Nuclear Leadership Change

The announcement by the Obama administration that it would nominate Allison M. Macfarlane to be the next chairperson of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, just days after current NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko announced he would resign a year before his term was up, strongly suggests that Jaczko was squeezed out and that the administration urgently wants to improve management of the commission. Acceleration of Jaczko's replacement permits the administration to seek joint confirmation of Macfarlane and Kristine L. Svinicki, an incumbent commissioner appointed by President George W. Bush and now re-appointed for a second term by President Obama.

The selection of Macfarlane, a geologist who has specialized in nuclear waste management, may also suggest that the administration wants the NRC to speed up development of a plan for a permanent geologic disposal of spent nuclear fuels. Macfarlane co-edited a book on geological uncertainties affecting the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and she recently served on a blue ribbon panel assessing the country's nuclear future. The absence of a firm plan for long-term disposal of nuclear wastes is widely considered the most important single factor undermining public confidence in nuclear energy management. An associate professor at George Mason University, Macfarlane earned her doctorate at MIT and has held prestigious fellowships at Harvard and Stanford.

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