Update: NRC boss Gregory Jaczko resigns

Gregory Jaczko Nuclear Regulatory Commission NRC Chairman resigns

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko on May 21 resigned, effective upon the confirmation of a successor. Jaczko, chairman since May 2009, said in a statement his responsibility and commitment to safety will continue to be his priority.

“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,” Jaczko said. “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.”

Jaczko's resignation comes as his decisions to vote against new nuclear reactors at both Plant Vogtle in Georgia and the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina were questioned by House Energy and Commerce Committee members, along with accusations that he had intimidated workers and created a harsh work environment at NRC. Jaczko was also a supporter of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who was against the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

"We are hopeful that the resignation of Chairman Jaczko signals a return of comity and collegialty to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that has been unfortunately absent over the last three years," said a statement from Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ken., and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill. "We are eager for the NRC to return its focus back to safety and policy and away from personal feuds, internal struggles and controversy.

"The commission is at a critical point in its history as it works to improve safety in the wake of Fukuhsima 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," the statement continued.

Jaczko’s statement said the NRC has responded with an impressive focus on safety during the past year, which was filled with challenges related to the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan and multiple events at U.S. nuclear plants, ranging from flooding, earthquakes, and tornadoes.

“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,” said Jaczko.

During Jaczko’s time on the Commission as both chairman and commissioner, he said 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 its 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.

Jaczko continued on by saying the NRC stands as a stronger and more decisive regulator now because of these years of efforts.

“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,” Jaczko said.

Congressman Ed Markey, (D-Mass), senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a supporter of Jaczko, thanked him for his years of service in a statement.

“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 vote in support of much-needed safety upgrades recommended by the Commission’s safety staff,” Markey said. “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.”

The Nuclear Energy Institute's President and CEO Marvin Fertel said despite some differences, the two organizations have always been able to discuss their issues.

"We have had significant differences with the chairman on how best to achieve our mutually shared goals. But to his credit we've always had open lines of communications and a willingness to respectfully discuss the issues," Fertel said. "This has especially been the case over the past 13 months since the accident at the Fukushima plant in Japan. We wish the chairman the best in his future endeavors."

Jaczko will be at the Summer plant on May 22, and will visit the Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan on May 25, the NRC said.

President Obama is now charged with nominating a new chairman.

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