Macfarlane Confirmed by U.S. Senate to Lead Nuclear Regulator

The U.S. Senate confirmed Allison Macfarlane to lead the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as it grapples with aging reactors, long-term atomic waste disposal and a response to last year’s disaster in Japan.

Macfarlane, a geologist and environmental science professor, will succeed Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who quit after colleagues criticized his management style and accused him of verbally abusing female employees. Confirmation was by unanimous consent today.

She will take over a 4,000-employee agency as it considers issues including how to store spent nuclear fuel and safety rules implemented after the 2011 triple-meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. The commission this year gave Southern Co. of Atlanta and Scana Corp. of Cayce, South Carolina, the first U.S. nuclear-plant construction permits in more than 30 years. Jaczko had opposed issuing the licenses.

“We’ve always believed that we need a full commission at the NRC, that’s the most effective,” Adrian Heymer, an executive director for Fukushima response coordination at the Nuclear Energy Institute, told reporters. “The very fact that the administration moved quickly on that to ensure that we maintain a full commission I think is positive.

Senate also confirmed Kristine Svinicki, who joined the panel during Republican President George W. Bush’s administration, for a second term. Lawmakers agreed to support both of President Barack Obama’s nominees together, to ensure the five-person panel has a full complement of members.

Boxer, Svinicki

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California, chairman of the committee overseeing the agency, opposed Svinicki’s re-nomination, citing what she called contradictory statements made to the panel related to her involvement in Yucca Mountain, the federal atomic-waste dump site in Nevada. Republicans have said Macfarlane, a member of the U.S. panel considering waste-storage options, lacks management experience.

‘‘It is my hope that Dr. Macfarlane can rectify the crisis of leadership of her predecessor and begin a much more collegial chapter at the NRC,” said Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

NRC employees “perceived” the behavior of Jaczko as “intimidating and bullying,” according to a report from the agency’s inspector general, obtained today by Bloomberg News.

While the watchdog found that Jaczko’s December 2011 testimonies before the Congress were inconsistent with statements provided by NRC senior officials to the inspector general, the matter doesn’t warrant prosecution, the watchdog said, citing consultations with the Justice Department.

Macfarlane still must complete her appointment paperwork, including a letter designating her as chairman signed by Obama before she starts work, according to Eliot Brenner, an NRC spokesman.

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