Top Democrat defends embattled nuclear chief

A panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony from NRC staff Friday on Jaczko’s push to close down the commission’s review of the long-delayed Yucca Mountain project.

Several staff members blasted Jaczko over his decision to abandon the staff review of the project, arguing it was politically motivated and undertaken without the full support of the other NRC commissioners.

“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,” Aby Mohseni, the acting director of the NRC’s Division of High-Level Waste Repository Safety, said at the hearing.

N. King Stablein, Branch Chief at NRC’s Division of High-Level Waste Repository Safety, also blasted the decision, arguing it pained NRC staff to abandon their review after years of work.

“To be denied the opportunity to complete work on the [review] by what appeared to be an arbitrary decision by the chairman was wrenching,” Stablein said.

Waxman said he understands why NRC staff are “frustrated and angry” with Jaczko’s decision. But he said the chairman was within his rights to move forward with the closure of the Yucca program after the administration made it clear that it would no longer support the project.

The hearing comes on the heels of an NRC inspector general report that alleges that Jaczko withheld key information from his fellow commissioners in his push to close out the Yucca program.

The report 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.”

But the report stresses that Jaczko broke no laws.

It’s the fourth time Republicans on the committee have conducted a hearing on Yucca Mountain, part of a broad push to slam the administration for kicking the project to the curb. Republican have honed in on the NRC inspector general report, blasting Jaczko's leadership style. One Republican has even called on Jaczko to resign.

But Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), a top Democrat on the committee, said the GOP’s Yucca hearings were akin to “airing the NRC’s dirty laundry.”