Controversial NRC Pick Sails

William Magwood, Barack Obama’s controversial pick to serve on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a member of our list of worst nominees, was supposed to spend some time in the hot seat during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. But the members of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee barely questioned Magwood about his lengthy resume working for nuclear interests and how that history would affect his ability to regulate the industry.

Magwood served as the head of the Office of Nuclear Energy within the Department of Energy from 1998 to 2005. But as I wrote when Magwood was nominated, he has also worked for Westinghouse, which makes nuclear reactors and has big business before the NRC. He has also worked as a private consultant for nuclear interests. The Project on Government Oversight, as well as other anti-nuclear and environmental groups, say Magwood’s boosterism for nuclear power should disqualify him from overseeing the industry.

One of the only senators to question Magwood directly about his work to promote nuclear power was the committee’s chair, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). But it wasn’t exactly what you would call a grilling.

“It is my firm opinion that the best service to the country and to the nuclear industry is to set a very, very high standard for safety and to do so in a way that the public has a great deal of confidence,” Magwood responded. He also told Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that he did not see any potential conflicts of interest over proposals expected to come before the NRC. No-one pressed him further.

Magwood and fellow Nuclear Regulatory Commission nominees George Apostolakis and William Ostendorff received hearty endorsement from both Republican and Democratic members of the panel. “It would be difficult for the president to find three better nominees,” said Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Even the panel’s more liberal members were equally enthusiastic about the nominees and their role in heralding a nuclear revival. “I’m a proponent of nuclear power,” said Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “I believe we stand on the cusp of a nuclear renaissance.”

Boxer said their nominations are expected to move forward later this month.


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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.