Statement of NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko

After nearly eight years on the Commission, I am announcing my resignation as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, effective upon the confirmation of my successor. My responsibility and commitment to safety will continue to be my paramount priority after I leave the Commission and until my successor is confirmed.

After an incredibly productive three years as Chairman, I have decided this is the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum. This is the right time to pass along the public safety torch to a new chairman who will keep a strong focus on carrying out the vital mission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

During this last year alone, the agency has responded with an impressive focus on safety under my leadership to a number of diverse challenges including the accident at the Fukushima Da-ichi reactors in Japan, and a number of severe incidents at reactors in the United States ranging from flooding, an earthquake and tornados to damaged plant structures and steam generator problems. In addition to this vigilant oversight, together we identified and began to implement lessons learned from Fukushima and completed our rigorous safety reviews for the first new reactor licenses in 30 years.

Throughout my time on the Commission as both Chairman and Commissioner, the agency finalized regulations to ensure new reactors are designed to withstand an aircraft impact, completed the development and implementation of a safety culture policy statement, enhanced our focus on openness and transparency, and enhanced awareness of and worked to resolve some of the most long-standing generic issues facing the nuclear industry, including sump strainer issues and fire protection. Beyond the power reactor work, substantial progress was made in establishing a more transparent and effective oversight program for fuel cycle facilities. In addition, radioactive sources of concern are now fully protected with our new security regulations and source tracking system. We stand as a stronger and more decisive regulator now because of these years of efforts. I am truly humbled by the agency’s success.

Serving the American people as the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been an honor and privilege. The mission of this agency – protecting people and the environment, and providing for the common defense and security – could not be more clear, or more critical. Our collective focus on that mission was, I believe, one of the primary reasons the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was one of the best places to work in the federal government throughout my tenure. The highly talented and dedicated professional staff, including dozens who have served on my personal staff over the years, have been instrumental in fulfilling the agency’s mission.

I will always be grateful for the opportunity of having served alongside the staff for all of these years, and for all that we accomplished together. I am looking forward to bringing all I have learned from my work and focus on safety at this agency with me as I move forward.

Note: Transcript of later press conference 0524nrc1652

Reaching Out to Help around the Globe

When you think about countries where the NRC conducts international cooperation and assistance, Tanzania would probably not be the first one that comes to mind; however, that is where a group of five NRC employees recently held a workshop on regulatory practices related to uranium production.

In recent years, there has been increased global interest in uranium mining and milling. This has led to a significant impact on countries with limited experience and a lack of regulatory infrastructure and trained staff. As a result, the NRC’s Office of International Programs initiated outreach on this topic to our counterparts around the world.

Uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that has been mined in the U.S. and other countries around the world for centuries. After being processed, uranium can be turned into fuel for nuclear power plants; however, if uranium mining and milling sites are not properly regulated, the radioactive materials and wastes at those sites can be hazardous for the public and the environment and lead to complex and expensive clean-up operations.

Abandoned or unregulated uranium recovery sites where hazards remain after operations have ceased, are known as “legacy sites.” Restoring these legacy sites may require clean-up of contaminated land and groundwater, and activities to reduce contamination from waste piles. With proper strategies undertaken early in the planning stages of uranium mining and milling, countries can take steps to avoid the creating these legacy sites, which are costly and difficult to clean-up.

The NRC is providing best practices and lessons learned to its international counterparts who are beginning to embark on uranium production, with the focus on helping to build strong regulatory infrastructure and preventing future legacy sites.

The NRC has hosted three workshops for international counterparts on the “Regulation of Uranium Recovery Operations” in Denver (August 2009), San Antonio (May 2011) and Arusha, Tanzania (January 2012). The three workshops have included participants from 31 countries from Central and South America, Asia and Africa. These workshops facilitate the sharing of best practices on the regulation of uranium mines and mills, including regulatory framework (laws, regulations, and guidance), application review, licensing process, oversight and inspection, cleanup, and decommissioning.

The workshop presenters stress the importance of independent regulatory authorities, well-established laws and regulations and long-term planning related to uranium recovery. Presenters from the NRC, the International Atomic Energy Agency and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission have discussed the environmental, health, and safety aspects related to uranium mining, milling and decommissioning and have facilitated the exchange of information between workshop participants.

The workshops in the U.S. also included tours of uranium recovery facilities and decommissioned uranium mills. Future workshops targeting specific regions are being planned.

Eric Stahl
International Relations Specialist