* Criticized for abrasive management style
* NRC writing tough new safety rules post-Fukushima
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, May 21 Gregory Jaczko, chairman of
the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said on Monday that he
would resign, following a year of intense criticism over his
abrasive management style.
Jaczko, 41, did not give a reason for stepping down more
than a year before his term expired.
The move comes after a year in which Jaczko drew headlines
from a series of reports and congressional hearings that painted
him as a bully who had reduced some senior female employees to
The accusations, which he consistently dismissed and denied,
overshadowed the expensive new rules he championed in the wake
of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan's
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.
Having cast himself as a reformer at an agency where change
typically happens at a glacial pace, Jaczko was long an irritant
for the nuclear power industry, which fears the new regulations
could drive up costs at the same time that cheap natural gas
"I think it just wears you out. You can only get beat on so
long, sometimes," said a former Capitol Hill aide who knows
"For me it all comes back to money and an industry that
wants to hand-pick their regulators, put them in place, then
employ them when they're done," the former aide said.
Republicans, with an eye to elections in November, were
quick to cheer his departure, and urged the White House to
quickly replace Jaczko. That appointment, which require
confirmation by the Senate, could happen in tandem with the
reconfirmation of a Republican commissioner, Kristine Svinicki,
whose term expires next month.
The head of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobby group,
acknowledged in a statement that the industry had "differences"
with Jaczko, but wished him well and urged the White House to
quickly name a new chairman.
The White House likely will name someone more open to
"consensus building," said Ed Batts, a partner at law firm DLA
"It would seem likely that his successor .. will be from a
more conventional background, either a technocrat or academic,
and perhaps less of a dynamic personality," Batts said.
NEW REPORT PENDING FROM INSPECTOR GENERAL
Jaczko got his start in Washington as a young, socially
conscious physicist helping his then-boss Harry Reid, now Senate
majority leader, block a plan to store radioactive waste under
Nevada's Yucca mountain.
Jaczko, a Democrat, had served at the NRC for almost eight
years, and was appointed to the chairman role by President
"He was a decent guy but he was too direct," said Najmedin
Meshkati, an engineering professor at the University of Southern
"To run the NRC he needed to be much more diplomatic, much
more circumspect," Meshkati said.
The resignation comes as the nuclear agency overhauls safety
rules for the nation's 104 nuclear plants, owned by companies
such as Exelon and Entergy Corp.
It also recently approved licenses for the first new U.S.
plants in more than 30 years, owned by Southern Co and
Jaczko cast the lone dissenting vote against the new
licenses, drawing ire from the industry and Republicans.
In a statement, Jaczko said he would serve until the Senate
confirms his successor. The White House plans to nominate a new
chairman soon, a spokesman said in a statement.
"This is the right time to pass along the public safety
torch to a new chairman," Jaczko said, thanking NRC staff -- but
notably leaving out his fellow commissioners at the helm of the
UNCOMFORTABLE HEARINGS ON THE HILL
The four other commissioners at the NRC -- two Democrats and
two Republicans -- took the unprecedented step last year of
complaining to the White House about Jaczko.
Uncomfortable hearings on Capitol Hill followed, where the
commissioners detailed their concerns, and Republicans grilled
At the time, Bill Daley, then White House chief of staff,
expressed his support for Jaczko and urged the commissioners to
get along, perhaps with help from a mediator.
But the rancor did not fade. Republicans helped revive the
story when the White House was slow to renominate Svinicki this
spring. House Republicans had a hearing planned for next week
expected to focus on Jaczko's tactics.
The inner turmoil at the NRC first attracted public scrutiny
a year ago, when the agency's inspector general, an internal
watchdog, released a report that described Jaczko as someone who
often lost his temper and used threats and intimidation to try
to get his way.
The NRC's inspector general is expected to imminently
release a follow-up report about Jaczko's leadership style,
although the timing and content of the report is not clear.
"The only thing surprising about his resignation is the fact
that the Obama administration has remained silent for more than
a year after allegations of Jaczko's offensive behavior
surfaced," said Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the U.S.
But Jaczko's defenders said the accusations were amplified
by opponents to distract the agency from its reforms.
"These attempts to make a slender, balding particle
physicist appear to be careening about the NRC like Mike Tyson
with Evander Holyfield's ear in his teeth were always complete
nonsense," said Peter Bradford, an adjunct professor at Vermont
Law School and a former commissioner at the NRC.