Senate Republicans Press NRC Chief-Designee on Management Skills

U.S. Senate Republicans questioned Allison Macfarlane’s skills to lead the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, citing a lack of experience that would prepare her to run an agency with 4,000 employees.

Macfarlane, a 48-year-old geologist, pledged in testimony today to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to be collegial if confirmed to replace Gregory Jaczko, who is quitting after colleagues accused him of bullying the staff.

“It’s my hope that Dr. Macfarlane can step in to be a valuable member of the commission, although I have some concerns about her lack of management and nuclear-safety experience,” Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, top Republican on the committee, said today at a confirmation hearing.

The agency has been split in the past year, with Jackzo frequently voting against the four commissioners on issues such as licensing new reactor construction and standards responding to the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima in 2011. The NRC watchdog faulted Jaczko for limiting the commissioners’ decision-making power and withholding information.

Criticism of Macfarlane has been muted as committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, combined the hearing for Macfarlane with consideration of the renomination of Commissioner Kristine Svinicki, who joined the panel in 2008 during George W. Bush’s administration. Jaczko announced his resignation on May 21.

Open, Transparent

Macfarlane, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia, pledged to be open and transparent in running the agency that oversees 104 U.S. commercial reactors.

“I will devote all my energies to serving on the NRC with the attributes that I consider important to good governance -- openness, efficiency and transparency,” said said in her testimony. “I will make a strong commitment to collegiality at all levels.”

Boxer criticized Svinicki today for withholding information about her involvement in the analysis of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, and cited two letters from unidentified “concerned Americans” that oppose her renomination because of her opposition to safety measures.

Senator Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent, called Svinicki an advocate for the nuclear-power industry when he said commissioners should be neither an advocate nor an opponent of atomic power.

Democrats and Republicans on the committee expressed interest in moving promptly through the nomination process to have a complete and functional commission as soon as possible.

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