U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said he is resigning, as lawmakers, colleagues and an independent watchdog criticize what they said is a bullying style and mistreatment of female employees.
“This is the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum,” Jaczko said today in a statement. “My responsibility and commitment to safety will continue to be my paramount priority after I leave the commission and until my successor is confirmed.” In an interview, he said disputes with NRC colleagues weren’t a reason for his decision.
Jaczko, 41, whose term expires in June 2013, has been faulted for his management by other commissioners and in a report by the agency inspector general last year. President Barack Obama intends to nominate a successor soon, Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said today in an e-mail.
The new chairman will have to take the lead on a range of nuclear-energy issues including a potential atomic-waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, regulations to be adopted in response to Japan’s disaster last year and license extensions for an aging fleet of reactors. The five-member commission this year awarded Southern Co. and Scana Corp. the first U.S. permits to build new reactors in more than 30 years, a decision that Jaczko opposed.
The decision to resign more than a year before his term ends wasn’t influenced by recent disputes with other commissioners, who said in a letter they had “grave concerns” about his intimidation and bullying of staff.
“Some of those instances of the past six months or so really had nothing to do with my decision,” Jaczko said today in a phone interview. The chairman has denied allegations he verbally abused female employees, as claimed by one commissioner.
Jaczko said he wanted to make his “intentions clear” and give Obama and the Senate enough time to confirm his replacement, he said. NRC commissioners were notified by e-mail earlier today, he said in the interview.
The U.S. nuclear-power industry has differed with Jaczko on how best to achieve safety goals, said Marvin Fertel, chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group that includes members such as Progress Energy Inc., PG&E Corp. and Xcel Energy Inc.
“To his credit, we’ve always had open lines of communications and a willingness to respectfully discuss the issues,” especially since the triple-meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in March 2011, Fertel said in a statement. The industry wants the White House to name a replacement quickly, he said.
The chairman, who returned last week from a vacation, disclosed his decision to his staff at 10:22 a.m. Washington time, Eliot Brenner, an agency spokesman, said.
Jaczko wants to give Obama “maximum time” to find a successor, Brenner said in an interview at the agency’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland. Jaczko notified the president in a letter to White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew, according to Brenner.
Jaczko’s tense relationship with his colleagues was disclosed in an Oct. 13 letter from the four commissioners to the White House complaining that the NRC chairman bullied career staff and attempted to intimidate an independent panel of technical advisers. The letter to then-White House Chief of Staff William Daley was released Dec. 9 by Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Jaczko denied the allegations.
“The resignation of Chairman Jaczko will close an ugly chapter and allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to focus on its mission -- ensuring the safe operations of the nation’s nuclear plants,” Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the oversight committee investigating the accusations, said in a statement.
Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said Jaczko made the right decision to step down after “inappropriate behavior” that he said undermined the mission of the agency.
“Throughout his time at the NRC, it was abundantly clear that Chairman Jaczko used his office to undermine the NRC to the point that all four of his fellow commissioners wrote to the President to ask for assistance as a last resort,” Inhofe said in a statement.
Jaczko on April 20 denied allegations that he mistreats female colleagues and said the agency’s inspector general is preparing another report. The watchdog on June 6 in a report said Jaczko improperly ended consideration of a proposed nuclear-waste disposal facility at Yucca Mountain. Jaczko denied any wrongdoing.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, said Obama must nominate a new NRC chairman who will stand up to industry pressure as he said Jaczko did.
“Chairman Jaczko was subjected to repeated personal attacks made by some of his colleagues and pro-industry advocates in Congress,” Sanders said in a statement.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocate for better oversight of nuclear-power plants, said the resignation robs the agency of a regulator committed to public health and safety.
“Jaczko often took a more cautious approach on plant safety and security than his colleagues,” Edwin Lyman, senior scientist at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, group, said in a statement. “He generally supported larger safety margins in the face of uncertainty.”
The NRC chairman, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, aimed a “raging verbal assault” at three female agency staff members in separate encounters, NRC Commissioner William Magwood told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in December, a charge that the NRC chairman then denied.
“He dedicated his tenure to improving the safety of nuclear energy, and his leadership during the Fukushima nuclear crisis protected millions of Americans,” Reid said in an e-mailed statement.
Jaczko was nominated to the commission by President George W. Bush in 2005. In 2009, President Barack Obama named him chairman of the agency, which regulates safety at 104 commercial nuclear reactors.
Prior to his tenure on the commission, Jaczko worked for Reid in the Senate, for Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and was an adjunct professor teaching science and policy at Georgetown University. He has a doctorate in physics.
“Greg has led a Sisyphean fight against some of the nuclear industry’s most entrenched opponents of strong, lasting safety regulations, often serving as the lone vote in support of much-needed safety upgrades recommended by the Commission’s safety staff,” Markey said in a statement.