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Report: Nuclear safety chief bullied workers

Matthew Daly, Associated Press

FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2011 file photo, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory Jaczko prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington. An internal investigation has concluded that Jaczko, the departing chairman of the NRC engaged in bullying and intimidation, creating a tense working environment at the agency. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An internal investigation has concluded that the departing chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission engaged in bullying and intimidation, creating a tense working environment at the agency.

A report Tuesday by the NRC's inspector general found at least 15 instances when Chairman Gregory Jaczko acted in a way that senior employees or fellow commissioners found intimidating or bullying.

The report also said Jaczko's testimony before House and Senate committees in December was "inconsistent" with testimony provided to the inspector general by senior NRC officials. The committees were investigating Jaczko's behavior.

The report by Inspector General Hubert T. Bell upheld Jaczko's declaration last year that Japan's nuclear crisis constituted an emergency for the United States. It also said Jaczko made "reasonable efforts" to keep fellow commissioners informed of important actions during that time, but found that Jaczko "interprets his authority broadly and, at times, attempts to control the flow of information to the commission."

A summary of the report was obtained by The Associated Press.

Jaczko, who announced his resignation in May, said in a statement Tuesday that the report vindicated his actions as chairman.

"I have felt confident all along that my actions have been consistent with my responsibilities and authorities as chairman, and certainly that there was no wrongdoing. This report underscores my belief," Jaczko said. "The report raises nothing new of substance."

Republican lawmakers, who have complained that Jaczko rode roughshod over his fellow commissioners, said the report vindicated the complaints of Jaczko's fellow commissioners that the chairman has routinely manipulated or hid information from them.

The report "confirms (that) Mr. Jaczko was undermining the agency and its mission of safety — and he was doing this at one of the NRC's most critical junctures: in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said. "Mr. Jaczko's abuse of his power was preventing" other NRC commissioners from doing their jobs."

Jaczko, 41, a Democrat, has led the nuclear safety agency for three years. He pushed for sweeping safety reforms but came under fire for an unyielding management style that some said veered into bullying.

In an extraordinary public rebuke, four fellow commissioners sat next to Jaczko in December and told Congress they had "grave concerns" about Jaczko's actions. The four commissioners — two Democrats and two Republicans — said women at the agency felt especially threatened.

No disciplinary action was taken against Jaczko, who denied the allegations.

Jaczko, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., led a strong response to the nuclear disaster in Japan and was a favorite of industry watchdogs, who called his emphasis on safety a refreshing change from previous agency chiefs who were close to the nuclear industry or who came from it.

But scientists, fellow commissioners and many rank-and-file staffers said Jaczko had created a chilled working environment at the NRC, which oversees safety at the nation's 104 commercial nuclear reactors.

Jaczko was the agency's public face during its response last year to an earthquake and tsunami that triggered nuclear meltdowns at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. He also took responsibility for recommending that U.S. citizens living in Japan move out of an area larger than what U.S. communities near nuclear facilities prepare for, a decision that lawmakers and the NRC's advisory board questioned.

Jaczko has been a member of the NRC since 2005 and was named by President Barack Obama to lead the independent agency in 2009. Since then, he has made a series of decisions to delay or halt work on a proposed nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, a project Obama had made a campaign promise to kill. Reid is the project's leading opponent in Congress.

Obama last month named geologist Allison Macfarlane to replace Jaczko. A Senate confirmation vote on her nomination is expected this week.

The report found several instances in which Jaczko altered or deleted staff recommendations before they were submitted to the full commission, a departure from previous NRC chairs who left the recommendations intact and expressed any disagreement in writing.

On the bullying allegation, the report said "no one interviewed said they would hesitate to bring a safety matter to the chairman's attention," but said Jaczko sometimes tried to intimidate them "to side with the chairman's opinion despite their own judgments."


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