Nuke agency official: Yucca work politicized

A senior career official with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) alleges that agency leadership under Chairman Gregory Jaczko is eroding the commission’s “integrity” by politicizing and manipulating work on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump.

Aby Mohseni, the acting director of the NRC’s Division of High-Level Waste Repository Safety, blasts Jaczko in testimony submitted to a House panel that is probing the Obama administration’s efforts to abandon the proposed waste repository in Nevada.

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“Although resilient from our adaptation to budgetary pressures, we were unprepared for the political pressures and manipulation of our scientific and licensing processes that would come with the appointment of Chairman Jaczko in 2009,” Mohseni states in comments submitted ahead of his testimony Friday before a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel.

His remarks to the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy also state that the NRC is at a “crossroads” and that, “Apparently, the NRC’s senior leadership is ineffective in upholding the integrity of this agency.”

Other NRC staff slated to appear before the House panel Friday likewise criticize the handling of Yucca Mountain under Jaczko.

Their comments will fuel GOP attacks on the Obama administration’s decision not to pursue the long-planned — and -delayed — Yucca Mountain project.

Republicans allege the decision is rooted in politics, not sound waste policy, and the Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a slew of hearings on the matter.

Jaczko — a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — defended his tenure at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing last week.

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“Since I’ve become chairman, I’ve worked very hard to ensure that we have an open debate on the commission,” he said June 16.

But he will face a new round of allegations at Friday's House hearing.

Janet Kotra, a senior scientist and project manager in the Division of High-level Waste Repository Safety, alleges that staff was prevented from noting Jaczko’s mandate to terminate review of the project in a status report.

“The independent technical staff of NRC’s Division of High-level Waste Repository Safety did not wake up one fine day and decide to terminate the statutory review of a license application under our review. We were directed explicitly by Chairman Jaczko to terminate the review,” states Kotra, who has worked on the planned waste repository since the 1990s.

“Yet, on multiple occasions I was prohibited from including in the status report any declarative statement to that effect,” she writes.

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Newton Kingman Stablein, who heads a project management branch within the NRC’s repository safety division, said that staff felt Jaczko had “casually dismissed the staff’s dedicated efforts and sacrifices of those many years without even bothering to engage his fellow commissioners in the manner that commission decisions are usually handled.”

Friday’s hearing follows the release of an NRC inspector general report earlier this month that is critical of Jaczko’s effort to push to abandon the nuclear waste repository, alleging that he kept key information from his fellow commissioners.

The report also includes anonymous statements from staff and NRC officials bashing Jaczko’s leadership style as “unprofessional and manipulative.” A former NRC chairman described Jaczko as “ruling by intimidation.”

However, the report finds that Jaczko broke no laws. “The conclusions of the report reaffirm that my actions have been and remain consistent with established law, guidance and my authorities as chairman,” Jaczko said in a statement on the report.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, this month called it a "vindication" for the embattled chairman who is under GOP attack.


— Andrew Restuccia contributed
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