Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Beginning today, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko will be on the hot seat, attempting to preserve his reputation — and his job — against complaints from the four other commissioners that his conduct is destroying the panel’s ability to function. As a group, the four face countercharges that their crusade isn’t motivated by Jaczko’s conduct, which they say amounts to bullying, but by cozy relationships with the nuclear industry.
Jaczko is an ardent opponent of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and has pressed for stricter regulation of the industry in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is scheduled to hear from the commissioners today. Here is some background on these commissioners, who during their five-year terms, decide how the country regulates nuclear energy.
Commissioner George Apostolakis
Term expires: June 30, 2014
Background: Apostolakis came to the NRC from academia — he was a professor of nuclear science and engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He’s received awards for his work on nuclear reactor safety, where his focus is reactor design, security and risk management.
Yucca Mountain: Apostolakis remains an enigma on the Yucca Mountain project. He didn’t support a motion to stop its shutdown last year. But he recused himself from the NRC’s most recent decisions on the project, citing his involvement with the Independent Performance Assessment Review of Yucca Mountain, a study that found the site to be suitable as a nuclear waste repository.
Commissioner William Magwood
Term expires: June 30, 2015
Background: Magwood, an appointee of President Barack Obama, came to the NRC from the Department of Energy, where he headed the civilian nuclear technology program from 1998 to 2005 — the longest term of anyone to have held the highest nuclear technology position in the land. In that role, he was an advocate for the development of nuclear power. But it’s what he did before his public service that has some questioning his motives in the spat with Jaczko.
According to a report in the Huffington Post, Magwood was an adviser to Tepco, the Japanese company that owns the Fukushima power plant that sustained a catastrophic meltdown in March. Tensions at the NRC have focused largely on how relations between Jaczko and the other commissioners broke down as the chairman moved to institute protective measures in the wake of that disaster.
Yucca Mountain: Even if Magwood is working against Jaczko on post-Fukushima public safety measures, he doesn’t appear to oppose the chairman on Yucca Mountain. The final vote was 2-2, with Apostolakis recusing himself. Magwood’s vote with Jaczko prevented development of Yucca Mountain. Commissioners Kristine Svinicki and William Ostendorff were the other commissioners to vote.
Commissioner William Ostendorff
Term expires: June 30, 2016
Background: Ostendorff was an Obama appointee who came to the NRC from the House of Representatives and the National Nuclear Security Administration, positions from which he oversaw the country’s nuclear defenses, including space, missile defense and intelligence, according to a biography at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website. Before that, Ostendorff was a career naval officer with a specialization in attack submarines.
Yucca Mountain: Ostendorff is best known to Nevadans for writing a memo last year opposing the shuttering of the Yucca Mountain project. Ostendorff was joined by Commissioner Kristine Svinicki in his efforts — conducted in private but later made public — but couldn’t draw support from any other commissioner. As a result, the shutdown process began.
Commissioner Kristine Svinicki
Term expires: June 30, 2012
Background: Svinicki was appointed to the NRC by President George W. Bush after serving a line of pro-nuclear (and pro-Yucca Mountain) Republican senators including Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Virginia Sen. John Warner and former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, as a policy adviser on topics including nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. Before that, she was a nuclear engineer for the federal government.
Yucca Mountain: Although NRC votes are officially private, Svinicki and Ostendorff have taken recent public steps to keep Yucca Mountain from being shuttered while the other commissioners have avoided involvement.