Brushing off recent biting criticism of her colleagues, the new chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told reporters on Tuesday morning that she’ll ignore outside distractions and focus on key challenges facing the agency, chief among them pressing lawmakers to find an acceptable spot to store nuclear waste for the long term.
Allison Macfarlane, who took over as commission chairwoman last month, said her first few weeks on the job have left her with positive impressions of her peers, though she would not directly address recent comments from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who dubbed Ms. Marfarlane’s fellow NRC member William Magwood “a first-class rat” and a “miserable liar.”
“The agency had no reaction [to Mr. Reid’s comments]. I’ve heard nobody discuss it. I think that speaks to the strength of the agency that we’re focused on the mission and not distracted by outside events,” she said during a question-and-answer session at the National Press Club in Washington. “I have some strong initial impressions of the agency. I’ve been very impressed with the staff and their dedication to safety and their willingness to stand up to the industry when a situation is not safe. … They take their role as regulators very seriously.”
Mr. Reid’s disparaging comments toward Mr. Magwood, offered during an interview with the Huffington Post, stemmed from the commissioner’s support for the controversial nuclear repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a proposal Mr. Reid long has opposed. Mr. Magwood also went out of his way, Mr. Reid alleged, to embarrass and discredit former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko.
Pressed on the inner workings of the NRC and the relationships between its members, as well as their dealings and conversations with Capitol Hill leaders such as Mr. Reid, Ms. Marfarlane wouldn’t take the bait. She said only that the commission must be a “collegial” body open to debate and opposing views.
But Mr. Reid’s comments likely are the least of Ms. Macfarlane’s concerns. Last week, the NRC said it would halt all new nuclear power plant licensing amid environmental concerns with the storage of spent nuclear fuel, an issue thrust into the spotlight after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima facility.
“We need a repository for high-level nuclear waste, let me be clear about that. Every country needs a repository for its high-level nuclear waste,” she said, but added that it’s up to Congress and the Obama administration to determine where that site should be.