WASHINGTON -- Gregory Jaczko, a former aide to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who has expressed doubts about storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, was designated Wednesday as chairman of the federal nuclear safety agency.
President Barack Obama approved the promotion, which was announced by the White House.
Jaczko, 38, becomes the chief face of the agency that regulates the operation of civilian nuclear power plants and the handling of nuclear materials. He also assumes responsibility for administrative actions and long-range planning and would be the NRC ultimate authority for quick decisions that might be necessary in the event of a nuclear emergency.
"I am honored President Obama has entrusted me with the responsibility of serving as the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission," Jaczko said in a statement.
Administrative law judges assigned by the NRC are presently considering a Department of Energy application to build a nuclear waste repository at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. As a commissioner, Jaczko can cast a vote on Yucca Mountain matters that might be brought before the commission, although there have been few opportunities to date.
It was not immediately clear whether Jaczko as chairman would have additional authorities on matters involving Yucca Mountain, an issue that could remain before the agency for years to come. But it is likely he would use his post to talk about how the nation manages its nuclear waste.
Jaczko served as science adviser to Reid, D-Nev., and managed the Nevadan's opposition to the Yucca project before he was appointed to the NRC in 2005. The appointment came at Reid's urging and Jaczko remains linked with the Senate majority leader. Reid in April 2008 swore in Jaczko when the former aide was given a second term on the commission.
At the NRC, Jaczko has focused on power plant security issues and emergency preparedness, according to a biography on the NRC Web site.
"Greg's entire career has been dedicated to applying science to public policy," Reid said in a statement. "His work in Congress and at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has improved the safety of nuclear power plants." Jaczko's elevation to the chairmanship was not unexpected once Obama took office. He is presently the only Democratic appointee on the NRC panel, and Reid was expected to push for his promotion. Three others, including present chairman Dale Klein, were Republican appointees. There is one vacancy on the five-member commission.
Jaczko's term on the commission expires June 30, 2013. NRC spokeswoman Beth Hayden said the agency chairman serves at the pleasure of the president, and does not require additional Senate confirmation. There would be no limit to Jaczko's term as chairman as long as the president wants him in that job.
A native of upstate New York, Jaczko earned a bachelor's degree from Cornell University and a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Klein remains a commissioner until June 30, 2011. According to reports in the trade press, Klein has expressed an interest in continuing to serve out his term.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault @stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.