President Barack Obama will nominate Republican Kristine Svinicki to a new term on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, despite opposition from two top Democratic senators.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama believes the country needs a functioning commission to oversee nuclear safety and does not want to risk a vacancy that could occur if Svinicki is not reconfirmed before her current term expires at the end of June.
Republican lawmakers have been pressuring the White House to renominate Svincki, who has served on the commission since 2008. She was one of four NRC members who complained to Congress last year that the NRC's Democratic chairman was an intimidating force whose actions could compromise the nation's nuclear safety.
The commissioners _ two Democrats and two Republicans _ said NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko was responsible for an increasingly tense and unsettled work environment and that women at the NRC felt particularly threatened.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Obama's decision to renominate Svinicki "a good thing" and urged Senate Democratic leaders to move her nomination to a full Senate vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate environment committee, have made it clear they oppose Svinicki.
Reid told reporters Thursday he's no fan of Svinicki, but said it was Obama's responsibility make nominations to the NRC. Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada also has spoken out against Svinicki, Reid said, "but that's why we have a Congress, and there'll be hearings held, and we'll approach that when we have to."
Mary Kerr, a spokeswoman for Boxer, said the senator "could never support anyone who has misled her, as Ms. Svinicki did at her confirmation hearing in April 2007."
Kerr said Boxer was troubled by Svinicki's testimony that she did not work directly on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada, when Svinicki was an Energy Department employee in the 1990s.
"She clearly did" work on Yucca Mountain and even co-authored a report entitled "Acceptance of Waste for Disposal in the Potential United States Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada," Kerr said.
Svinicki has said she did not work on the Yucca Mountain license application, instead focusing on DOE waste inventories and transportation issues.
McConnell and other Republicans said it was "not an option" for the Senate to put off a vote on Svinicki's nomination.
"This commission must be fully staffed," McConnell said Thursday at a news conference.
McConnell called the delay over Svinicki's appointment "inexplicable" and said the only reason appears to be that it was held up "because Commissioner Svinicki confronted the (NRC) chairman over his abusive behavior."
Svinicki, 45, a nuclear engineer and former Senate GOP aide, is the only woman on the NRC.
She and Jaczko have clashed over a number of issues, including Yucca Mountain. Svinicki supports the $15 billion project, while Jaczko, a former Reid aide, has backed efforts by the Obama administration to close down the Yucca Mountain site. Reid strongly opposes the project.
Several Democrats, including Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Tom Carper of Delaware, have said they support Svinicki.
Follow Matthew Daly's energy coverage on Twitter: (at)MatthewDalyWDC