White House ducks Issa hearing on nuclear commission dispute

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa says the White House is AWOL while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is paralyzed by a internal political fight.

Issa asked the White House to provide an official to testify at a Wednesday hearing about the internal dispute, in which four Republican and Democratic commissioners have lined up against the powerful NRC chairman.

The chairman, Gregory Jaczko, was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to stop the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site in Reid’s home state of Nevada.

“With four bipartisan commissioners raising deeply troubling concerns about abuse and mismanagement at the NRC, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion than the White House is in denial about the severity of the situation at the NRC,” Issa said in a Monday evening statement.

“Four of the NRC’s five commissioners have told the White House that the actions of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko are causing serious damage in the agency,” said Issa’s letter.

The commission oversees the operation and safety of nuclear plants and nuclear waste in the United States.

The NRC commissioners have disagreed about the best U.S. response to the March meltdown of reactors at Japan’s Fukushima power plant.

The cooling systems at the power plant were damaged by a massive earthquake. Shortly after, the reactors overheated, and small amounts of radiation escaped.

White House officials insisted all is well at the commission.

Although “there are tensions and disagreements among the Commissioners, these management differences have not impaired the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mission,” White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said in response to Issa Monday night.

In the same message, Daley declined to provide a witness for Issa’s planned Wednesday hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

That’s a reubke for Issa, who is also leading a hard-nosed and expanding investigation into the Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious, which facilitated the sale of thousands of guns to Mexican drug cartels.

With continued backing from the White House and Reid, Jaczco’s chairmanship is safe.

To remove Jazczo, the House would have to impeach him and then win the approval of the Senate, which is headed by Reid, Jaczco’s chief backer.

The budget for the Yucca storage site was shut down this year, after the federal government spent roughly $9 billion studying, building and testing the huge network of tunnels. The site was scheduled to open in 2017, some 39 years after initial studies began in 1978.

Without a waste-storage site, nuclear waste is being stored near nuclear power plants around the country, at a cost to the federal government of roughly $400 million per year.

The lack of a safe storage site is hindering the long-stalled development of new nuclear power plants.

Interest in new plants is rising, partly because of increasing electricity costs and the development of safer designs. Also, new reactors can produce significant amounts of electricity without emitting any greenhouse gases that environmentalists say are overheating the planet.

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