Infighting at U.S. nuclear agency detailed

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2011 10:33 PM
Infighting at U.S. nuclear agency detailed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There were new allegations on Friday of misconduct at the highest levels of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as Democrats and Republicans in Congress separately released information about infighting at the agency.

Democratic Representative Edward Markey made public a 23-page report accusing four of the five NRC commissioners of trying to impede U.S. nuclear safety reviews following the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

"The actions of these four commissioners since the Fukushima nuclear disaster has caused a regulatory meltdown that has left America's nuclear fleet and the general public at risk," said Markey, a Democrat.

Markey, who has offered legislation to tighten nuclear power plant safety controls following the Fukushima meltdown last March, said NRC Commissioners William Magwood, Kristine Svinicki, William Ostendorff and George Apostolakis engaged in a "concerted effort" to "undermine" a task force studying new safety steps for the U.S. nuclear power industry.

Meanwhile, Republican Representative Darrell Issa released a letter he had sent to White House Chief of Staff William Daley saying there were "serious questions" about NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko's "conduct and ability to lead" the NRC.

Issa also made public a letter written by Magwood, Svinicki, Ostendorff and Apostolakis on October 13 accusing Chairman Jaczko of behavior that was "causing serious damage" to the NRC.

Issa, who chairs the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives, has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to examine the NRC's leadership. He asked Daley to send an administration official to testify.

While Issa's letter to Daley did not specifically demand Jaczko's dismissal, it noted that President Barack Obama has the authority to remove him.

An NRC spokesman would not comment late Friday on either Markey's report or Issa's letter.

The Fukushima plant has been disabled since a major earthquake hit Japan last March, leading to radiation leaks.

That disaster, the worst at a nuclear facility in 25 years, prompted U.S. officials to review safety precautions and procedures at American nuclear facilities.

Jaczko, a former congressional aide to Markey, has been pushing since July for a major overhaul of rules governing the U.S. nuclear power industry. The four other NRC commissioners have wanted to move more slowly, after first consulting with industry officials and gathering public comments.

Markey's report said the four commissioners attempted to "delay and otherwise impede" the creation of a task force on Fukushima and "conspired" to delay the release of task force findings. Furthermore, Markey said they tried to block safety recommendations.

The four commissioners, in their letter to the White House, accused Jaczko of intimidating senior NRC staff and an independent group of advisors that was reviewing the agency's analysis of the Fukushima accident.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; editing by Todd Eastham)