U.S. NRC Blog

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REFRESH: 2.802 vs. 2.206 — What’s the Difference?

George Deegan
Senior Program Analyst (Nuclear Materials/Waste Management)
 

refresh leafMathematically, of course, the answer is 0.596 – a tiny amount – but when referring to two different parts of NRC regulations, there’s a big difference. 10 CFR Part 2.802 and 10 CFR Part 2.206 both describe petition processes. However, 2.802 petitions are requests from the public for a new rule (regulation) while 2.206 petitions are related to enforcement actions.

My area, the Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs (FSME), usually gets two to four 2.802 rulemaking petitions a year about medical or general license issues. However, petitions are also addressed in other offices, including the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. The basic steps for submitting petitions for rulemaking to the NRC are found in 10 CFR 2.802, with specific details on what to include in the petition documented in paragraph (c).

For information on the process for submitting a petition for rulemaking to the NRC, please visit this page, which also has a link to the NRC’s petition for rulemaking dockets.

The 2.206 process allows anyone to ask the NRC to take enforcement action against NRC licensees. Depending on the results of its evaluation, NRC could modify, suspend, or revoke an NRC-issued license or take other enforcement action to fix a problem. Additional information on how to submit a petition under 10 CFR 2.206, how the agency processes the request, and status information on 2.206 petitions we’ve received can be found at here.

There have been occasions where a petitioner has invoked the term “2.206” when the request was really a petition for rulemaking under 2.802. Unfortunately, this situation often delays the petition while staff members review the request and get it put into the right process.

The NRC’s petition process provides the public with a voice in how we regulate our licensees. Hopefully, this post clarifies which process is appropriate for a given situation and highlights the difference between the two numbers beyond 0.596!

“Refresh” is a new initiative where we revisit some earlier posts. This originally ran in June 2011.

Throwback Thursday — Atoms for Peace

hpAtoms for Peace BusWhich U.S. president launched this program – Atoms for Peace? The program’s intent was to share nuclear technology and isotopes with American allies while maintaining control of weapons-grade material. It also supplied equipment and information to schools, hospitals and research institutions within the U.S. (Photo by Ed Westcott/DOE)

 

NRC Science 101: The What and How of Geiger Counters

Joe DeCicco
Senior Health Physicist
Source Management and Protection Branch
 

In earlier Science 101 posts, we talked about ionizing radiation and different types of radiation. In this post, we’ll look at the Geiger counter, an instrument that can detect radiation.

science_101_squeakychalkJust to recap, the core of an atom (the nucleus) is surrounded by orbiting electrons, like planets around a sun. The electrons have a negative charge and usually cancel out an equal number of positively charged protons in the nucleus. But if an electron absorbs energy from radiation, it can be pushed out of its orbit. This action is called “ionization” and creates an “ion pair”—a free, negatively charged electron and a positively charged atom.

Humans cannot detect creation of an ion pair through their five senses. But the Geiger counter is an instrument sensitive enough to detect ionization. Most of us have heard or seen a Geiger counter. They are the least expensive electronic device that can tell you there is radiation around you—though it can’t tell you the original source of the radiation, what type it is or how much energy it has.

How does it work? A Geiger counter has two main parts—a sealed tube, or chamber, filled with gas, and an information display. Radiation enters the tube and when it collides with the gas, it pushes an electron away from the gas atom and creates an ion pair. A wire in the middle of the tube attracts electrons, creating other ion pairs and sending a current through the wire. The current goes to the information display and moves a needle across a scale or makes a number display on a screen. These devices usually provide “counts per minute,” or the number of ion pairs created every 60 seconds. If the loud speaker is on, it clicks every time an ion pair is created. The number of clicks indicates how much radiation is entering the Geiger counter chamber.

You hear a clicking sound as soon as you turn on the speaker because there is always some radiation in the background. This radiation comes from the sun, natural uranium in the soil, radon, certain types of rock such as granite, plants and food, even other people and animals.

The background counts per minute will vary; the needle will move or the number will change even when there is no know radiation source nearby. Many different things cause this fluctuation, including wind, soil moisture, precipitation (rain or snow), temperature, atmospheric conditions, altitude and indoor ventilation. Other factors in readings include geographical location (higher elevations give higher counts), the size and shape of the detector, and how the detector is built (different chamber material and different gases).

geigercounterDepending on the elevation and the type of Geiger counter, a typical natural background radiation level is anywhere from five to 60 counts per minute or more. Because background radiation rates vary randomly, you might see that range standing in one spot. It is important to understand that the Geiger counter indicates when an ion pair is created, but nothing about the type of radiation or its energy.

Other types of instruments can provide an exposure rate (expressed as milliroentgen per hour or mR/hr). These counters must be calibrated to read a particular type of radiation (alpha, beta, gamma, neutron, x-ray) as well as the amount of energy emitted. The reading will only be accurate for that type of radiation and that energy level. And these instruments need to be calibrated regularly to be sure they are providing correct information over time.

For more sophisticated environmental radiation readings, check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s nationwide system, RadNet. Using equipment far more sensitive than a Geiger counter, it continuously monitors the air and regularly samples precipitation, drinking water and pasteurized milk.

Over its 40-year history, RadNet has developed an extensive nationwide “baseline” of normal background levels. By comparing this baseline to measurements across the U.S. states in March 2011, following the accident at the Fukushima reactors in Japan, the EPA was able to detect very small radiation increases in several western states. EPA detected radiation from Japan that was 100,000 times lower than natural background radiation—far below any level that would be of concern. And well below anything that would be evident using a simple Geiger counter, or even Geiger counters spread across the country.

If RadNet were to detect a meaningful increase in radiation above the baseline, EPA would investigate immediately. With its nationwide system of monitors and sophisticated analytical capability, RadNet is the definitive source for accurate information on radiation levels in the environment in the U.S.

By the way, the Geiger counter is also called a Geiger-Mueller tube, or a G-M counter. It was named after Hans Geiger, a German scientist, who worked on detecting radiation in the early 1900s. Walter Mueller, a graduate PhD student of Geiger’s, perfected the gas-sealed detector in the late 1920s and received credit for his work when he gave his name to the Geiger-Mueller tube.

The NRC Considers Amending Radioactive Release Regulations

Tanya E. Hood
Project Manager
Office of New Reactors
 
 

Part of the NRC’s mission includes making sure nuclear power plants control and monitor the very small amounts of radioactive material that might be released during normal operations. Filtering and otherwise maintaining a reactor’s cooling water can create radioactive gases and liquids. The amounts generated and released vary depending on a reactor’s design and overall performance. The primary regulations for radioactive emissions (also called radioactive effluents) from commercial nuclear power plants are in 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix I.

These rules are designed to keep normal airborne or liquid releases low enough that any public radiation dose would be a minute fraction of the dose from natural background radiation. Appendix I also requires U.S. nuclear power plants to further reduce potential doses as much as reasonably possible. This set of regulations includes requirements for plants to regularly sample their nearby environments.  The plant’s samples of air, water, milk, soil, vegetation, sediment and fish come from the property line, on-site, and from nearby towns.

quoteIn 2007, the International Commission on Radiological Protection published recommendations that account for updated scientific understanding of the way to calculate radiation doses. For the past few years we’ve been considering amending the NRC’s radiation protection regulations. We’ve talked with public interest groups, other federal and state agencies and the industries or individuals we regulate on the possibility.

The NRC’s Commissioners gave the staff direction about potentially amending these regulations in December 2012. The Commission told the staff to begin developing the regulatory basis for revising the NRC’s radiation protection regulations in 10 CFR Part 20 and regulations for radioactive effluents from commercial nuclear power plants in 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix I “to align with the most recent methodology and terminology [in the ICRP 2007 recommendations] for dose assessment.”

The NRC just held a meeting soliciting feedback on the development of a draft regulatory basis for updating 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix I in Savannah, Ga., on June 27, 2014. The attendees, either in person, on the phone or watching our webinar, gave us some great comments to consider.

We’ll continue the discussion later this summer by issuing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register. The notice will list future meetings and describe the regulatory process in more detail.

Based on feedback received from the public conversations and the ANPR, NRC staff will complete the regulatory basis and make a recommendation to the Commission on whether revisions that may affect how radiation dose is calculated, how it is measured and how radioactive effluents are reported annually are warranted. The NRC staff anticipates the regulatory process related to potential updates will take several years to complete.

Next week, NRC staff from several offices will participate in the 59th Annual Meeting of the Health Physics Society, in Baltimore, Md., and will participate in a technical session that will cover, in more detail, the NRC’s efforts on this issue. In addition, Chairman Allison Macfarlane will address this topic, among others, in the meeting’s opening plenary session.

Looking For Better Ways to Determine Severe Weather Hazards

Thomas Nicholson
Senior Technical Advisor
Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research

 

The NRC staff evaluates flood hazards when we review applications for new nuclear facility sites. In addition, we re-examine flooding at operating nuclear power plants — a result of what we learned from the 2011 tsunami flooding at Fukushima Dai-ichi in Japan. These evaluations cover a range of flood events including extreme storms that produce intense local rainfall. The NRC works with other federal agencies to better understand events caused by severe weather as we develop ways to better evaluate possible flooding issues at these sites.

weatherBefore the Fukushima event, the NRC staff informed the Federal Subcommittee on Hydrology of the urgent need to update the National Weather Service’s reports for estimating extreme rainfall events. We use these reports as the basis for our flood design and protection studies. As a result, the subcommittee formed a task force and later the Extreme Storm Events Work Group. The work group is looking at the best practices being used to study extreme storms, and developing estimation procedures and guidance.

The Extreme Storm Events Work Group has an impressive membership. In addition to the NRC, it includes the National Weather Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The work group meets monthly to talk about ongoing activities and products federal agencies are developing to help monitor, model and publish rainfall estimates.

Based in large part on the group’s work, we held a three-day workshop last year on probabilistic flood hazard assessment. The workshop brought together more than 250 international experts and included presentations and panel discussions on extreme rainfall events, coastal storm surge flooding, river flooding, tidal waves, flood-induced dam and levee failures, and combined flood events.

More recently, the work group held a workshop at the National Weather Service to define needed extreme storm products for the nation. These products will greatly assist the federal agencies that are moving towards a risk-informed approach for assessing flooding hazards. NRC staff members are benefiting greatly by their interactions with their federal counterparts in the work group.

Nuclear power plants are built to withstand local extreme weather, but we are always learning how safety margins can be improved even more. By working with weather experts in other federal agencies, we can build on what they’re doing and our nuclear power plants will benefit from this collaboration. We can’t stop flooding from happening, but we can make sure the facilities we regulate are prepared to deal with it safely.

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