NRC inspector general: Chairman withheld information in Yucca shutdown

John Rossomando Contributor
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A report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inspector general has found that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko’s handling of Nevada’s Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository has been anything but transparent, and some are calling it “illegal.”

This stands in stark contrast to the greater openness promised by the former staffer to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when he became chairman in 2009.

According to the report, Jaczko kept his fellow commissioners in the dark when he decided to order NRC staff to stop work on the third phase of the third phase of the project’s safety evaluation in October 2010, known as the Safety Evaluation Report (SER).

This was in spite of the fact the Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) had rejected the current administration’s request to withdraw the Bush administration’s application to build the nuclear waste depository in June 2010 and the full commission has yet to finish voting on whether to continue.

Approximately $15.4 billion has been spent on the Yucca Mountain project since Congress designated it as the sole repository for the nation’s nuclear waste in 1987, and House Republicans say Department of Energy estimates show an additional $15 billion in liabilities could be outstanding on the project in 2020.

But Republicans and Democrats have sharply different interpretations of what the report implies – with Republicans accusing Jaczko of having broken the law by keeping them out of the process and Democrats defending the chairman.

The sharp contrasts were evident Tuesday during a hearing of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that heard testimony from NRC Inspector General Hubert Bell and colleagues about their report.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., praised Bell for issuing what he called a “damning” report showing that Jaczko overreached in his effort to shut down Yucca Mountain.

“The report is replete with instances of Chairman Jaczko deliberately misleading both his fellow commissioners and NRC staff,” Shimkus said in his opening statement. “And he knowingly withheld crucial information from his fellow commissioners even though federal statute requires all commissioners to have
access to all information.

“In some instances, Chairman Jaczko manipulated the process through outright false statements to prevent his commissioners from understanding the implications of his decisions and omissions.”

The report confirms what The Daily Caller earlier reported about Jaczko’s heavy-handed actions on Yucca Mountain and further substantiates earlier reports of poor morale and poor management at the NRC.

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But Democrats led by California Rep. Henry Waxman sought to blunt potential fallout from the report by getting Bell to testify under oath that although Jaczko had acted “unprofessionally” as the report stated, that he had not done anything illegal.

Former Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, took exception to Bell’s testimony, stating that a plain reading of the statute governing the NRC requires the chairman to “fully report all actions” to his fellow commissioners.

“You state that Chairman Jaczko mislead and did not fully inform the other commissioners,” Barton said. “How can you state if that is a true statement, then how could he have not violated federal law?

“He violated the law, and he did not uphold his responsibility under the statute.”

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey, a former employer of Jaczko’s, defended his actions as legal and as being well within the established guidelines.

“Greg Jaczko did what any building permitting office would do when a project gets canceled,” Markey said. “He stopped spending money processing the permit.

“Although members of this committee have accused him of doing something illegal, the NRC inspector general and general counsel have both found that it was legal.”

But Shimkus told TheDC he plans to continue holding hearings to examine Jaczko’s conduct.

“If we can’t get the NRC to comply with the law with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act; how can we get them to do things like do things with nuclear reactors,” Shimkus said, referring to his belief that Jaczko has undermined the NRC’s credibility. “How do we trust them in this post-Fukushima environment?”