The embattled chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, went before reporters on Friday to deny allegations that he has created a hostile work environment—especially for women—that has undermined oversight of the nation’s nuclear-power industry.
Jaczko has been at the center of a firestorm since late last year when the other four NRC commissioners complained to the White House that he has bullied staff, verbally abused women, and hindered communications at the agency’s headquarters in Rockville, Md.
The controversy erupted again this week after Jaczko’s former boss, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urged the White House not to reappoint a Republican commissioner, Kristine Svinicki, who had criticized Jaczko, but he was overruled.
“I want to assure you that none of these issues are a distraction to the agency,” Jaczko said at an impromptu press conference. He also said that charges that he has targeted women for abuse are “categorically untrue,” a phrase he repeated numerous times during the 30-minute meeting with the media.
Asked whether he believes Svinicki has a poor record on nuclear safety, as Reid has said, Jaczko did not respond; instead, he detailed his own commitment to the safety of nuclear plants.
When pressed, Jaczko said, “We all approach this issue in different ways,” and that it is up to his colleagues to assess “what their commitment level to safety is.” Jaczko also said he has not spoken to Reid recently about the controversies at the NRC, including Svinicki’s reappointment.
Sviniciki’s four-year term on the commission expires at the end of June. White House aides announced on Thursday that President Obama plans to renominate her to another term to avoid a vacancy on the NRC at a time when it is addressing critical issues, such as safety improvements needed at nuclear reactors in the wake of last year’s meltdown at a Japanese nuclear plant.