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Nuclear waste expert to be appointed head of US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

25 May 2012

President Barack Obama is nominating Allison Macfarlane, an associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University in Virginia and member of a panel studying the disposal of atomic waste, to lead the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She will replace current Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who is resigning early.

Allison Macfarlane will head up the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Allison Macfarlane will head up the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

After the announcement, Macfarlane was praised by Democratic lawmakers and congratulated by the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the industry.

She will have the task of making the five-member commission work together as it implements the biggest changes the nuclear power industry has faced in years, reforms sparked by the damage done to Japan's Fukushima complex by an earthquake and tsunami last year.

She will replace Gregory Jaczko, whose term was marked by accusations from his four fellow commissioners that his temper and behaviour had created a hostile work environment. He has denied his decision to resign a year before the official end of his term of office is related to these accusations.

Before her appointment, Macfarlane, will face tough questions from Republicans who want to revive the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada. Macfarlane has been a critic, writing a book in 2006 about the technical issues at the site called "Uncertainty Underground."

Republicans on the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee criticised Macfarlane's nomination in a statement, calling her an "anti-nuclear activist" for her criticism of Yucca.

Many are still angry that Obama shut down plans for Yucca Mountain, which Congress designated for nuclear waste by law.

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