Questions for Dr. MacFarlane

So having posted a list of desirable characteristics for NRC commissioners and chairs, the next step would be to ask Dr. MacFarlane how she measures up to these characteristics. One of the key things to interview questions is to ask about PAST behaviors, not hypothetical performance. This is called behavior based interviewing and provides a better indication of how someone will actually perform on the job.

So, Dr. MacFarlane, welcome to my interview.


  • Ms. MacFarlane, your training is in geology, but much of your career has been spent considering the disposal of used nuclear fuel. Could you tell us how you developed your expertise in this area? Where did you seek out information? What experts did you learn from and why did you choose them?
  • Specifically, you wrote co-authored a paper with Dr. Von Hippel and Mr. Alvarez regarding dry cask storage (Accession Number ML120960695) that the NRC specifically refuted (Accession Number ML052340740). Did this exchange of views in any way modify your views? If so, can you describe this reconsideration?
  • Post by Hugh Gusterson (Dr. MacFarlane’s husband) He considers Ed Markey to be “the middle ground” on nuclear. As far as I’m aware no other commissioners’ spouse in the history of the commission has been active either for or against the nuclear industry. Dr. Gusterson appears to have strong opinions that are not in alignment with the current commission. It is critically important that the chair maintain not even the appearance of bias. How will this be accomplished here?
  • Your work in Senator Reid’s office creates a clear conflict of interest regarding Yucca Mountain. In addition, your published works indicating that you’ve made a decision related to the facility despite the fact that the final submittal had not yet been made to the NRC. Similar to Dr Apostalakis’ recusal, will you also recuse yourself from any votes that may come before the commission in regards to Yucca Mountain?

Subject Matter Expertise

  • Your primary expertise appears to be geology. Could you explain when questions of geology have come before the commission for deliberation?
  • What specific expertise do you possess that routinely comes before the commission for deliberation? How did you develop that expertise? Please provide specific evidence – peer reviewed papers, etc.
  • As Chair, you will be responsible for a broad range of issues, and guiding the commission through a number of critical areas, like the response to Fukushima, completing reviews of a number of proposed designs and combined operating licenses, and other new fuel cycle facilities. What is your expertise related to operating nuclear power plants? Can you describe how the commissions review activities are managed or which areas of the Code of Federal Regulation are relevant? Can you please provide a list of all of your areas of expertise as related to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?
  • Dr. Jaczko’s lack of such expertise led to a number of statements and incidents that required retractions by the NRC. In specific, Dr. Jaczko made recommendations for evacuation in Japan that were contrary to the Japanese government. These statements caused significant confusion and harmed the relationship between our governments.
    In the event of an emergency, the chairwoman of the NRC will be responsible for the NRC’s response. Can you explain how the NRC, the EPA, FEMA, local officials, and the licensee (utility) are to interact to ensure the safety of the public?
  • You’ve spent a great deal of time working in the non-proliferation community. What is your understanding of the NRC’s responsibilities in this area? (Correct answer: Atomic Energy Act makes Secretary of State responsible for the export control of technology. NRC is responsible for Special Nuclear Material. Commerce and Defense on equipment The NRC cannot make proliferation calls regarding TECHNOLOGY.)


  • As a commissioner, you will have a small staff to manage, but as chair you will be the leader of a 4000 person agency. Dr. Jaczko had some serious management issues that we do not need to repeat. We’d like to know that you’ve managed something larger than your desk before taking the reins of this agency. What experience have you had managing multi-layered organizations?
  • Can you take a moment to tell us about a crisis that you managed a team through. What went well and what didn’t? What did you do to assure team cohesion and functionality?
  • Despite a number of years in academia, you have never achieved tenure. Why? This questions goes to an ability to follow-through on activities that are less interesting and to work within the framework of an organization. Such skills are critical in administrators.


The NRC is an unusual structure for a federal agency. No individual is given ultimate power within the commission, rather five commissioners are expected to work as a team developing consensus and driving toward a science based regulatory policy and enforcement regime. Given recent past history on the commission, both commissioners and the chair must be consummate team players, always seeking to advance the agenda of the team. Individuals seeking personal gain, recognition, or personal agendas should be viewed with great concern.

  • A number of colleagues have attested to your interpersonal style and willingness to work with others. Certainly, those skills speak well of your ability to work well within a team. However, the chairwoman of the NRC, you are “the first among equals.” When we look at highly effective chairmen and women of the NRC, we find leaders who work toward consensus, finding ways to develop common cause and common consent among the rest of the commissioners.
    Have you ever worked in such an environment? Can you describe having functioned as a leader in a peer group? What was the result of this group?


Dr. MacFarlane, we’ve heard that you are a nice woman and a dedicated scientist. What we need is an ethical and knowledgeable leader for the NRC. Capable of guiding the commission through complex issues with clarity and technical astuteness. Show us these traits and we’ll support you all the way. Otherwise, please step aside and allow someone more capable lead the NRC.

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