The recent resignation of Dr. Jaczko as NRC chair provided a striking opportunity for Pres. Obama to move away from the personal rancor that has clouded the agency's board. He reacted with alacrity, nominating academic geologist Allison MacFarlane for the position a few days later.

[ Roberta Rampton, Reuters, Dogged by 'bully' charge, nuclear chief Jaczko resigns, Yahoo News, May 21, 2012, at http://news.yahoo.com/nuclear-regulatory-chief-jaczko-resigns-143854586.html ]
[ Matthew Daly, Associated Press, Obama taps Yucca Mountain critic to lead nuclear agency, WTOP (Washington, DC), May 25, 2012, at http://www.wtop.com/931/2664371/Obama-taps-Yucca-Mtn-critic-to-lead-nuclear-agency ]

Winning the position as NRC chair could be a strong career move for Prof. MacFarlane, possibly leading to a faculty position at a more prominent institution. For now, she would be able to carry out duties of the job from her current home in Bethesda, MD. After earning a PhD in geology from MIT twenty years ago, she moved from postdoc to junior faculty at Georgia Tech to visiting fellow at three institutions, most recently at Harvard, and currently to tenured faculty at George Mason.

Nuclear issues run in the family. In 2000, Prof. MacFarlane married Prof. Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist also at George Mason, originally from Britain, who has made a career out of documenting the nuclear weapons cultures at Livermore and Los Alamos. [Nuclear Rites, U. Calif. Press, 1996, and People of the Bomb, U. Minn. Press 2004]

[ Unattributed, Dilemma resolved, nuclear author can move on with book, The Independent 47(33):1,9 (Livermore, CA), August 19, 2010, at http://independentnews.com/app/pdf/08-19-2010.pdf ]
[ Claudia Dreifus, Finding rich fodder in nuclear scientists, New York Times, May 21, 2002, at http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/21/science/a-conversation-with-hugh-gusterson-finding-rich-fodder-in-nuclear-scientists.html ]

Prof. MacFarlane has chosen a difficult career for an academic: one in which almost all primary research is conducted at government-run facilities. Her publications are by nature derivative, summarizing research performed by others. A single book, edited with Prof. Rodney C. Ewing of the University of Michigan, is an assembly of journal articles, mostly written by others. [Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation's High-Level Nuclear Waste, MIT Press, 2006]

[ Rodney C. Ewing and Allison MacFarlane, Nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Science 296(5568):659-660, 2002, at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/296/5568/659.full ]

If Prof. MacFarlane's nomination is confirmed along with Pres. Obama's renomination of Kristine Svinicki, the NRC board will continue to be run by policy wonks rather than working engineers, business people or research scientists. Only Prof. George Apostolakis, a researcher at MIT, departs in some ways from what now appears to be an entrenched pattern.