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Actions on nuclear dump critiqued

WASHINGTON -- In the two years that Gregory Jaczko has led the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, his actions to delay, hide and kill work on a disputed dump for radioactive waste have been called "bizarre," "unorthodox" and "illegal." Harsh critiques have come not only from politicians who have strong views in favor of the Yucca Mountain waste site in Nevada. They've also come from the NRC's own scientists and a former agency chairman.

An inspector general's report released last week exposed the internal strife under Jaczko. The internal watchdog said he intimidated staff members who disagreed with him and withheld information from members of the commission to gain their support.

The tactics disclosed in the investigative report are just the latest in a saga unfolding since President Barack Obama put the former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who is Yucca's leading opponent, at the helm of the agency in May 2009. Less than a year after Jaczko was named chairman, the Energy Department sought to pull back its application to construct the dump.

Since then, Jaczko has made a series of decisions that have aided the administration's goal of shutting down Yucca Mountain. His purported reasons for doing so have come under attack by Congress, his fellow commissioners and in-house experts as being contrary to the 1982 law that requires the NRC to review the government's plans for an underground repository in Nevada for the country's spent nuclear fuel.

Emails and documents gathered by investigators on three House committees and reviewed by The Associated Press, along with interviews with NRC staff members, also raise questions about whether the agency's independence and scientific integrity have been compromised to advance a political agenda.

"He was put there to stop Yucca Mountain, and that is what he is doing," said former NRC chairman and commissioner Dale E. Klein. Klein was appointed chairman in 2006 by President George W. Bush and left in March 2010.

The revelations come after the Japanese nuclear crisis exposed the risks associated with storing spent fuel in pools at a nuclear plant and after reports showing that $15 billion has been spent on Yucca Mountain even though it may never open.