Both Reid and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. — who will lead confirmation hearings on Jaczko's successor — issued statements on Monday calling for a new chairman with the same concerns about nuclear safety as Jaczko. That would seem to disqualify the other four commissioners, who have lined up against Jaczko on virtually every major issue to come before the NRC in the past six months.
"I am confident whomever replaces Chairman Jaczko will share his commitment to protecting the safety of the American people over the interests of a single industry," Reid said. The Nevada Democrat's statement continued: "This is an opportunity for the nuclear industry to demonstrate its commitment to public safety by supporting a chairperson who puts the safety of American citizens first."
Jaczko had support on Capitol Hill among those who found him to be an aggressive watchdog. For instance, Boxer's statement praised his tenure: "I thank Chairman Jaczko for always fighting for the health and safety of the American people. "¦ I look forward to the president's nomination of a successor that will carry the same level of concern in this post-Fukushima era."
Not surprisingly, the White House said on Monday that it will nominate a replacement for Jaczko soon, but aides would give no indication of who might be in line for the post.
One Republican lobbyist on energy issues said the president might well be looking for an appointee short on personality but long on scientific integrity.
"These guys aren't supposed to make news. These guys are supposed to drone you to sleep," said Mike McKenna, a lobbyist for MWR Strategies who has close ties to GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Some reports have suggested that the next chairman could be Magwood, the Democratic commissioner seen as a chief instigator of last year's upheaval at NRC, but McKenna and others argue that he won't be Obama's pick due to his criticism of Jaczko.
Still, if the next chairman were to come from within the commission, Magwood would be the logical choice, said one Republican congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. Magwood's name has been on the tip of everybody's tongue since Jaczko's announcement on Monday morning, the aide said.
Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., would like to see a current NRC member elevated to the role of chairman. "We have good talent inside the commission," he said.
Inhofe said he had no idea what led to the timing of chairman's decision. "Jaczko and I have had our differences in the past," he said. "But I don't know what precipitated his leaving. I honestly don't. I was surprised to find out."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, expressed her hope that the vacant slot will be filled quickly. "My goal is to not have holes on the commission that would have an impact on their efficacy," she said. "We need them to work."