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NRC chair rejects call to recuse from Yucca case

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Allison Macfarlane, said Monday she intends to take part in decision-making on the Yucca Mountain project, rejecting a call that she recuse herself.

Attorneys for Nevada’s Nye County, which supports revival of the nuclear waste site, had requested Macfarlane step aside from weighing a Yucca Mountain license. They cited her previous writings and public statements as a geologist and college professor in which she expressed skepticism about the site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

In a 14-page response, Macfarlane said: “I can state unequivocally that I have not reached any conclusions and I have an open mind. ”

Macfarlane, who was Senate-confirmed to the NRC last year and reconfirmed this summer, said her role as a scientist was intended to spark debate and further research. As a regulator, her job is to review all positions and determine whether a license would satisfy legal safety regulations.

On that count, Macfarlane said, she has not looked at the site’s license application, NRC staff work conducted so far, nor the NRC rules that would govern the agency’s decision-making.

“One of my most important duties as a member of the commission is to ensure that our adjudicatory process is conducted fairly and impartially, and I am fully committed to fulfilling that duty — I owe the public no less,” she said.

Macfarlane issued her decision the night before she was scheduled to testify before a U.S. House committee on how the NRC was responding to a court order to resume license proceedings for the proposed nuclear waste site.

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