Though frequently at odds with fellow NRC commissioners over the extent of safety requirements, it was political timing and management style that ultimately prompted his departure.
The NRC’s inspector general has briefed congressional aides on the contents of a report, due out in less than a month, about allegations that Jaczko treated female staffers harshly, according to people familiar with the briefing who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve their business relationships. A draft of the report quoted female staffers saying that his comments made them cry.
In an interview Monday, Jaczko said that the inspector general’s report “had absolutely no role” in his decision and that “any allegations about me targeting women are simply untrue.” He said that with his term expiring in June of next year he “wanted to give the president and Senate the opportunity to go through the process of identifying a candidate. Sometimes these decisions are a gut feeling.”
But in an election year, congressional aides said Jaczko was facing wavering support from his former boss, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who fiercely opposes efforts to store nuclear waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a key concern of the nuclear agency. In a statement Monday, Reid thanked Jaczko for his service, noting his leadership of the agency in the aftermath of last year’s Japanese tsunami and partial meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
“I am confident whomever replaces Chairman Jaczko will share his commitment to protecting the safety of the American people over the interests of a single industry,” Reid said.
Jaczko is a former staffer for Reid and other Democratic lawmakers.
The White House can now nominate a replacement who could be paired with Kristine L. Svinicki, a Republican NRC commissioner who requires confirmation for a new five-year term. An industry source, who asked for anonymity to preserve relationships in Congress, said that to replace Jaczko, the White House was considering one of two women with academic backgrounds in nuclear matters, one of whom also has federal government experience.
The choice of a woman to lead the agency would undercut Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) attempt to turn the NRC into a women’s issue by arguing that the White House had unfairly delayed Svinicki’s renomination while standing by Jaczko.
Some Jaczko supporters said he also fell victim to the nuclear power industry and its allies in Congress who seized upon a reason to question his leadership. A voice for tighter safety standards, Jaczko frequently found himself as the sole dissenter in key commission votes.