In a deal to let 175 of President Bush's nominees take office, an adviser to new Democratic leader Harry M. Reid, the Senate's staunchest opponent of a nuclear waste dump in his home state of Nevada, will be named to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
For months Senate Republicans had refused to take up, or even hold a hearing, on the nomination of Gregory Jaczko, Reid's adviser on nuclear issues.
In turn, Reid, who has pledged to try to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, had blocked the Bush nominations.
In negotiations just before Congress recessed during the weekend, an agreement was worked out: The White House promised Jaczko would be appointed to a limited two-year term while Congress was in recess, and Reid lifted his hold on the package of Bush nominations, which then zipped through the Senate.
Also, it was agreed that a Republican nominee to the NRC, retired Navy Vice Adm. Albert H. Konetzni Jr., would be put on the commission and probably would become its chairman late next year.
The White House already had sent Konetzni's nomination to the Senate this month, hoping to resolve an impasse that had kept the president's nominations in congressional limbo. Among them were senior positions across the executive branch and at such entities as Amtrak, the Social Security Administration and the judiciary.
Some Republicans and executives in the nuclear industry had opposed Jaczko's nomination bitterly, fearing that he would work to further Reid's desire to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project.
The NRC is expected to begin considering a license for the facility next year. Under the compromise reached on the commission's nominations, Jaczko agreed not to participate in matters related to Yucca Mountain for the first year of his two-year term.
The licensing process is expected to take at least three years once an application is received from the Energy Department next year.
Margaret Chu, director of the Energy Department office that heads the Yucca program, recently informed regulators that the department will not meet a Dec. 31 target to submit a license application, officials said yesterday. It had been widely believed the target would be missed because of financing problems and adverse court decisions involving radiation standards.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), who opposed Jaczko's nomination, said he was comfortable with the arrangement after the White House assured him Jaczko would not be renominated by Bush after his two years on the commission.
A Reid spokeswoman, Tessa Hafen, said that the agreement "in no way prohibits [Jaczko] from being renominated."
By law, three of the five NRC commissioners must be of the same party as the president. The commission currently has two Republicans and one Democratic member.
Jaczko, a physicist who joined Reid's staff in 2001 as a nuclear adviser, did not return telephone calls to his office yesterday.
"Greg is eminently qualified to serve as a commissioner," Reid said in a statement. "He is a scientist first and has the background and experience necessary to evaluate information objectively."
Domenici and 15 other Republican senators informed Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) that it would be impossible to confirm Jaczko without senators first having the opportunity to question him at a formal hearing.
"A nominee as controversial as Greg Jaczko will not be confirmed . . . for the sake of political expedience," Domenici said.
An appointment to a post while Congress is in recess does not require Senate confirmation but is good for only the length of the congressional session, which is two years. A normal NRC appointment is for five years.