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N-commission chief quits amid complaints

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said Monday he is resigning after lawmakers, colleagues and the agency's independent watchdog criticized his management style and his dealings with female employees.

"I have decided this is the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum," Jaczko said in a statement. "My responsibility and commitment to safety will continue to be my paramount priority after I leave the commission and until my successor is confirmed."

Jaczko, 41, whose term expires in June 2013, has been faulted for his management by other commissioners and in a report by the agency inspector general last year. The Obama administration intends to nominate a successor soon, a White House spokesman said.

Jaczko led a strong response to the nuclear disaster last year in Japan and was a favorite of industry watchdogs, who called his emphasis on safety a refreshing change from previous agency chiefs who were close to the nuclear industry or who came from it.

The new chairman will have to take the lead on a range of nuclear-energy issues, including a potential atomic-waste repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, regulations to be adopted in response to Japan's disaster and license extensions for an aging fleet of reactors.

The five-member commission this year awarded Southern Co. and Scana Corp. the first permits to build new reactors in more than 30 years, a decision that Jaczko opposed.

His tense relationship with other commissioners was disclosed in an Oct. 13 letter from his four colleagues to the White House complaining that Jaczko bullied career staff and attempted to intimidate an independent panel of technical advisers. The letter to then-White House chief of staff William Daley was released Dec. 9 by Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Jaczko denied the allegations.

"The resignation of Chairman Jaczko will close an ugly chapter and allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to focus on its mission -- ensuring the safe operations of the nation's nuclear plants," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the oversight committee investigating the accusations.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said Jaczko made the right decision to step down after "inappropriate behavior" that he said undermined the mission of the agency.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, said President Obama must nominate a new NRC chairman who will stand up to industry pressure as he said Jaczko did.

In December, NRC Commissioner William Magwood told the oversight committee that Jaczko, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., aimed a "raging verbal assault" at three female agency staff members in separate encounters.

Jaczko on April 20 denied the allegations that he mistreats female colleagues.

Jaczko was nominated to the commission by President George W. Bush in 2005. In 2009, Obama named him chairman of the nuclear agency, which regulates safety at 104 commercial nuclear reactors.