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  • There's More to the Story on Obama's Pick for America's Top Nuclear Regulator

    Last week, President Barack Obama announced that he would nominate Dr. Allison Macfarlane, a nuclear waste expert from George Mason University, as the United States’ top nuclear regulator.

    Conventional wisdom is that Dr. Macfarlane satisfies all the major political interests involved with the NRC decision.  She is a vocal opponent of Yucca Mountain. Harry Reid, check. She is on board with many of the post-Fukushima safety reforms. EPW Chair Barbara Boxer, check. And she is pro-nuclear, Senate Republicans, check.  Tying this all nicely together is that fact that she served on the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future and is a generally respected nuclear expert.

    But here is the rub from my perspective.  Being a good regulator should have nothing to do with one’s previously held policy or political positions.  This is where Chairman Jaczko went wrong.  Everyone knew coming in that he was anti-Yucca, and many believed that he was anti-nuclear.  Those positions, in and of themselves, should not have impacted his work as the nation’s lead nuclear regulator.  His job should have been to carry out the mission of the NRC, which essentially is to ensure that all of the nuclear activities that fall under NRC jurisdiction are carried out safely.  The problem came when he apparently allowed his previously held positions get in the way of that duty. This was most apparent in the Yucca debacle.  It may have surfaced more generally as well.


    This problem can be just as detrimental from a pro-nuclear or pro-Yucca standpoint.  These “pro” positions should have no influence on the decisions that any of the NRC commissioners make, much less the chairman.  In Yucca terms, that means reviewing the DOE’s application per the law and his responsibility as Chairman of the NRC.  If the application passes muster, then the NRC can issue the permit. If it does not, then it should not.

    This then puts the political aspects of nuclear power back where it should be: with politicians. Once the permit passes the NRC, then the bureaucrats and politicians can fight over what to do with it.  Those decisions should lie outside of the NRC.

    The question regarding Dr. Macfarlane is whether she can withstand the immense pressure that she will surely feel, directly and indirectly, and put her pro-nuclear and anti-Yucca policy positions to the side and simply be a good, apolitical and neutral regulator.

    That is what should always be the goal for any NRC commissioner. But in the wake of the Jaczko Chairmanship, it may be more important that ever.”

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to There's More to the Story on Obama's Pick for America's Top Nuclear Regulator

    1. Bobbie says:

      too many special interests are destroying this country and the president supports them all in the positions he assigns them. "Nuclear waste expert?" Expert in nuclear waste, wasting nuclear?

      How about a pick for efficiency and necessary regulator which waste and the disposal of includes, uninfluenced by politics and special interests entwined? Politics is a conflict of interest regarding matters that effect significant aspects of America. The president made a bias pick that fills every area he wants to collapse with one area easy to manipulate his favor. Kind of a "yes sir" "no sir" expert puppet who would work "the wrong" at the behest of the president!!!!

    2. Guest says:

      Good points from Jack Spencer. But I would like to have liked to see some critical evaluation of Macfarlane's alleged statement that she is a "nuclear agnostic" What exactly does that mean to her? I'd like to know. If she means she doesn't believe in the "nuclear renaissance" as hyped, okay, that point is arguable. But if she means she isn't sure whether she believes in commercial nuclear power, that is certainly not "pro-nuclear".

    3. Geological scientist says:

      I cannot believe that any good scientist could be opposed to the Yucca Mountain nuclear wast site. It is the most researched and evaluated piece of real estate on the planet. The USGS began investigating potential waste disposal sites in 1957 – out of dozens of possible sites they chose 10 for further investigation. Came down to 3 – 1 in eastern Washington, 1 in Dead Smith Co. (TX), and the Yucca Mt. site in Nevada. Yucca mountain fulfilled all of the requirements, and has been studied, re-studied, and re-re-studied for more than 50 years. Obviously, political ignorance will again be compunded by STUPIDITY!
      To hell with geological and geolphysical scientific studies – politicans know best. Forget REASON!
      See my blog – http://energycrisis12.blogspot.com. There are several blogs in the archives that address this issue in detail. Also, my rescently published e-book – The Sky Will NOT Fall – Unmasking the Gren Revolution. (Amazon, Barnes & Noble).

    4. Lloyd Scallan says:

      Anyone Obama chooses for any government position must have the same ideology as his, otherwise they would never be considered. How much more proof must we have? Haven't all of his Czars not proven that yet?

    5. Geological scientist says:

      Dr. Macfarlane claims there are unresolved issues regarding the Yucca Moutain storage site. I am curious as to what her involvment has been in the studies that have been performed by the USGS over more than 50 years. I am not talking about consensus, I am talking about the basis for her SCIENTIFIC OPINION as a geologist regarding the unresolved issues. Dr. Chip Groat, former Director of the USGS, seems to feel the USGS resolved all issues related to SAFE storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.
      Nothing in the universe is perfect, but Yucca Mountain is one helluva lot safer than storage at the nuclear facilites, where we have run out of space and resorted to concrete steel casks.
      I respect the degree of PhD in Geology, but I have also observed that a PhD can create ideologues, too.
      See my blog: http://energycrisis12.blogspot.com. My recently published e-book – The Sky Will NOt Fall – Unmasking the Green Revolution (Amazon, Barnes & Noble). Nuclear energy and waste is addressed in both the blogs and the book.

    6. John Rich says:

      Allison Macfarlane appears to be a more presentable and polite version of Jaczko; she is every bit as anti-nuclear.

      The proud noises coming from Harry Reid, Ed Markey, and the Union of Concerned Scientists should put to rest any notion that she is pro-nuclear.

      One thing that has become clear over the Yucca Mountain's sorry history as a political football is that nuclear waste would be far safer and more secure were it located there. As against where it is now: distributed at dozens of reactor sites around the nation.

      Allison Macfarlane, were she truly an advocate of safety, would be a supporter of Yucca. That she is not says, at least to me, that she puts politics ahead of engineering and science. As is the case of the president, Reid, Markey, and all those who are attempting to kill nuclear power.

    7. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      He's a friend of Harry Reid's. That's enough to disqualify him.

    8. DJH says:

      Mr. Obama, who continually talks about the need to stop passing the buck, continues to kick the energy can down the road; for the pipeline (except the piece that connects to Canada), for coal (as long as it’s too expensive to build), for new nuclear (as long as they never get licensed – oh and we’re reneging on those guaranteed loans), and for oil (as long as it’s being pumped in Brazil). To close Yucca and then initiate legislation to identify new regional waste sites is just one more shell game. To kill Yucca after 50 yrs of analysis certainly establishes that there isn’t a piece of real estate in the United States that will pass muster for a regional waste site. So, we continue to stack spent fuel in concrete casks on open pads that have only been analyzed for 20 years and pile medical radwastes in warehouses all over the country. All the while we’re being told by the Dr. Mcfarlanes that this is SAFER than putting the waste underground in retrievable storage in a facility where analysis says it’s safe for tens of thousands of years. Is anyone out there with any sense buying this?

    9. Scott Denman says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful commentary, Jack. Now, what about Svinicki? Shouldn't she be cut from the same neutral regulator fabric as you suggest for MacFarlane? Her opposition to the reasonable and prudent post-Fukushima, NRC-staff recommended, improved reactor safety regs suggests she is anything but a neutral regulator. I wonder why you did not address her nomination as well. After all it's paired up for Senate consideration along with MacFarlane. I can't imagine you would support a double-standard for a nominee who has demonstrated less interest in safety and more commitment to reviving this marketplace-challenged industry.

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