Allison Macfarlane

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Allison M. Macfarlane
Chairman Allison M. Macfarlane.jpg
Chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
In office
July 9, 2012 – December 31, 2014
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byGregory Jaczko
Succeeded byStephen G. Burns
Personal details
Borncirca 1964
Alma materUniversity of Rochester
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Allison M. Macfarlane directs the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia. She is the former director of the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University, where she was Professor of Science Policy and International Affairs. She was the chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from July 9, 2012, to December 31, 2014.

Education and career[edit]

Macfarlane was educated at the University of Rochester, where she earned B.Sc. in Geological Sciences in 1987, and at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned a Ph.D. in Geology in 1992. She held fellowships at Radcliffe College, Harvard University, Stanford University, and MIT. She was also assistant professor of earth science and international affairs at Georgia Tech from 2003-4.[1] Prior to taking the top position at the NRC, Dr. Macfarlane was an associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University.[2]

While at GMU, Macfarlane was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future from 2010 to 2012.[1] The panel was charged by the Secretary of Energy to examine the issues associated with nuclear waste disposal in the United States.[3]

When NRC commission chair Gregory Jaczko was forced to step down before the end of his term[4] in May 2012, Macfarlane was appointed to complete the term.[1] She was then reconfirmed for a full five-year term by the United States Senate on July 1, 2013.[5]

As Chairman of the NRC, Macfarlane prioritized the geological and operational lessons learned from the North Anna and Fukushima incidents, as well as improving the NRC's communication with public stakeholders and paying more attention to the back end of the fuel cycle in an era when more U.S. nuclear power plants were being decommissioned than built. She also pushed to make the NRC a more family-friendly workplace. Given that she had raised questions a decade earlier about the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site for long-term geologic disposal of high-level nuclear waste, supporters of Yucca Mountain expected her to stall NRC licensing of Yucca Mountain, but she complied with a court order that ruled her predecessor's actions illegal and directed the NRC to continue its licensing review until it had spent down the funds made available for this purpose by Congress.[citation needed]

After leaving the NRC, Macfarlane became the Director of the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy and a Professor of science policy and international affairs at Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University[4] in December 2014.[6] She has written at least ten articles for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.[7]


In her 2006 book, Uncertainty Underground, Macfarlane criticized plans to store spent nuclear fuel in a mountain near Las Vegas called Yucca Mountain.[8] She said the seismic and volcanic activity as well as oxidizing in the environment would make the nuclear waste unstable. Macfarlane has supported storing nuclear waste at reactor sites in dry casks and the allocation of billions to find a suitable geologic repository for storage over the next few decades.[9][10]


"Déjà vu for U.S. nuclear waste". Science. 30 June 2017

Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation's High Level Nuclear Waste, MIT Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-2626-3332-1

Personal life[edit]

Macfarlane is married to Hugh Gusterson, a professor of anthropology and author of works on nuclear culture, with whom she has two children.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Who Is Allison Macfarlane?". AllGov. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  2. ^ "Allison Macfarlane Confirmed by U.S. Senate to Lead Nuclear Regulatory Commission". GMU. Archived from the original on 8 October 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  3. ^ Wald, Matthew (January 26, 2012). "Revamped Search Urged for a Nuclear Waste Site". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b Dixon, Darius, "NRC's Macfarlane to depart", Politico, October 21, 2014. Retrieved 2017-01-10.
  5. ^ "Chairman Allison M. Macfarlane". NRC. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  6. ^ "Allison M. Macfarlane", GWU Elliott School of International Affairs web bio. Retrieved 2017-01-10.
  7. ^ "Allison Macfarlane", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; accessed 2020.02.21.
  8. ^ Wald, Matthew (June 10, 2013). "N.R.C. Nomination Shines Spotlight on Waste-Disposal". The New York Times. Retrieved July 31, 2013.
  9. ^ Talbot, David (June 23, 2009). "Life after Yucca Mountain". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved July 31, 2013.
  10. ^ Mufson, Steven (May 24, 2012). "Obama nominates George Mason professor Allison M. Macfarlane as NRC chairwoman". Washington Post.

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