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Harry Reid Proposes Deal to Install Anti-Yucca NRC Chair

Updated: 10:25 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today proposed a deal to Republicans that would install another top opponent of the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste site as head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Allison Macfarlane, a geologist who has said the Yucca site is not suitable for nuclear waste, was nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the post this afternoon. She would replace Gregory Jaczko, a former Reid aide who also opposes Yucca and who announced his resignation earlier this week. Jaczko conditioned his resignation the Senate confirming his successor.

Reid, who has spent years trying to kill the Yucca Mountain project, suggested pairing Macfarlane’s confirmation with that of Kristine Svinicki a current NRC commissioner who has supported Yucca. The Nevada Democrat strongly opposes Svinicki and has accused her of lying to the Senate.

“I am confident that like her predecessor, Dr. Allison Macfarlane will make preserving the safety and security of American citizens her top priority as Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Reid said in a statement that came just minutes after the White House announcement.

“Dr. Macfarlane’s education and experience, in particular her service on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, make her eminently qualified to lead the NRC for the foreseeable future. The nuclear industry has a perfect opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to safety by supporting Dr. Macfarlane’s nomination.”

Reid said he was willing to overlook “grave concerns” about Svinicki and is willing to let her keep her post to get Macfarlane on the commission.

“I believe the best interests of the public would be served by moving the nominations of Dr. Macfarlane and Ms. Svinicki together before Ms. Svinicki’s term expires at the end of June, to ensure that we have a fully functioning NRC,” Reid said. “Republicans claim to share that goal, and I hope they will work with us to make it a reality.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a backer of Yucca, wasn’t immediately sold.

“I think that might be an unfair bargain,” he said, wondering if Reid felt the GOP had just fallen “off the turnip truck.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly called for the Senate to take up Svinicki’s nomination, and he has accused Reid of opposing her because she was one of the current commissioners who accused Jaczko of abusive behavior at the agency.

But with Jaczko refusing to leave until his replacement is installed, and Svinicki’s term expiring, the GOP’s leverage may be limited.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, seemed inclined to accept Reid’s deal today. “I think Reid did a good job putting this together,” he said, although he stopped just short of endorsing the swap. “I want to get Svinicki back in there,” he said.

And Macfarlane picked up the endorsement today of a nuclear energy industry group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, which urged that both she and Svinicki be confirmed quickly.

“The nuclear energy industry congratulates professor Macfarlane on her selection by the president,” said the institute’s president and CEO, Marvin Fertel. “She has been an active contributor to policy debates in the nuclear energy field for many years.”

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