* Criticized for abrasive management style
* Jaczko says decision unrelated to criticism
* Wanted to give ample time to find replacement
* NRC writing tough new post-Fukushima safety rules
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.
A series of reports and congressional hearings have painted
Jaczko as a bully who had reduced some senior female employees
to tears - accusations that have overshadowed new rules he
championed in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that
devastated Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.
Jaczko, 41, has consistently dismissed and denied the
reports. He said announcing his decision to step down more than
a year before his term expired was "not at all" related to the
accusations but rather publicly signals his intention not to
pursue a second term as chairman.
"I just wanted to provide the best opportunity for a
successor to be brought on board and to give the president and
the Senate maximum opportunity to do that," Jaczko told Reuters,
noting he will stay in his job until his replacement is
confirmed by the Senate.
The White House plans to nominate a new chairman soon, a
Jaczko said the negative headlines have not taken a toll on
him or his family. "I've learned to separate and not take
personally the kinds of things that people have said," he said.
"It's rare in life to have the opportunities I've had as
chairman and I relish every moment of it. If that means being in
the middle of some difficult issues with Congress, then that's
just part of the job and something I will continue to deal
with," he said.
ACCUSATIONS OVERSHADOW CHANGES
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
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
name a new chairman quickly.
Republicans, with an eye to elections in November, were
quick to cheer the departure of Jaczko, a Democrat, and also
want a replacement soon.
"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.
The selection of a replacement could happen in tandem with
the reconfirmation of a Republican commissioner, Kristine
Svinicki, whose term expires next month.
Jaczko's replacement likely will be 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.
"DECENT GUY BUT HE WAS TOO DIRECT"
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
California. "To run the NRC he needed to be much more
diplomatic, much more circumspect."
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.
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 congressional hearings followed with the
commissioners detailing their concerns and Republicans grilling
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 release a
follow-up report about Jaczko's leadership style soon, although
the timing and content of the report is not clear.
Jaczko told Reuters he had not seen the report and said he
would not see it until it is final.
Jaczko's defenders said the accusations have been 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 NRC commissioner.