kristine Svinicki, appointed by President George W. Bush, opposed Jaczko on the waste site. Ostendorff, Svinicki and Commissioner William Magwood, named by Obama, have said Jaczko asked them to stay away from the NRC’s emergency operations center after the nuclear accident in Japan in March.

The chairman “controls information provided to other commissioners based on his interpretation of his statutory authority versus the authority given to the Commission,” Bell said in his report. As a result, commissioners “are uncertain as to whether they are adequately informed of policy matters that should be brought to their attention,” the report said.

Yucca Plans

U.S. plans for the waste site at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas, are opposed by lawmakers led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. Jaczko was a science adviser to Reid before being named to the commission.

The Obama administration in 2010 filed a motion with the NRC to withdraw the license application for the site, which was rejected by an NRC panel. The agency hasn’t issued a final decision on the license withdrawal. Republicans on the House Science Committee said this week that Obama’s plan lacked a “scientific or technical evaluation.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which posted the June 6 report on its website today, will hear testimony from Bell and two associates at a hearing June 14.

The watchdog’s report “paints an embarrassing picture of a bully whose use of deceit and manipulation is ruining the integrity of a respected independent regulatory agency,” Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said today in a statement.

‘Should Have Asked’

Magwood said he didn’t realize that Jaczko intended to shut the NRC’s High-Level Waste Program and withhold publication of a safety report on repository design, the report said.

“You should have asked,” Jaczko told Magwood, according to the report.

Jaczko inferred that a dispute over funding withSvinicki was caused by “a belief on her part that he was at the NRC for the purpose of dismantling and terminating the Yucca Mountain program at the bidding of Senator Reid,” according to the report. The chairman became “animated and objected to this perceived accusation,” according to the report.

The Obama administration eliminated Yucca funding in its 2011 budget request and the NRC allotted $10 million to close out the license application. Congress, unable to pass a 2011 budget, in September approved the first of several bills to fund government operations at 2010 levels.

Budget Discussions

In October, the NRC’s chief financial officer and executive director for operations issued a memo directing staff to continue work on the Yucca Mountain license application “in accordance with the commission’s decision on the FY2011 budget,” the inspector general said in the report.

Jaczko said he met with the two managers and NRC’s general counsel and sought their interpretation of the language in the memo.

“Does everybody understand what this means, and that this means close-out?” he said, according to the watchdog’s report.

Jaczko used the budget memo to halt the Yucca Mountain review, even in the absence of a 2011 budget, which was within in the chairman’s authority, the inspector general said.

House Republicans propose reviving the Yucca Mountain repository with $35 million in funding from the 2012 budget.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Wingfield in Washington at bwingfield3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

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