On Tuesday, July 19, the Globe carried a typically cursory article from AP reporter Matthew Daly, saying NRC chairman Jaczko was urging warp-speed action on new regulations for nuclear power-plants. Two days later Matthew Wald reported in the NY Times that a majority of Dr. Jaczko's fellow commisioners do not agree. [ Split within nuclear regulatory agency, July 21, 2011, at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/21/science/earth/21nuke.html ]

Dr. Jaczko apparently has a disposition as vacant and angry as he looks. Soon after becoming chairman, he was embroiled in agency politics. As described by John Broder and Matthew Wald in the NY Times, the agency's inspector general reported this year that he had excluded other commissioners from access to information and "created a hostile workplace atmosphere." [ Report blasts management style of Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman, June 11, 2011, at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/science/earth/11nuclear.html ]

Unlike Chairman Jaczko, the dissenting commissioners have working, technical backgrounds. Ms. Svinicki and Mr. Ostendorff are engineers, and Mr. Magwood was for many years a research manager in industry and government. Ms. Svinicki is a Walker Bush appointee, while Mr. Ostendorff and Mr. Magwood were appointed by Pres. Obama. However, Mr. Ostendorff is on holdover status. His brief term, to fill a vacancy, expired this June 30.

Chairman Jaczko is running neck-and-neck with Mr. Duncan, the Education secretary, in the fools' race for Pres. Obama's worst appointment. Dr. Jaczko was trained as a research physicist, but he never practiced physics--or anything else, unless pure political wonkery counts for something. He is the nearly perfect mirror-image of the reliable, practically trained and safety-conscious person that the job he holds badly needs.

Look for Chairman Jaczko to arrange a replacement for Commissioner Ostendorff, with whom he is clearly on bad terms. The July 21 NY Times article quotes Mr. Ostendorff, saying, "I personally do not believe that our existing regulatory framework is broken."

Nuclear power is an extremely expensive, very long-term technology development. Political influences, including those that Chairman Jaczko represents, have a poor record at managing it. Perhaps the best illustration is hasty political maneuvers that closed the door in 1987 on alternatives to Yucca Mountain as the site of a nuclear waste repository, before that site had been thoroughly explored.

Now we know the Yucca Mountain site has corrosive water percolation and a history of violent earthquakes and massive flooding, yet we have spent near $10 billion equipping it in ways that are impractical. Hasty actions on nuclear power regulations have similar potential to bring harms rather than benefits.