NRC chief Jaczko in hot seat over critical Yucca Mountain report

House Republicans are training their fire on Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko in light of a new report that suggests he withheld key information from his fellow regulators as he pushed to abandon plans to store nuclear waste in Nevada.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is slated to trumpet the findings of the damaging report at a hearing next week. The hearing is part of a broad effort by Republicans to oppose the administration's decision to abandon the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. House Republicans are seeking to reverse the White House's Yucca decision as part of a fiscal year 2012 appropriations plan.

“The IG provides a disturbing glimpse of Chairman Jaczko’s concerted effort to obliterate the work of the last 30 years, exhibiting complete disregard for the scientific research, bipartisan collaboration, and billions of taxpayer and consumer dollars invested in this national effort to safely and permanently store nuclear waste,” said Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), a top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The report, by NRC Inspector General Hubert Bell, alleges that Jaczko “controls information” provided to the other NRC commissioners by designating issues as administrative matters, which he has control over, rather than policy matters.

“Because he acts as the gatekeeper to determine what is a policy matter versus what is an administrative matter and controls information available to the other commissioners, they are uncertain as to whether they are adequately informed of policy matters that should be brought to their attention,” the report, which was requested by House Republicans, says.

Jaczko, for his part, defended his actions in a statement this week.

“The conclusions of the report reaffirm that my actions have been and remain consistent with established law, guidance, and my authorities as chairman,” he said. “With the IG report now completed, we can all move forward with a renewed commitment to ensuring public health and safety in the use of nuclear materials — the essential mission of the NRC.”

In an October 2010 memo, Jaczko instructed NRC staff to comply with the administration’s plan to abandon the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository outlined in fiscal year 2011 budget guidance. The memo called on staff to stop working on a multi-part evaluation of the repository.

Jaczko was within his rights as chairman to issue the memo, but he “was not forthcoming” with his fellow commissioners about his intentions with the memo, the report says.

Jaczko “strategically” disseminated partial information to the other commissioners about his intention to abandon the ongoing evaluation of Yucca Mountain because he knew the move would “be controversial and viewed as a policy decision for full commission consideration,” the report says.

While Jaczko maintained to the inspector general that all of the commissioners agreed with the decision to issue the memo, a majority of the commissioners “did not think the conditions to proceed to closure (i.e., withdrawal or suspension) had been met,” the report says. The report also says that a majority of the commissioners disagreed with the decision to stop work on the multi-part evaluation of the Yucca proposal.

At the same time, NRC Commissioner William Ostendorff, a Republican, tried to force a vote that would direct commission staff to continue working on its evaluation of the Yucca proposal, the report says.

But Jaczko pressed two other NRC commissioners to continue to support his decision to issue the memo. With their support, Ostendorff’s measure did not gain the majority support necessary to come up for a vote before the commission, the report says.

Jaczko, who joined the commission in 2005 and became chairman in 2009, has come under criticism for his handling of the decision to abandon Yucca Mountain. President Obama and the Department of Energy first proposed zeroing out funding for the project in February of 2010.

Republicans have alleged that the decision to abandon the project was all about politics rather than policy.

House Republicans intend to pounce on the report at next week’s Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. The Environment and the Economy subcommittee hearing will include testimony from Bell. the inspector general. Jaczko is not slated to testify at the hearing.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa blasted Jaczko over the report Friday, arguing it "paints an embarrassing picture of a bully whose use of deceit and manipulation is ruining the integrity of a respected independent regulatory agency."

But Rep. Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Regulation: FTC launches probe into Equifax | Dems propose tougher data security rules | NYC aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions | EPA to reconsider Obama coal ash rule Overnight Cybersecurity: Kaspersky to testify before House | US sanctions Iranians over cyberattacks | Equifax reveals flaw that led to hack Dems propose data security bill after Equifax hack MORE (Mass.), ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, defended Jaczko and said the report served as a vindication.

“The NRC Inspector General report is a vindication for Chairman Jaczko and confirms that his decision to close out the Yucca Mountain program was consistent with both the law and his authority, contrary to accusations made during a Republican witch-hunt that his actions were 'illegal,' " Markey said.