Monday, May 21, 2012

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Jaczko Resigns

May 21: The Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Gregory Jaczko, announced his resignation which he said would be effective upon the confirmation of his successor. Jaczko has served on the NRC for nearly eight years. Jaczko, one of five commissioners has been under attack from Republicans for months because of his position against two new nuclear reactors which were approved by the other commissioners and his strong stance on the recommendations following the Japanese lessons of Fukushima nuclear disaster. In his resignation statement Jaczko said:

"My responsibility and commitment to safety will continue to be my paramount priority after I leave the Commission and until my successor is confirmed. After an incredibly productive three years as Chairman, I have decided this is the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum. This is the right time to pass along the public safety torch to a new chairman who will keep a strong focus on carrying out the vital mission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"During this last year alone, the agency has responded with an impressive focus on safety under my leadership to a number of diverse challenges including the accident at the Fukushima Da-ichi reactors in Japan, and a number of severe incidents at reactors in the United States ranging from flooding, an earthquake and tornados to damaged plant structures and steam generator problems. In addition to this vigilant oversight, together we identified and began to implement lessons learned from Fukushima and completed our rigorous safety reviews for the first new reactor licenses in 30 years.

"Throughout my time on the Commission as both Chairman and Commissioner, the agency finalized regulations to ensure new reactors are designed to withstand an aircraft impact, completed the development and implementation of a safety culture policy statement, enhanced our focus on openness and transparency, and enhanced awareness of and worked to resolve some of the most long-standing generic issues facing the nuclear industry, including sump strainer issues and fire protection. Beyond the power reactor work, substantial progress was made in establishing a more transparent and effective oversight program for fuel cycle facilities. In addition, radioactive sources of concern are now fully protected with our new security regulations and source tracking system. We stand as a stronger and more decisive regulator now because of these years of efforts. I am truly humbled by the agency's success.

"Serving the American people as the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been an honor and privilege. The mission of this agency -- protecting people and the environment, and providing for the common defense and security -- could not be more clear, or more critical. Our collective focus on that mission was, I believe, one of the primary reasons the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was one of the best places to work in the federal government throughout my tenure. The highly talented and dedicated professional staff, including dozens who have served on my personal staff over the years, have been instrumental in fulfilling the agency's mission.
"I will always be grateful for the opportunity of having served alongside the staff for all of these years, and for all that we accomplished together. I am looking forward to bringing all I have learned from my work and focus on safety at this agency with me as I move forward."
    House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) issued a joint statement in response Jaczko resignation saying:

"We are hopeful that the resignation of Chairman Jaczko signals a return of comity and collegiality to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that has been unfortunately absent over the last three years. We are eager for the NRC to return its focus back to safety and policy and away from personal feuds, internal struggles, and controversy. If we can learn anything from the past few years, it is that there is no place for politics at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We are hopeful that with a new chairman, the commission's proud tradition of excellence will be restored.

"The commission is at a critical point in its history as it works to improve safety in the wake of Fukushima and license new plants for the first time in over 30 years. We must have a smooth transition to the new chairman to ensure regulatory stability within the nuclear sector. Commissioners Magwood, Ostendorff, Svinicki, and Apostolakis are distinguished public servants and have always and will continue to put the safety interests of the American public first. Chairman Jaczko's resignation also underscores the urgency for the Senate to swiftly confirm Commissioner Kristine Svinicki before June 30 to ensure her service is not interrupted.

"We have been actively monitoring the NRC during these tumultuous times and will continue our oversight. With these latest developments along with numerous outstanding issues, we look forward to hearing directly from all of the NRC commissioners at some point soon."

    Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and a supporter of Jaczko, issued a brief statement saying, "I thank Chairman Jaczko for always fighting for the health and safety of the American people. I look forward to the President's nomination of a successor that will carry the same level of concern in this post-Fukushima era."
    Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and a Congressional leader on nuclear safety, also released a statement in support of Jaczko. He said:
"Greg Jaczko has been one of the finest NRC Chairmen in the history of the Commission. His nearly eight years of service has marked a high point in the Commission's work to ensure the safety and security of our nation's 104 nuclear reactors. Greg's leadership, particularly during and since the Fukushima meltdowns, has embodied the Commission's mission to ensure public safety, transparency and accountability.
"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
in support of much-needed safety upgrades recommended by the Commission's safety staff. Greg's dedication is unparalleled, and his vision and accomplishments have set a standard for the Commission and future Chairs. I call upon the White House to nominate a successor with the same dedication, independence and safety record. His shoes will be very hard to fill.
"Greg's departure is an immeasurable loss for the Commission. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors
    Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and a staunch critic of Jaczko issued a statement saying his resignation makes expediting the re-nomination process of Kristine Svinicki, which is currently under consideration in the Senate, is "all the more urgent." He said:
"Given the numerous reports of Chairman Jaczko's failed leadership at the NRC, it was right of him to step down today. 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. With his resignation today, the NRC can focus on its mission of safety without the distractions of Jaczko's inappropriate behavior. 

"Jaczko's resignation just makes it all the more urgent that there are no further delays in the re-nomination process for Kristine Svinicki to continue to serve in her role as an NRC Commissioner. Commissioner Svinicki's paperwork arrived at the Environment and Public Works Committee late last week, so there is no reason now to put off her re-nomination hearing. The White House has said that we need to make sure that the NRC is 'functioning effectively' and that the President does not want to see a 'break in service.' Especially in light of today's news, I'm calling on Chairman Boxer to hold this Environment and Public Works hearing immediately to ensure that such a break in service does not happen."
    Access the statement from Jaczko (click here). Access the statement from House Republican E&C Committee leaders (click here). Access the statement from Sen. Boxer (click here). Access the statement from Rep. Markey (click here). Access the statement from Sen. Inhofe (click here). [#Energy/Nuclear]
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