The chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whose four fellow commissioners complained about him to the White House, saying that he had been withholding information from them and wielding too much power, drew a spirited defense on Wednesday from a predecessor at the agency.
Peter A. BradfordGetty ImagesPeter A. Bradford
Peter A. Bradford, who was a commission member from 1977 to 1982, was speaking with reporters in a conference call on another topic, whether the recent approval of a new reactor design by the commission represented a major step toward a “nuclear renaissance.” (It doesn’t, he said.)
Mr. Bradford never led the Nuclear Regulatory Commission but can be considered an expert on multimember agencies; he later served as the chairman of the public utility commissions of New York State and Maine.
In the course of the call, Mr. Bradford said that the four commissioners were trying to give the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, “a push toward the door.”
Mr. Bradford said it was not unusual for the commissioners to disagree strongly. “What’s unusual here is the letter these four commissioners have written,’’ he said. He said the letter had been prepared “unquestionably with the intention it would become public,’’ and that that there was no possibility that it would contribute to more collegial decision-making at the commission.
Gregory B. JaczkoAgence France-Presse — Getty ImagesGregory B. Jaczko
The letter accused Mr. Jaczko of intimidating staff members – an allegation that was also noted in a report by the agency’s inspector general this year.
But Mr. Bradford said he did not believe that “ the chairman is somehow raging around the agency and intimidating the staff.’’
“These are professionals, they’re grown-ups, they don’t get scared under their desk by one commissioner, even the chairman,’’ he said. “It doesn’t pass the straight-face test.’’
Of the four other members, two are Republicans and two are Democrats, but Mr. Bradford said the letter was not in fact bipartisan. “In Washington, you’ve got a situation where the ‘nuclear party’ transcends the Republican and Democratic party,’’ he said. “You’ve got four members of the nuclear party writing a letter about the chairman, who’s never been a member of the nuclear party.’’
Those four members have backgrounds in nuclear engineering, the nuclear Navy and related fields; Dr. Jaczko has a Ph.D in particle physics and came to the commission after a career on Capitol Hill, including a stint as an aide to Harry Reid of Nevada, the leader of the Senate’s Democratic majority.
The appointment of Dr. Jaczko did not have the support of the main nuclear industry trade association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and that group has made an oblique plea for his departure.
Mr. Bradford, now an adjunct professor at Vermont Law School, was one of three speakers during the conference call. Mark Cooper, also with the law school, and Carol Werner, the executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, all predicted a fairly bleak new year for new nuclear reactors.
While four reactors of the model just approved by the commission are planned, two in Georgia and two in South Carolina, the three speakers predicted that new requirements imposed in response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan would stunt construction, as would tough competition from electricity made from natural gas and other sources.