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.



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