Gregory Jaczko was appointed chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission precisely to kill Yucca Mountain, and he’s gone about it in ways that would make a Chicago pol proud. Kim Strassel has an excellent piece in the Journal today highlighting Jaczko’s “brass-knuckle tactics”:
The [unanimous decision by a panel of NRC administrative judges, which found that the Energy Department lacked the authority to derail Congress’s decision to store spent nuclear fuel rods at Yucca Mountain] was appealed to the five-member NRC board. This was Mr. Jaczko’s moment to finally tank Yucca, only he ran into problems. While the board officially contains three Democrats and two Republicans, it has tended toward nonpartisanship and has in the past proved unwilling to overturn panel rulings. Worse for Mr. Jaczko, one of the board’s Democrats recused himself from the vote. A 2-2 board decision is not enough to override the judges’ verdict.
All four commissioners had voted by September of last year. Yet in an unprecedented display of political partisanship, Mr. Jaczko ultimately withdrew his vote, held open the process, and didn’t revote until just before the November election. Why? The chairman had obviously lost the vote and didn’t want the bad news hitting his former boss, Mr. Reid, before the polls closed in his hard-fought Nevada re-election. To this day, Mr. Jaczko has refused to close out the process and release the votes.
This latest foot-dragging appears related to the fact that the term of one of the Republicans on the board, William Ostendorff, expires in just a few weeks. Mr. Ostendorff has been renominated and boasts bipartisan support. Then again, should his term just happen to expire, Mr. Jaczko can hold a revote and potentially win on Yucca. And guess who gets to decide when Mr. Ostendorff’s nomination comes up for full Senate approval? Mr. Reid.
The Yucca vote is hardly the only place Mr. Jaczko has been abusing his “independent” authority on behalf of the president and Mr. Reid. NRC staff have for years been working on a critical Yucca safety report, which includes conclusions on whether Yucca can safely hold radioactive waste for up to a million years. Environmentalists have used the million-year unknown as their main argument against the site, and the findings are crucial.
The documents are finished, yet Mr. Jaczko has used every means to keep them secret. When the agency finally answered a Freedom of Information request to release the documents, it blacked out all the staff’s findings and conclusions on long-term safety.
Darrell Issa had this to say: “The NRC Inspector General’s report paints an embarrassing picture of a bully whose use of deceit and manipulation is ruining the integrity of a respected independent regulatory agency. It’s quite clear that closer Congressional scrutiny of the NRC and the role the Obama Administration’s agenda has played in Chairman Jaczko’s unilateral actions is warranted and necessary.”
Even the New York Times has a hard time squaring the Obama administration’s opposition to the Yucca Mountain facility with the president’s oft-repeated vow to “restore science to its rightful place” in federal policy-making. The fact remains: Our spent fuel rods need storing (since it remains our foolish federal policy not to reprocess them — thank you, Jimmy Carter). The Fukushima meltdown adds increased (if somewhat misplaced) urgency for nuclear plants to store their spent fuel offsite. But the Obama administration has yet to offer its alternative to Yucca Mountain.