President Barack Obama’s embattled chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced his resignation on Monday, signalling a potential end to three years of controversy, acrimony and stalemate over US nuclear-waste policy.
The leadership of Gregory Jaczko (pictured) has been beset by bitter policy disputes as well as accusations that he created a hostile work environment for staff members, in particular women. The NRC Inspector General raised questions about Jaczko’s leadership in a report in June 2011, and is now preparing a follow-up report. In a statement posted on the NRC website, Jaczko defended his tenure at the NRC as “incredibly productive” but said that it is nonetheless time to move on.
Although Jaczko’s efforts to follow through with the closure of the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository in Nevada have angered many Republicans, it was his management style that alienated lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Most importantly, reports the Washington Post, he lost the support of his former boss, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada who also happens to be Yucca Mountain’s most powerful opponent.
Jaczko has presided over the NRC’s response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, helping to usher through a series of regulatory initiatives. He oversaw the approval of the nation’s first licence for a new reactor in more than three decades. But Jaczko has had the biggest impact on nuclear-waste policy by preventing the commission from voting on — and most likely affirming — an internal board ruling that the Obama administration does not have the authority to cancel Yucca Mountain. The commission followed up last September by pronouncing a stalemate and proceeding with the closure.
The White House said that it plans to announce a new appointment soon, but Jaczko’s opponents are already agitating for him to step down immediately rather than serve until his successor is confirmed. Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee also called on Obama to appoint somebody who is “committed to scientific integrity” and supports reviving the NRC’s evaluation of the Yucca Mountain repository. The former shouldn’t be a problem, at least. Meanwhile, the legal battle continues.