WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed two new members to the federal body that regulates the nuclear power industry and has played a role in reviewing Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a repository for nuclear waste.
The addition of Stephen Burns and Jeffrey Baran brings the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to its full complement of five members and reasserts Democrat control of the independent body. The two newcomers were Democrat-chosen and will couple with Chairman Allison Macfarlane to form a majority on the panel.
Kristine Svinicki and William Ostendorff, both Republican choices, round out the commission.
The NRC has jurisdiction over nuclear waste matters but its work on the Yucca Mountain Project has been minimal in recent years after the Obama administration withdrew its support and funding for the controversial site opposed by Nevada top leaders. The agency is under court order to continue carrying out tasks related to the project at least until its nuclear waste funding is exhausted, likely next year.
Burns and Baran were not questioned directly on Yucca Mountain during their Senate confirmation hearing, and have not publicly given a position on the project. Neither met personally with Reid during the process, according to Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman.
Baran is former Democratic staff director for energy and environment on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. His boss was Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who has voted against Yucca Mountain and backed the Obama administration’s moves to shut it down.
Burns is a former longtime executive at the NRC, rising to the post of general counsel from 2009 to 2012 when he retired from the agency. He was the NRC’s top lawyer during the controversial chairmanship of Gregory Jaczko, who was criticized for using strongman tactics to halt Yucca licensing in 2010.
Burns was confirmed by a 60-40 vote. The vote on Baran was 56-44. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for the nominees, as did Reid.
With Republicans believing they are poised to win control of the Senate in the November elections, some have raised the idea of resurrecting the Nevada project.
Reid, the Senate majority leader who has used his influence to slow or halt the Yucca Mountain Project over the years, said Tuesday he was not concerned with the GOP comments.
“Yucca Mountain is all through, and it is all through, exclamation and all sorts of underlining,” Reid told reporters. “As long as I’m around there is no Yucca Mountain.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.