Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Who Is Allison Macfarlane?

Monday, June 11, 2012
In the wake of the May 21st resignation of Gregory Jaczko as chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), President Obama moved quickly to nominate a replacement on May 24, tapping geologist and nuclear waste disposal expert Allison M. Macfarlane. The NRC is responsible for regulating the nuclear power industry, and is composed of five members, at least two of whom must be from a different political party than the other three, which ensures that the NRC is always divided 3-2 between Democrats and Republicans. Although the president has experienced difficulties getting his nominees confirmed by the Senate, his May 8th nomination of Republican Kristine Svinicki for a second term on the NRC may allow the Senate to compromise by confirming both nominees. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), who is chair of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, has set joint confirmation hearings for Macfarlane and Svinicki for Wednesday morning.
 
Born circa 1964, Allison Macfarlane earned a B.Sc. in Geological Sciences at the University of Rochester in 1987 and a Ph.D. in Geology at MIT in 1992, with a doctoral thesis titled, “The tectonic evolution of the core of the Himalaya, Langtang National Park, Central Nepal.” Pursuing a career as an academic scientist, Macfarlane’s research focuses on environmental policy and international security issues associated with nuclear energy, especially the as yet unsolved issue of what to do with nuclear waste, which is highly toxic. In 2006, MIT Press published the book she co-edited, Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation’s High-Level Nuclear Waste, which strongly criticized a plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The paln was in fact cancelled by the Obama administration in 2009, much to the delight of Nevada Senator Harry Reid (Dem.), who led the fight against the facility.
 
Macfarlane was a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation from 1997 to 1998. From 1998 to 2000, she was a Social Science Research Council–MacArthur Foundation fellow in International Peace and Security, and simultaneously a fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. From 1999 to 2001 she served on a National Academy of Sciences panel on spent nuclear fuel and excess weapons plutonium disposition. She worked as a research associate at MIT from 2000 to 2003 and 2004 to 2006, and as an associate professor of International Affairs and Earth & Atmospheric Science at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia, from 2003 to 2004. She is currently an associate professor of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where she has worked since 2006.
 
This is not Macfarlane’s first appointment by Obama, as she was a member of the White House’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future from March 2010 to January 2012.
 
She has been chair of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 2008, and also serves on the Keystone Center’s Energy Board.
 
Macfarlane is married to Hugh Gusterson, a professor of Anthropology at George Mason University, with whom she has two children.
-Matt Bewig
 
Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States (by Robert Alvarez, Allison Macfarlane, et al., Science and Global Security)(pdf)
Life after Yucca Mountain (by David Talbot, Technology Review)
All Weapons of Mass Destruction Are Not Equal (by Allison Macfarlane, Audit of the Conventional Wisdom) (pdf)

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