Allison Macfarlane has been a professor of environmental science at the university since 2006 and served on a federal panel working to determine a long-term solution for the country's nuclear waste.
Current NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, criticized by both colleagues and Republicans for his leadership style, announced earlier this week he would step down once the Senate confirms his replacement, The Hill reported Thursday.
Macfarlane has been critical of the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Valley in Nevada, a project the Obama administration abandoned in 2009.
Her confirmation process could be a rocky one, with Republicans certain to grill her over that stance on a project they accuse Obama of abandoning for political reasons.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., applauded the nomination Thursday.
"I am confident that like her predecessor, Dr. Allison Macfarlane will make preserving the safety and security of American citizens her top priority as chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," he said in a statement.
"Dr. Macfarlane's education and experience, in particular her service on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, make her eminently qualified to lead the NRC for the foreseeable future."