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Obama nominates new nuclear safety chief

Moving quickly to stem a controversy, President Obama on Thursday nominated an expert on nuclear waste to lead the federal agency that regulates the nation's nuclear power plants.

Allison Macfarlane, who served on a presidential commission that studied new strategies to manage nuclear waste, would replace Gregory Jaczko as head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Jaczko announced his resignation Monday after a tumultuous three-year tenure in which he pushed for sweeping safety reforms but came under fire for an unyielding management style that fellow commissioners and agency employees described as bullying.

A White House spokesman said Obama believes Macfarlane is the right person to lead the commission, calling her a highly regarded expert who has spent years analyzing nuclear issues.

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," White House spokesman Clark Stevens said.

Macfarlane, an associate professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., wrote a book in 2006 that raised technical questions about a proposed nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is the leading congressional opponent of the Yucca site, praised Macfarlane as someone who will make nuclear safety a top priority.

Macfarlane's education and experience, especially her service on the blue ribbon commission on nuclear waste, make her qualified to lead the NRC "for the foreseeable future," Reid said in a statement.

Reid said he continues to have concerns about Republican Kristine Svinicki, who has been nominated by Obama for a new term on the commission, but added that he believes Svinicki and Macfarlane should be considered together, continuing a recent Senate tradition of considering NRC nominees from opposing parties at the same time.