A New Era for the NRC

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Allison Macfarlane as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's new chair, replacing the embattled Gregory Jaczko.

The transition that is installing a new chair at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission moved faster than many observers expected. The U.S. Senate on June 29 confirmed Allison Macfarlane as NRC's new chair and also confirmed Commissioner Kristine Svinicki to another five-year term. Macfarlane, a geologist and George Mason University associate professor of environmental science and policy, replaces Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who has served on the commission for more than seven years and announced May 21 he would resign, once his successor was confirmed. Jaczko was criticized for a domineering and abusive management style.

Media reports indicate Macfarlane questions the viability of the Yucca Mountain, Nevada site to store spent fuel and nuclear waste. Jaczko had been an aide to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who opposes using the site for nuclear waste storage, prior to joining the commission. Senate Majority Leader Reid issued a statement after Macfarlane's confirmation saying she is a good choice as chair and thanking Jaczko "for his steadfast commitment to the safety and security of our nation's nuclear facilities," adding, "his leadership during the Fukushima nuclear crisis was instrumental in ensuring our nation's safety in the wake of that disaster. He has served our nation honorably."

Some observers expected months to pass before a replacement chairman could be confirmed, but President Obama nominated Macfarlane on May 24 and she was confirmed little more than a month later. He renominated Svinicki on May 8 for a second term.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents companies participating in the industry, congratulated both. "These are important and challenging times with regard to America's energy policies and its future energy security," NEI President/CEO Marvin Fertel said in a June 29 statement. "As our economy emerges from its current duress, businesses and manufacturing facilities will need reliable supplies of affordable electricity that nuclear energy facilities generate. The safe and efficient operation of existing nuclear facilities and expansion of the industry require that the NRC be an effective, credible regulator and that the agency achieves its mission through a regulatory philosophy that is both safety-focused and disciplined."

During Jaczko's tenure as chairman, the commission has implemented safety recommendations from its Japan Near-Term Task Force and has approved the first new U.S. reactor licenses in more than three decades. He points out the agency also has begun a transition to a new fire protection standard at nuclear power plants.

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