May 24, 2012 / 7:32 PM / 7 years ago

Nuclear waste expert tapped as top U.S. nuclear regulator

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday he will nominate Allison Macfarlane, an expert in nuclear waste, to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and plans to name her as the panel’s chairman once she is confirmed by the Senate.

Macfarlane would replace Gregory Jaczko, who announced his resignation on Monday after a contentious term as the top nuclear safety official marked by accusations from his four fellow commissioners that his bad temper had created a hostile work environment.

Macfarlane, who teaches at George Mason University, was a member of a panel of experts named to determine how the United States should dispose of toxic nuclear waste after Obama canceled plans to store it deep in a Nevada mountain. That panel in January recommended ways to overhaul the process for finding a central nuclear waste storage site.

“Dr. Macfarlane understands the role that nuclear power must play in our nation’s energy future while ensuring that we are always taking steps to produce this important energy source safely and securely,” said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman.

Macfarlane will be nominated to serve for the remainder of Jaczko’s term, which ends in June 2013. Her appointment to the commission requires Senate confirmation. Under laws governing the agency, the president then could name her as chairman.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat who has long fought to keep the nuclear waste dump out of his home state of Nevada, said he would work quickly to get Senate approval of Macfarlane’s nomination.

Reid said on Thursday he would pair Macfarlane’s nomination with that of Kristine Svinicki, a Republican commissioner whose term expires in June - a strategy that could help both nominations move more quickly through the often gridlocked Senate.

Reid had said he was opposed to a second term for Svinicki, but Senate Republicans have made her renomination a priority.

The Senate Environmental and Public Works committee will hold a joint confirmation hearing for them in June.

Additional reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Anthony Boadle and Vicki Allen

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