The embattled chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission resigned this week. It’s a victory for Republican oversight on Capitol Hill, women and sound science. But it’s also a lesson in the futility of Bush-era bipartisanship. When you cut deals with bullies, it’s a timeless and bitter recipe for more bullying.
Gregory Jaczko served as appropriations director and science policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., before joining the NRC in 2005. The anti-nuclear advocate was sworn in by his brass-knuckled boss and protector, Reid, who pressured the Bush administration to appoint him as a condition for moving through any other NRC nominations.
The GOP rolled. Reid and Jaczko rampaged. And President Obama — doing the thing he does best — made matters abysmally worse.
Reid connived to install Jaczko at the NRC to carry on their shared crusade against the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in Nye County, Nev. Despite assurances that he would recuse himself, Jaczko proceeded to meddle aggressively in the issue. After the Obama administration named Jaczko chairman of the safety panel in 2009, all hell broke loose — and then some.
Out of fear that researchers would confirm positive safety data, Jaczko ordered NRC staff to halt a technical evaluation of Yucca Mountain. Then he used the lack of data to order a complete work stoppage on the long-obstructed project. Last summer, the NRC inspector general determined that Jaczko “strategically withheld” information from the rest of the panel, manipulated agendas and “was not forthcoming about his intent” to shut down Yucca by any means necessary.
He kept the panel in the dark on other matters, too. After the Fukushima meltdown in Japan, Jaczko ordered his staff to hoard safety findings and keep them from other commissioners while he made unilateral policy decisions against their will.
In the course of his investigation, the NRC inspector general heard from numerous commission staffers about Jaczko’s “unprofessional behavior” and outburst of anger that created an “intimidating workplace environment.” The report said Jaczko told investigators he “regretted” his temper tantrums.