- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004


In a deal to let 175 of President Bush’s nominees take office, an adviser to new Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate’s staunchest opponent of a nuclear-waste dump in his home state, will be named to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

For months, Senate Republicans had refused to take up, or even hold a hearing on the nomination of Gregory Jaczko, Mr. Reid’s adviser on nuclear issues.

In turn, Mr. Reid, who has pledged to try to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste project 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, had blocked the Bush nominations.

In negotiations just before Congress recessed during the weekend, an agreement was worked out: The White House promised Mr. Jaczko would be appointed to a limited two-year term while Congress was in recess, and Mr. Reid lifted his hold on the package of Bush nominations, which zipped through the Senate.

Also, it was agreed that a Republican nominee to the NRC, retired Navy Vice Adm. Albert H. Konetzni, would be put on the commission and probably would become its chairman late next year.

The White House already had sent Adm. Konetzni’s nomination to the Senate this month, hoping to resolve an impasse that had kept the president’s nominations in congressional limbo. Among them were senior positions across the executive branch and at such entities as Amtrak, the Social Security Administration and the judiciary.

Some Republicans and executives in the nuclear industry had bitterly opposed Mr. Jaczko’s nomination, fearing that he would aid Mr. Reid’s desire to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste project.

The NRC is expected to begin considering a license for the facility next year. Under the compromise reached on the NRC nominations, Mr. Jaczko agreed not to participate in any Yucca Mountain-related matters for the first year of his two-year term.

The licensing process is expected to take at least three years once an application is received from the Department of Energy next year. Margaret Chu, director of the DOE office that heads the Yucca program, recently informed regulators that the department would not meet a Dec. 31 target to submit a license application, officials said yesterday.

It had been widely believed the target would be missed because of financing problems and adverse court decisions involving radiation standards.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and opponent of Mr. Jaczko’s nomination, said he was comfortable with the arrangement after the White House assured him that Mr. Jaczko would not be renominated by the president after his two years.

A Reid spokeswoman, Tessa Hafen, said that the agreement “in no way prohibits [Mr. Jaczko] from being renominated.”

By law, three of the five commissioners at the NRC must be of the same party as the president. The commission currently has two Republican members and one Democratic member.

Mr. Jaczko, a physicist who joined Mr. Reid’s staff in 2001 as a nuclear adviser, did not return telephone calls to his office yesterday.

“Greg is eminently qualified to serve as a commissioner. He is a scientist first and has the background and experience necessary to evaluate information objectively,” Mr. Reid said in a statement.

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