The chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), particle physicist Gregory Jaczko, has announced he is to resign. The announcement comes a year after congressional Republicans objected to his leadership in phasing out the proposed nuclear-waste repository in Yucca Mountain in Nevada. It is unclear when his resignation will become effective, with the Obama administration announcing its intention to nominate a new NRC chair soon, who must also receive Senate backing.
According to regulations, the NRC has five commissioners who regulate and license nuclear power, but the chairman has ultimate legal authority. Jaczko had spent seven years as a commissioner, including three as chairman, with his term set to expire in June 2013. “I have decided this is the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum,” he declared in an official statement. “This is the right time to pass along the public-safety torch to a new chairman who will keep a strong focus on carrying out the vital mission of the [NRC].”
Jaczko’s time as chairman had recently been hit by a number of accusations over the handling of the $10bn Yucca Mountain facility – a site that Congress had designated as the sole potential location for a national deep underground nuclear-waste dump before funding for the repository was terminated in 2011. After allegations by commission staff that Jaczko had “unilaterally and illegally” stopped a safety-evaluation report on the facility’s design, last June Hubert Bell, the NRC’s inspector general, accused Jaczko of “using forceful management techniques to accomplish his objectives” while noting that he had operated within the law.
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