Public Engagement and Nuclear Waste Disposal Siting: Lessons from South Australia



Allison Macfarlane, Elliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University

Date and Time

November 27, 2018 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


William J. Perry Conference Room, Encina Hall, 2nd Floor, 616 Serra St, Stanford, CA 94305

Abstract: Australia is dealing with nuclear waste disposal issues on two separate fronts.  In 2015, South Australia began to consider expanding their role in the nuclear fuel cycle as a way to leverage their nuclear expertise, based on their extensive uranium mining.  A Royal Commission proposed consideration of the development of a deep geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste from international sources (since Australia has none).  In 2016 Premier Jay Weatherill decided against an international repository after a community-based consultation process also opposed it.  At the same time, the Commonwealth of Australia has revived its search for a low-level radioactive waste disposal site and a storage facility for intermediate-level waste. Again, South Australia is in play, with three sites volunteering their land for further consideration.  As a result, a siting process is ongoing in Kimba and Barndioota, South Australia, with sides both strongly for and adamantly against development of a low-level waste facility in their community.  Both nuclear waste situations have informed and affected the other, but it’s not clear that South Australia is ready to host nuclear waste any time soon in the near future.

Speaker Bio: Allison M. Macfarlane is Professor of Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University and Director of the Center for International Science and Technology Policy at the University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She recently served as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from July, 2012 until December, 2014. As Chairman, Dr. Macfarlane had ultimate responsibility for the safety of all U.S. commercial nuclear reactors, for the regulation of medical radiation and nuclear waste in the U.S., and for representing the U.S. in negotiations with international nuclear regulators. She was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate. She was the agency’s 15th Chairman, its 3rd woman chair, and the only person with a background in geology to serve on the Commission.

Dr. Macfarlane holds a doctorate in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor's of science degree in geology from the University of Rochester. During her academic career, she held fellowships at Radcliffe College, MIT, Stanford, and Harvard Universities. She has been on the faculty at Georgia Tech in Earth Science and International Affairs and at George Mason University in Environmental Science and Policy.

From 2010 to 2012 she served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, created by the Obama Administration to make recommendations about a national strategy for dealing with the nation's high-level nuclear waste. She has served on National Academy of Sciences panels on nuclear energy and nuclear weapons issues. Dr. Macfarlane has also chaired the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the folks who set the “doomsday clock.”

Her research has focused on environmental policy and international security issues associated with nuclear energy. Her expertise is in nuclear waste disposal, nuclear energy, regulatory issues, and science and technology policy. As Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, she pushed for a more open dialogue with the public, for greater engagement with international nuclear regulators and, following the Fukushima accident, for stricter safety protocols at U.S. nuclear reactors. She also advocated for a more family-friendly workplace.  She has spoken on a wide range of topics, from women and science to nuclear policy and regulatory politics.

In 2006, MIT Press published a book she co-edited, Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation's High-Level Nuclear Waste, which explored technical issues at the proposed waste disposal facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Dr. Macfarlane has published extensively in academia and her work has appeared in Science, Nature, American Scientist, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and Environment Magazine.