Allison MacFarlane’s Nomination to Nuclear Panel Advances

Posted June 21, 2012 at 3:13pm

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today approved President Barack Obama’s nomination of Allison Macfarlane to head the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The panel also approved the nomination of GOP pick Kristine Svinicki for a second term on the commission. The nominations will now go to the Senate for consideration.

Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a release that she was pleased to vote in favor of Macfarlane, but could not support Svinicki.

“I am pleased that the committee approved the president’s nominee, Dr. Macfarlane, because she brings the critical experience, intelligence, scientific background and integrity that we need in the NRC Chairman,” Boxer said.

Macfarlane, a geologist, will take over from outgoing Chairman Gregory Jaczko.

Jaczko announced his resignation last month after being accused by the four other commissioners of the bipartisan agency of having a heavy-handed management style — a state of affairs, his detractors contend, that disrupted the NRC’s ability to complete its nuclear-safety mission.

At a hearing last week, Boxer said that Macfarlane was the right person to take over after the NRC’s difficult period that marked Jaczko’s tenure as chairman.

Macfarlane also has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in part because of her opposition to building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev. Macfarlane has said that the location is not geologically suitable, and Reid has been a leading opponent of the project, pledging to kill it. Jaczko, a former Reid staffer, also opposed the project.

Regarding Svinicki, Boxer said, “I could not support Commissioner Svinicki’s re-nomination because I do not believe that she has demonstrated the commitment to safety that the American people have a right to expect in this post-Fukushima era,”

Boxer’s reference is to last year’s nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant in Japan, where a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami disabled the cooling systems of nuclear reactors causing meltdowns and radiation leaks.

Boxer also opposed Svinicki in part because she believes that Svinicki was not forthcoming in 2007 about whether she worked on the Yucca project during the confirmation process for her first term.

At a hearing last week, Boxer raised concerns about Svinicki’s correspondence with the committee regarding the troubled steam generators at the San Onofre, Calif., nuclear power plant. An investigation into tube damage there has kept the reactors offline for months.

Boxer claims that in an NRC letter to the committee, Svinicki crossed out a paragraph suggesting the NRC review the design changes to the plant, which environmentalists charge were the cause of the plant’s problems.

Svinicki said she believed that a review of the issue was already underway.

Boxer said that Svinicki could have been clearer in the correspondence.

“Its another one of those examples of my being extremely disappointed in the way you answer me, and it goes back to Yucca,” Boxer said. “It’s one of the reasons I am not supporting your re-nomination.”