NRC Chairman Jaczko discusses safety, resignation during press conference

After delivering his planned speech to at the 2012 Nuclear Energy Assembly audience, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory Jaczko on May 23 spoke to the media for the first time since he announced his resignation from the agency just two days prior.

Jaczko stuck to his theme of nuclear safety, which was also the backbone of his speech at the Nuclear Energy Institute’s annual meeting. Chairman Jaczko toured the V.C. Summer site May 22 where two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors are being built. When asked about his vote on licenses for the Summer and Vogtle projects, Jaczko said he was supportive of the designs and was comfortable of the staff’s review, even though he was the only negative vote on the projects. He did say he was concerned with how the agency was going to ensure lessons learned from the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan were going to be implemented at these new projects. Jaczko felt there was a way to include post-Fukushima recommendations in the combined construction and operating license. Other commissioners did not agree, and Jaczko said that shows the five-person panel has healthy debates and can still move forward to make important decisions.

“I enjoy my job a lot,” he said. “It is challenging and that is part of what makes it enjoyable. I enjoy having the opportunity to engage my colleagues in debates and discussions.”

Jaczko did reiterate the difference between the COLs and licenses of the past, which one was for construction and a separate license was to operate a nuclear plant. He said he felt there needs to be an condition, or asterisk, in the licenses for the new projects to make sure they implement lessons learned and recommendations from Fukushima reviews.

“Had that been in there, I would have supported the license(s),” he added.

Jaczko said the agency is still identifying solutions for some of the post-Fukushima recommendations, which could take time. The chairman did point to the AP1000 as having inherent safety features, such as dealing with station black out.

“We are making good progress on many of these efforts, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us, Jaczko said. “I continue to believe that we need to look for ways to address the issues from Fukushima in a more timely way than we are currently looking at.”

The headline in the news this week, though, has been Jaczko’s announcement to resign. While he was somewhat mum on the topic, saying “I really don’t have anything more to add than what I have said,” he did say he thought the announcement came at an appropriate time for President Obama and the Senate to begin looking for a replacement.

“I have been privileged and honored to serve in this position,” Jaczko said. “Right now I intend to serve out my term. If by that time a successor has not been found, I will deal with those issues at that time.”

Since timing is unclear, Jaczko said he is not at all pursuing  outside activities while finishing his term at the NRC, which is due to expire in June 2013. He said he hopes at some point to use what he has learned during his time at the NRC and utilize that knowledge in the future, and will seek other opportunities with his tenure is complete.

“At the point at which a successor is identified and either confirmed, or close to being confirmed, I will begin looking at additional opportunities,” he said.

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