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Final report mixed for NRC chairman Jaczko

WASHINGTON – In what probably will be a final review of his performance as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an internal investigation released Tuesday gave mixed grades to Gregory Jaczko.

Jaczko, who announced his resignation last month, will be out as leader of the nuclear safety agency within days, as the Senate is expected to confirm geologist and university professor Allison Macfarlane as the new chairman by the end of the week.

Jaczko was chief Yucca Mountain adviser to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., before being confirmed to the NRC in 2005. He came under fire in 2010 after directing agency scientists to halt their review of the Nevada nuclear waste site.

Before he departs, a long-awaited report by NRC inspector general Hubert Bell delivered a verdict for Jaczko on other controversies that dominated the agency during the past 1½ years.

Investigators confirmed what four commissioners and staff members at the agency had told Congress: Jaczko made a practice of intimidating and bullying NRC employees to get his way on issues.

The inspector general “identified more than 15 examples of interactions between the chairman and NRC senior executives and commissioners where the chairman’s behavior was not supportive of an open and collaborative work environment,” according to an eight-page summary obtained Tuesday.

The NRC holds nuclear companies accountable for similar behavior by senior managers, the inspector report said.

The report said Jaczko gave false testimony to Congress during hearings in December. Investigators found five areas where his remarks were inconsistent with other testimony they turned up.

The summary did not detail the inconsistencies, and the inspector general’s office did not say when or whether the entire report would be made public.

Addressing another allegation, that Jaczko overstepped his role in the aftermath of the Fukushima Dai-ichi catastrophe last year in Japan, investigators concluded he did not exceed his authority in leading the NRC’s emergency response.

The report said Jaczko “made reasonable efforts” to keep fellow commissioners informed of actions he took.

The NRC charter grants the chairman strong powers. Investigators concluded Jaczko “interprets his authority broadly.” They said at times he attempted to control the flow of information to fellow commissioners, which was a major point of conflict.

Jaczko, 41, said Tuesday he viewed the inspector general report as vindication of how he managed the agency given the scope of the chairman’s powers.

“I have felt confident all along that my actions have been consistent with my responsibilities and authorities as chairman, and certainly there was no wrongdoing,” he said in a statement. “This report underscores my belief. The report raises nothing new of substance.”

Republicans who have been critical of Jaczko’s tenure said the report underscores the turmoil at the agency he was supposed to lead with a steady hand.

“There has been a crisis of leadership at the very top of the NRC,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “The actions of Chairman Jaczko are unacceptable by any standard.”

Jaczko, a physicist from Albany, N.Y., was made NRC chairman by President Barack Obama in 2009.

The inspector general in 2010 initiated a review of Jaczko’s handing of Yucca Mountain, which entailed an accusation he had manipulated an NRC vote on the project.

Investigators concluded Jaczko did not break laws but had not been forthright with fellow commissioners in his handling of the Yucca Mountain project. That finding was similar to the latest report in concluding Jaczko acted within his authority and may have stretched it at times – and rubbed people the wrong way in the process.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or
202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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