Watchdog says top U.S. nuclear cop “ruling by intimidation”

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. nuclear safety regulator loses his temper and uses threats and intimidation to try to get his way, the agency’s own independent watchdog said in a report.

The report paints a picture of a toxic work environment at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a time when the agency is working through whether it needs to change rules and oversee any expansion of the nuclear industry in the wake of the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant.

Gregory Jaczko, appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the NRC, did not break the law in his actions on one of the most controversial policy issues the NRC has faced — what to do about a nuclear dump proposed for Yucca Mountain, Nevada, said Inspector General Hubert Bell in a 46-page report.

But Jaczko “strategically provided … varying amounts of information” to the four other commissioners who helm the agency,” the report said.

Jaczko “withholds information to the commission by either suppressing papers or manipulating the agenda planning process,” commissioners’ staff told the IG, and “often yelled at people,” according to a former chairman.

“Chairman Jaczko acknowledges that he sometimes loses his temper. He said he worked to control it and there are times when he has wished he has said or done things differently,” the report said.

Asked for comment on the interpersonal problems described in the report, Jaczko said through a spokesman:

“I believe very passionately and strongly in nuclear safety and I take that responsibility very seriously. I hold people to a high standard.”

SHIMKUS – “CALCULATING AND POLITICAL”

The Inspector General’s seven-month investigation began after complaints that Jaczko had exceeded his authority in closing down the NRC’s technical review of the Yucca dump.

The U.S. Congress passed a law in 1987 promising to bury waste from the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors deep inside Yucca Mountain. But the issue has been fought in courts and in Washington by Nevadans who fear the dump could pollute water and hurt tourism.

The Obama administration killed the Yucca proposal after taking office. Before his appointment to the five-member commission, Jaczko was a top aide to Nevada senator Harry Reid, a senior Democrat and the top political opponent of the site.

Before the report was made public, Jaczko said the inspector general had cleared his actions, adding that he hoped the report would settle this matter.

Instead, the findings give new fuel to Republican lawmakers who want to revive Yucca.

“The report reveals a calculating and political NRC chairman who has abused his authority, who sought to suppress scientific reports and withhold information from fellow commissioners — strategically working to rig the system in a no holds barred effort to derail the Yucca Mountain repository,” said Representative John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican.

Shimkus, a top member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is holding a hearing on Tuesday with the NRC’s inspector general.

A top congressional watchdog also promised more scrutiny.

“The NRC Inspector General’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,” said Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

But the senior Democrat on the House Energy committee said the report vindicates Jaczko from a Republican “witch-hunt.”

“While the nuclear industry and their allies in Congress may be frustrated that Yucca Mountain has not opened, the fact is that Secretary (Steven) Chu, not Chairman Jaczko, made the decision to close it,” said Edward Markey.