Deal made to advance disputed nominees to nuclear commission

Evan Cantwell/AP
In a hearing the chairman described as “civil,” a Senate panel on Wednesday appeared to achieve a consensus on confirming two nominees for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has been plagued by infighting and whose lightning rod chairman Gregory Jaczko is stepping down.

George Mason University geologist and nuclear waste expert Allison MacFarlane, President Obama’s pick, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, along with current commissioner Kristine Svinicki, who has been renominated. Senators from both parties agreed to look beyond any nuclear safety policy objections and move the nominations toward a floor vote.

“It is 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,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in his opening statement. He elicited a promise from MacFarlane that she would not interfere with communication among commission members, noting NRC “collegiality has been tarnished in recent years.”

Committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told Svinicki that she would not vote for her because Svinicki “lacked candor” about her involvement in policy discussions about the proposed nuclear waste storage site in Yucca Mountain, Nev., and issues that affect California. But Boxer agreed to move the two nominations forward after getting a commitment from both to answer all committee questions and document requests in the future. “I hope the commission can get off in a new direction,” Boxer said. “Go out after work to have a beer or soda. Could be tea or coffee! You get my point.”

She told MacFarlane, “You’re walking into a tough situation, but I sense in you the ability to bring people together.”

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