NRC chairman resigns amid battle over lessons from Fukushima
In his three years as chairman, Gregory Jaczko wrangled with other NRC members over the direction of nuclear power plant safety regulations and over his leadership style.
Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, announced Monday he would resign from the five-member commission that oversees US nuclear power plant safety after a tenure in which he wrangled with other members of the commission over the direction of safety regulations.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Jaczko's chairmanship, which began with tumult three years ago over the NRC's controversial decision to cancel the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository – now concludes on the heels of a tumultuous year attempting to implement "lessons learned" from the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns. He announced his resignation amid an ongoing battle over his proposals to tighten safety regulations at US nuclear power plants in the wake of the Japanese disaster.
On Jazcko's watch, the NRC responded to major incidents at reactors across the United States including flooding, an earthquake, and tornados as well as serious mechanical problems. Notably, Jaczko activated the commission's emergency response authority and personally directed the NRC's initial response in the days after a huge tidal wave hit the Daiichi plant on March 10, 2011 – knocking out backup generators.
Jaczko and NRC staff monitored the unfolding crisis around the clock and made key decisions. He told Americans in Japan to stay at least 50-miles away from the unfolding meltdowns. And he created a task force to recommend steps the US should take to reinforce safety measures for US reactors.
But such unilateral decisions became a flashpoint for political upset among the other four commissioners and within the nuclear power industry. The commissioners questioned whether or not Jaczko had assumed too much authority and power over NRC operations in the immediate aftermath of the meltdown – or had cut the other commissioners out of the communications loop. A June report by the NRC inspector general found that despite concerns over his management style, he had done nothing illegal.
Turmoil at the agency continued last summer as the other commissioners questioned or opposed several of the dozen major recommendations of the Fukushima task force Jaczko had convened. Those recommendations included clarifying the NRC's own regulations, upgrading the "design basis" or planned-for capability to protect reactors and their safety systems from earthquakes and floods, and strengthening reactor operators’ capacity to deal with station blackout situations.
By Fall 2011, a new internal crisis was developing over a new inspector general's report requested by Rep. Darryl Issa (R) of Calif. to investigate claims of management malfeasance, including "bullying" female staff and fellow commissioners. Jaczko defended himself before a House committee and in a press conference last month. His sudden resignation Monday comes with yet another IG report expected on personnel issues.
"After nearly eight years on the Commission, I am announcing my resignation as chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, effective upon the confirmation of my successor," Jazcko said in a statement.