Obama Taps Nuclear “Agnostic” for Top Regulatory Post

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/m-i-k-e/6541560787/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Michael Kappel</a>/Flickr

Politico reports that President Obama will nominate Allison Macfarlane to serve as the new chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The current chairman, Greg Jaczko, resigned on Monday under pressure from panel members more sympathetic to the nuclear industry.

Mcfarlane is an associate professor of Environmental Policy and Social Sciences at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She has a PhD in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and wrote a book about the challenges of nuclear waste disposal, Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation’s High-Level Nuclear Waste. She is currently a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on the future of nuclear that Energy Secretary Steven Chu created in 2010.

Given the pressure put on Jaczko, one has to wonder if Macfarlane will make it through Senate confirmation. She’s been highly critical of using Yucca Mountain to dispose of nuclear waste, a favorite issue for the industry and supporters in Congress. And she says she’s an “agnostic” on nuclear energy, as she described on the Atomic Show podcast in 2007:

In terms of nuclear energy, I would describe myself as an agnostic. I’m neither pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear. I think nuclear has been doing a good job in the United states and some other industrial countries at providing a good, reliable energy, and they’ve been improving on that. At the same time, I think I think in terms of an expansion in nuclear power over the next 50 years or something, nuclear has lot of liabilities and I don’t know if it can get over them.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader (and vocal Yucca critic) Harry Reid indicated that he would seek to move her confirmation forward alongside the reconfirmation of current commissioner Kristine Svinicki. Reid has expressed “grave concerns” about reappointing Svinicki, but seemed to indicate that perhaps there could be agreement on moving the two forward together. “The nuclear industry has a perfect opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to safety by supporting Dr. Macfarlane’s nomination,” said Reid.


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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.