Reid in no hurry for Jaczko departure


Gregory Jaczko may have announced his intention to resign as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission but Sen. Harry Reid seems to be in no rush to see him go.

Jaczko said Monday he would be leaving the agency, after deciding "this would be the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum."

The controversial chairman said he would remain as head of the five-member NRC leadership board "until my successor is confirmed."

Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, said Tuesday that Democrats hope to have a replacement for Jaczko, whose term at the top of  the nuclear safety agency expires the end of June 2013.

"But if we don't, Greg will be there for the duration," said Reid, who has the power to speed up -- or slow down -- the replacement process.  "And if something doesn't work out, he can always be renominated."

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Reid's support for Jaczko was wavering in an election year, attributing the information to congressional aides. Republicans have portrayed the NRC official as a workplace abuser of women in a bid to blunt a Democratic messge that it is the GOP that is waging "war on women."

Reid's office denied that is the case.

"Had Chairman Jazcko decided to stay, he would’ve continued to have Senator Reid’s full support," Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said. "Senator Reid has and continues to support Chairman Jazcko one-hundred percent."

Reid's remarks on Tuesday were glowing for Jaczko as he exits.

"I admire so much the work that he's done," Reid said. "I appreciate his friendship, his expertise, and doing the good things he's done."

Reid and Jaczko share a mentor-protege relationship, after Jaczko, an upstate New Yorker who holds a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin, served as Reid's science adviser and appropriations director for more than three years between 2001 and 2005.

At that point, Reid engineered Jaczko's appointment to the board of the NRC and later helped him become its chairman at a critical time when the agency was considering whether to license the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

"He's a brilliant man," Reid told reporters at his weekly press meeting,  adding Jaczko was the first chairman of the NRC who did not come from a nuclear industry background.

That may have been part of the problem as the nuclear industry was wary of Jaczko, and eventually beat the drums against him when it disagreed with his stances opposing the Yucca Mountain repository and as an aggressive advocate of nuclear power plant safety in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan.

It seemed not to have helped that Jaczko, according to a range of officials and NRC staffers, managed the agency with a persona of a bully, enabling a new line of attack from his detractors.

"All the members -- majority of the members are pro-nuke," Reid said of other four NRC commissioners.  "And of course they didn't (like) the things he did that were anti-- that were trying to call for safety."

Red did not answer when asked whether he has recommended a replacement for Jaczko.

Quoting an industry source, the Washington Post reported the White House was considering "one of two women with academic backgrounds in nuclear matters, one of whom also has federal government experience."

The trade publication Energy Daily reported Tuesday several names being floated for the NRC post. One, it said, was Peter S. Winokur,  another former Reid aide who now is chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent agency that monitors health and safety at Department of Energy nuclear installations.

Another was Allison Macfarlane, an associate professor of environmental science at George Mason University who served on the Obama administration's blue ribbon commission that analyzed new strategies to manage nuclear waste.

Macfarlane, who holds a doctorate in geology,  wrote a book in 2006 raising technical questions about Yucca Mountain, which made her okay in Reid's book.  Reid tried unsuccessfully to get Macfarlane appointed to the NRC in 2007.

Another person who has been mentioned, according to Politico.com,  is David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and director of the nuclear safety program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.