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Nuclear industry seeks end to regulatory spat

By Scott DiSavino and Roberta Rampton

(Reuters) - The nuclear industry asked the White House and Congress on Monday to resolve a nasty power struggle at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an internal fight that will be scrutinized at two Congressional hearings this week.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the main lobby group for the utilities and power companies that run the country's 104 nuclear reactors, said the fight has put the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's credibility at stake.

"Safe performance of nuclear energy facilities and the NRC's credibility are the two most important factors for policymaker and public confidence in nuclear energy," NEI president Marvin Fertel said in a statement. "As such, the industry is concerned with anything that threatens the credibility of either."

The NRC is led by five political appointees. Four of the commissioners, two Democrats and two Republicans, have complained to the White House that chairman Gregory Jaczko has overstepped his powers and created a hostile work environment.

The complaint was made public on Friday by Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa asked the White House to explain what it is doing to fix the issues.

Jaczko and the four commissioners were slated to appear at Issa's panel on Wednesday, and before the Senate Environment Committee on Thursday.

"It is important that the dynamics that exist within the commission be resolved professionally and expeditiously so that the important work of the agency can continue without interruption or distraction," Fertel said.

REFORMER OR DICTATOR?

The White House has not commented on the fight, which comes as the NRC crafts a series of sweeping changes to rules for nuclear power plants after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan in March.

Jaczko has waged a public fight to push the NRC to act quickly to force power plants to have more extensive back-up systems for situations where all power has been lost.

The four commissioners -- William Magwood, Kristine Svinicki, William Ostendorff and George Apostolakis -- have sought more extensive reviews and discussions before the changes are made.

Jaczko has garnered support from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- his former boss -- as well as Barbara Boxer, the Democratic head of the Senate Environment committee, and Bernie Sanders, an independent member on the committee.

Edward Markey, a nuclear industry critic and a Democrat in the House of Representatives, praised Jaczko on Monday for his work on post-Fukushima reforms.

"There are four commissioners who do not want to do this, and they are consistent with the tradition of this agency being a lapdog and not a watchdog for nuclear safety for the American public," said Markey, who once employed Jaczko, in an interview on MSNBC.

Issa said Jaczko is a political operative who runs the NRC like a "dictator."

"If the two Democrats on the commission appointed by President Obama, plus two Republicans, one reappointed by President Obama, cannot find any basis to continue working with this chairman, that's an independent agency telling us it's in crisis," Issa said on MSNBC.

Democratic Senator Tom Carper said the disagreements at the agency are not affecting nuclear safety in the United States.

"I am disappointed that the five commissioners - each talented and capable in their own right - have been unable to come together as a cohesive body," Carper said, noting that it's natural for differences of opinion given the weight of the issues the NRC deals with.

(Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson in Washington; Editing by Dale Hudson, Alden Bentley and David Gregorio)

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