U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Election Year, the Hatch Act and NRC Employees

Eric Michel
Attorney

flagLike most Americans, the employees of the NRC are watching the 2016 elections and considering who to vote for in November. But unlike most Americans, there are a number of political activities which NRC employees – as part of the federal government – cannot do.

The prohibitions are contained in the Hatch Act, a law first passed in 1939. The act restricts executive branch employees in their actions related to partisan elections – and not just at work. The intent behind the restrictions is to maintain a politically neutral federal workforce, free from partisan influence or coercion.

As outlined in the NRC’s Management Directive 7.10, NRC employees cannot engage in political activity while on duty or while inside a federal building. They can’t wear a partisan political button, display a campaign sign in their office or use their government computer to send an email advocating for or against a partisan political candidate or political party.

Even while off duty, NRC employees cannot solicit or receive funds on behalf of a partisan candidate or political party. You also won’t find NRC employees on any ballot for a partisan election – that’s prohibited, too.

Activities most NRC employees are allowed to do on their own time includes:

  • Register and vote
  • Assist in voter registration drives
  • Contribute money to political organizations
  • Distribute campaign literature
  • Attend political rallies and fundraisers
  • Volunteer for a campaign

They can also run for office in a nonpartisan campaign, such as for a seat on a school board.

Career Senior Executive Service employees are under a few additional restrictions. Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees, such as the NRC Chairman and Commissioners, have their own specific rules.

Penalties can range from being reprimanded to being fired to being fined up to $1,000.

More information about what NRC and other federal government workers can and cannot do related to elections can be found here.

 

Back to Basics – Seeking Comment on a New Commission Public Meeting Policy

Lance Rakovan
Senior Communications Specialist

We are always looking to make our public meetings better. To that end, we’ve drafted a new Commission policy statement on public meetings and are seeking public comment to make sure it hits the mark. The new policy statement is meant to re-affirm the importance of public participation in NRC’s public meetings and address a number of concerns noted previously by the public and NRC staff.

audienceFirst, some background. The NRC has had a formal policy regarding open meetings since 1978; the most recent revision was issued in 2002. The NRC assembled a task group on Enhancing NRC Public Meetings in June 2014. The task group recommended steps be taken to:

  • improve consistency of public meetings across the agency;
  • encourage increased management support for public interaction; and
  • seek out creative ways to effectively engage the public and promote participation.

In response to the task group’s report, the staff has begun implementing several enhancements to the existing public meeting process, including drafting the new policy statement.

The most significant proposed change to the policy statement is a revised meeting category system based on the level of public participation. The current categories of NRC public meetings are labeled 1, 2, and 3. Public participation levels for Category 1 and 2 meetings are essentially the same. However, public participation for a Category 3 meeting can range from the NRC simply engaging in dialogue with members of the public to receiving comments from the public (and responding later).

This has sometimes led to confusion over what to expect from a public meeting. The revised categorization system removes the 1, 2, and 3 labels and incorporates a clear description of the level of public participation planned for the meeting:

  • Observation Meeting
  • Information Meeting With Q&A
  • Commenting-Gathering Meeting

We hope these revised categories will help you prepare for and participate in NRC public meetings and will make more clear what you can expect. The table below compares the current categories to the proposed new categories. blog-capture_small

The NRC will be hosting a public meeting via webinar on September 29, 2016, to provide information and answer questions to help those interested in submitting comments. Formal comments, though, won’t be accepted during the meeting. To provide your comments on the draft statement, go here. Comments will be accepted until November 14, 2016.

Senior Earthquake Experts Help Analyze Palo Verde Risk

Brittain Hill
Senior Advisor
Office of New Reactors

The NRC regularly works with outside experts when we examine technical issues, including earthquake hazards. We’ve just reviewed how the Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona used experts as it re-evaluated its quake hazard. We’re satisfied with the results.

pv-from-mountainsFor almost 20 years the agency has used the Senior Seismic Hazard Advisory Committee approach to consider a broad range of information in earthquake hazard analysis. Western U.S. nuclear power plants have followed this method to help meet the NRC’s post-Fukushima effort to re-evaluate their quake hazards. Palo Verde, the Columbia power plant in Washington and the Diablo Canyon power plant in California each used a detailed SSHAC process to better understand where quakes could occur and how quake energy causes the ground to move at their site.

Different kinds of uncertainty make earthquake analysis difficult. Quakes are random in many ways, and quake science is incomplete. The SSHAC approach is valuable because it effectively includes both types of uncertainty in the analysis.

Palo Verde started the process with a series of expert workshops in 2013 and 2014. The workshops identified and gathered the best available information, and then moved on to discuss how best to analyze that data. NRC staff observed the workshops and reviewed the written results of this work, concluding the plant correctly used the SSHAC process.

The plant examined historic quakes out to about 250 miles from the site, including large quakes in southern California and northern Mexico. Both Palo Verde’s effort and the NRC staff’s independent analysis found about 900 quakes to consider. While the plant later found it used some incorrect values in examining those quakes, additional plant analysis and independent NRC calculations found the correct values slightly decreased the site’s quake hazard.

All of this leads the agency to conclude Palo Verde developed an appropriate model for quake sources around the site.

The plant also reviewed U.S. and international databases and numerical models of ground motions in areas similar to Arizona. Palo Verde’s effort also considered how nearby California and Mexico quakes could affect the site’s ground motion. From there, the plant calculated likely quake hazards of different strengths and the resulting ground motions at the site. As with the other parts of the re-evaluation, the NRC staff did independent calculations and concluded the plant’s approach was appropriate.

The NRC’s overall review reaches the conclusion that Palo Verde is designed to withstand future quakes in its area, so the plant has completed its seismic re-evaluation. We’ll give the Columbia and Diablo Canyon re-evaluations the same sort of scrutiny to ensure they’re able to withstand future quakes in their areas. The NRC’s website has more information on the overall re-evaluation effort.

Five Questions with Ivonne Couret

Ivonne Couret is a public affairs officer, who oversees the production of the Information Digest

5 questions_9with boxHow would you describe your job in three sentences or less?
I’m a public affairs officer in the headquarters office at the NRC, where I handle public and media relations. As the agency has expanded its social media engagement, my focus has turned to visual communication and producing YouTube videos that promote the understanding of who we are and what we do as an agency. I’m also the project manager for the NRC Information Digest, which provides information about the agency and the industries we regulate.

What is the single most important thing that you do at work?

I believe the most important thing I do at the NRC is managing the annual production and distribution of the Information Digest, one of the agency’s most popular publications. It is packed with easy-to read descriptions about the agency and its responsibilities and activities, while providing general information on nuclear-related topics and data. The Digest includes many infographics that help explain the data and information. I organize the approval and review schedule, propose new conceptual approaches that reflect agency mission, activities and goals, and plan its distribution. I also promote it during the annual Regulatory Information Conference and at other public meetings and information venues. The latest Information Digest has just been published and is available here. I’m very proud of this year’s edition.

ivonne_digestWhat is the single biggest challenge you face?

One of the biggest challenges is working with technical and program staff to understand the advantages of visual communication. Today, many organizations are seeing the benefit of using visual techniques to present information. They can be a more effective way to exchange information, and assist in “telling a story.” We achieve a more meaningful information exchange when a reader sees graphs, pictures and diagrams in addition to text. And complex information, data and figures can be more easily presented via graphs, pictures and diagrams.

If you could change one thing at the NRC or within the nuclear industry, what would it be?

I would have the scientific and technical staff (in the industry and at the NRC) learn to explain complex concepts in simpler terms. It would be great if everyone could explain things like Bill Nye, the Science Guy, on how things work using those easy-to-follow techniques. This type of communication would make it much easier for the non-technical public to more fully understand what we do.

What one thing about the NRC do you wish more people knew?

I wish more people understood how committed the NRC Public Affairs Office is to providing information in a format that the public can understand, as well as how hard we work to respond to inquiries in a timely manner. You can stay connected with us on our Blog, Facebook page, follow us on Twitter @NRCgov, watch us on YouTube and find pictures, graphs and maps on Flickr.

A Solemn Anniversary

Stephen Burns
Chairman

This Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As always, that day is a time for reflection, which the passing years do not diminish. The events of that day still seem as fresh and raw now as they did at the time.

NUREG/BR-0314, Rev. 4, "August 2015 Protecting Our Nation."That was certainly a pivotal day for us as a nation, for us as individuals and us as employees of the NRC. Here, staff went quickly into response mode even as the significance of the day was not yet clear. Senior managers gathered in the Operations Center and at the regional Incident Response Centers; other employees were sent home; security was heightened around the buildings; and licensee facilities were ordered to their highest level of security.

The NRC, like the rest of the country, pulled together and experienced a sense of renewed purpose and affirmation of our values as a democracy. As then Chairman Richard Meserve told employees: These are trying times, but we will persevere.

And we did. In the years since, the NRC increased its focus on security, revised its security inspection program, restructured and enhanced the force-on-force program, strengthened radioactive material controls, updated its Operations Center and exercised regularly for security events in addition to safety events. The NRC responded to the challenge in ways that also still reverberate today and affect nearly everything we do.

The NRC’s excellent publication Protecting our Nation goes into detail about actions the NRC has taken to strengthen security, emergency planning and incident response in the years since. On this anniversary, please take a few moments to read it while we reflect on the tragedy that day still represents for us all.

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