Nuclear Safety Isn't Just About Who Has the Codes

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Gregory Jaczko (C) waits for the beginning of a joint hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2011.

Gregory Jaczko didn't grow up aspiring to work on the country's central nuclear energy oversight body, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He had a freshly-minted Ph.D. in physics when he received a fellowship to learn about the political process in Washington, D.C. While there, he worked with Senators Ed Markey and Harry Reid, apprenticeships that prepared him for the contentious work of navigating nuclear industry interests—or pursuing countervailing aims. In fact, Jaczko says that when he was appointed to the NRC, he "arrived with a 'scarlet N'" (for "nuclear") because Markey and Reid have combative histories with the nuclear industry and lobby. Questions about Jaczko's leadership style dogged his tenure, including allegations of angry outbursts and abusive behavior. These resulted in a series of high-profile Congressional hearings; though a later investigation cleared him of wrongdoing, Jaczko resigned before the end of his term. But he tells host Alec Baldwin that after President Obama made him the youngest chairman in the history of the Commission, his primary aim was ensuring safety at the nation's aging and decaying nuclear energy sites—especially in the wake of the 2011 reactor disaster in Fukushima, Japan.