Nuclear waste expert to be named nuclear regulator
WASHINGTON PRESIDENT Barack Obama said on Thursday he will nominate Allison Macfarlane, an expert in nuclear waste, as the nation’s top nuclear safety cop, seeking to turn the page on a period of bitter acrimony at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Macfarlane, a geologist, will face the challenge of making the five-member commission work more collegially as it implements the biggest changes the nuclear power industry has faced in years, reforms sparked by the damage done to Japan’s Fukushima complex by an earthquake and tsunami last year.
She will replace Gregory Jaczko, whose term was marked by accusations from his four fellow commissioners that his bad temper had created a hostile work environment.
But first, Macfarlane, 48, will face tough questions from Republicans who want to revive the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada. Macfarlane has been a critic, writing a book in 2006 about the technical issues at the site called “Uncertainty Underground.” “She’s not anti-nuclear, but she’s certainly not going to take her instructions from the industry,” said Frank von Hippel, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at Princeton who has written academic papers with Macfarlane.
“I’ve argued that the NRC has been subject to regulatory capture.
Allison is certainly not captured by the industry,” he said.
Married to an anthropologist who has studied nuclear weapons scientists and antinuclear activists, Macfarlane is an academic who teaches at George Mason University. She has also worked at Harvard, Georgia Tech and Stanford.
“She’s very objective,” said Albert Carnesale, who worked with Macfarlane on a Blue Ribbon Commission that earlier this year recommended a new national strategy for finding a place to store toxic nuclear waste.
“Even when she has a view, she’s open to changing it, if new evidence or new arguments are presented that would convince her to do so,” said Carnesale, a former chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, and a nuclear engineer.
Her colleagues also describe her as able to work professionally under pressure, an essential asset given reports by the agency’s inspector general and during hearings on Capitol Hill that Jaczko, 41, had made some senior female employees cry.
Jaczko has consistently denied the reports. He told Reuters this week his decision to resign was “not at all” related to the accusations.