The politicization of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was evident in the arbitrary and unilateral shutdown of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site last year. The details of that decision, as cited in a recent NRC inspector general's report, further underscore that observation and should force a change in the nation's leadership on nuclear energy -- specifically the departure of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko.
Friday's testimony by NRC scientists who have long been involved in the effort to provide a safe, secure nuclear waste repository offered supporting evidence on the troubling record of maladministration at the NRC.
"The work of a generation of scientists and engineers continues to be systematically suppressed," NRC geologist Newton Kingman Stablein told a congressional committee in written testimony cited by The Wall Street Journal.
Aby Mohseni, acting director of the agency's Division of High-Level Waste Repository Safety, said the NRC's leadership has failed to uphold the agency's integrity. "Politics are influencing some of the NRC's staff's work," he said.
No question, closing Yucca Mountain has been a priority for President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
But the front man for that job has been Sen. Reid's former congressional staffer, Gregory Jaczko.
The inspector general's report was unequivocal in its finding that Mr. Jaczko manipulated his fellow commissioners by selectively withholding information on a pending safety review essential to continuing the Yucca project. Meanwhile, President Obama cut off funding for that Nevada facility, which has been 30 years in development at a cost of $15 billion.
Inspector General Hubert T. Bell described Mr. Jaczko's actions as unprofessional and "wrong," though he declined to characterize them as criminal.
But Joseph McMillan, assistant inspector general for investigations, acknowledged that the NRC chairman's actions were "opposite the intent of that statute" requiring commissioners to be kept abreast of agency developments.
In addition, the inspector general found that Mr. Jaczko bullied, threatened and cajoled the NRC staff into following his lead. Mr. Jaczko has described his leadership style as "forceful."
Clearly, the NRC chairman has a definite agenda on Yucca Mountain and has been "forceful" in serving as the administration's henchman in carrying it out. Unless his actions are overturned by the courts, the long-term consequences will be crippling for the goal of a central waste storage location.
Currently, high-level waste is stored at 107 commercial reactors, as well as federal defense facilities, including Savannah River Site.
South Carolina and Washington State, home of the Hanford defense facility, have challenged the Yucca decision. So has Aiken County, home of SRS.
President Obama ostensibly supports nuclear power, but the back-alley actions of Mr. Jaczko have derailed a project necessary to ensure the operation of existing power facilities. The absence of a central repository will effectively derail further efforts to develop nuclear power.
And it will result in SRS serving as the de facto long-term storage site for a vast quantity of high-level radioactive waste, despite decades of federal promises to the contrary.
South Carolina's congressional delegation should join the growing consensus that Mr. Jaczko's duplicity threatens the credibility of the nation's nuclear program, and demand he be fired.
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