US President Barack Obama [official website] announced [press release] Thursday that he will nominate Dr. Allison Macfarlane [official profile] as the new head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) [official website]. Macfarlane is known as an advocate for safe nuclear waste removal and is notably opposed to the Yucca Mountain project [EPA backgrounder]. This project intended to build the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository deep within the Nevada mountain range as a storage facility for used nuclear reactor fuel and radioactive waste. However, the project was canceled in 2009 and what remained of its budget was slashed in 2011 by the Obama administration. The Yucca Mountain project has been the only prospective plan put forward to contain nuclear waste should the US move toward nuclear power. Although Macfarlane has not been described as anti-nuclear power, it is believed her opposition to the Yucca Mountain project may cause pushback to her confirmation [Reuters report] in the Senate. However, several entities have praised her nomination, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Nuclear Energy Institute and Nevada Senator Harry Reid (D) [press releases].
Last July, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed a case brought by Washington state, South Carolina and other local governments challenging the Depart of Energy (DOE) failure to proceed with the Yucca Mountain project [JURIST report]. The plaintiffs, responsible for the temporary storage of nuclear waste, challenged both a decision of the DOE to withdraw its application from the NRC for Yucca Mountain and its apparent abandonment of that project. The nuclear repository was not welcomed by Nevada government officials, who had been mounting challenges against the site since Congress approved government plans to construct the facility in 2002. Government officials fear that the repository, which will be located 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, will negatively effect the city's $28 billion tourism industry. The application for the repository had been pending since 2008 when it was filed by former president George W. Bush. The repository was approved by Congress in 1987 to contain highly toxic waste from nuclear complexes that built atomic bombs during the Cold War.