U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

Monthly Archives: April 2011

One-Year Anniversary of NRC’s Open Government Plan – Your Suggestions Welcome!

plan-graphicThis month the NRC celebrated the one-year anniversary of the publication of its Open Government Plan and posted a self assessment of progress to date on the agency’s Open Government page .

One of the highlights was the inauguration of this blog, which played a key role in informing the public of our response to the Japanese event. Another was that NRC exceeded its first year goals for the publication of high-value datasets, with 21 high-value datasets published, significantly more than the 11 identified in the plan.

The self assessment also noted that the agency ranked 11th out of 32 federal agencies on transparency based on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) surveys of federal websites. The ACSI survey also showed positive results from the release of the agency’s unified public Web search in December 2010, with the site search satisfaction score improving from 68 before the new search to 73 at the end of March 2011.

As we move into the second year of the Open Government initiative, one thing that would help guide our efforts would be to get more input from you, our stakeholders and members of the public. In particular, what additional datasets you would like us to make available through data.gov? Is there other information about our activities that you need? We hope you’ll take a few minutes to tell what you think by posting a comment to this blog or by using our Online Comment Form.

Frances Goldberg
Co-Chair NRC Open Government Advisory Group

Get NRC Correspondence on Operating Nuclear Power Plants by Email

exterior of a nuclear power plantNo need to wait for the mailman anymore. You can quickly and easily receive documents about any operating nuclear power plant you wish electronically.

This distribution process makes it much easier for anyone—licensees, local and state government, members of the public — to quickly get the information they desire.

To sign up, go to the Operating Reactor Correspondence page on the NRC website. The webpage is arranged by region and includes maps that indicate where each plant is located, allowing you to easily find the reactors that are of interest to you. The site also allows you to subscribe and unsubscribe from plant distribution lists at any time.

By signing up, you will receive all outgoing operating reactor correspondence originating from Headquarters, Region I, III, and IV. (Region II is currently unavailable) Correspondence includes, but is not limited to, license amendments, relief requests, exemptions, requests for additional information and public meeting summaries.

Not only is the process faster and easier, but it saves resources, too. In 2010, about 15,000 subscribers received electronic information – avoiding the production of over 5.7 million printed pages.

Christine Steger
NRR Communications Analyst

The NRC: We’re Ready to Respond

Ops Center ExteriorIn the wake of recent events in Japan, we received a lot of questions about how we plan for and would respond to emergencies involving licensed materials and facilities in the U.S. People wanted to know:

What happens if there’s an emergency? What would the NRC do? What should I do?

Every day at the NRC, there are teams of people working to address these very questions. Our emergency preparedness and incident response programs ensure that the NRC and licensees are prepared to respond in the unlikely event of an emergency involving NRC-licensed facilities or materials.

We maintain equipment, policies, and procedures for response activities and we regularly test, evaluate, and update them. We have trained personnel who continuously monitor licensee activities to make sure they are in compliance with regulations. We also have specially trained NRC responders who are on-call at all times to be able to respond quickly should an incident occur.

We require licensees to have plans in place to respond to incidents, protect against radiological releases, and reduce the impact of incidents. Licensees are required to review these plans on a regular basis. Plans are also tested through regularly scheduled comprehensive exercises.

In the event of an emergency at a licensed facility, the NRC would independently assess the licensee’s response. If necessary, the NRC has the authority to, and would, order actions to mitigate the potential release of radiation. The NRC’s role with licensees is very clear and the incident response program ensures rapid actions by licensees and the NRC in order for the agency to make needed assessments.

Under the National Response Framework, the NRC coordinates the federal technical response to an incident that involves one of our licensees. We work closely with the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate response efforts and to understand when the response would shift from being coordinated by the NRC to being coordinated by DHS. We have worked out the details of this in several tabletop exercises.

We also work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state and local governments to support their needs in planning and preparing to respond to incidents.

In response to questions about NRC’s incident response program, we updated the Incident Response Backgrounder. In it you’ll find more information about how the NRC responds to emergencies involving licensed materials and facilities.

I will be using this blog to address your questions and concerns about emergency preparedness and incident response, so please let me know what you’d like to hear about.

Sara Mroz
Emergency Preparedness Specialist

Medical Use Harnesses Radioactive Material for Good

The magic pill that cures cancer has not been invented yet. However, a radioactive “pill” is already in use by physicians to destroy certain cancers from the inside out.

Many people fear radiation because it can cause damage to living cells, but modern medicine has learned to harness that characteristic for good use. If the radiation can be focused on the cancer cells, then the healthy cells can be spared.

There’s a device used by oncology departments across the country called a high dose-rate remote (HDR) afterloader. If the cancer meets specific criteria, like certain breast tumors, it may be a candidate to receive the HDR treatment. The device looks like a slimmer, sleeker version of R2D2 of Star Wars fame. Except instead of holding holograms from Princess Leia inside, it safely stores a small radioactive source with shielding around it.

On the day of the procedure, multiple tiny tubes connected to the HDR device, are inserted into the breast tissue where the tumor is located. The physicist programs the HDR device to automatically crank its source from the shielded position inside the HDR device, through the connecting tubes, and finally settling at a precise position inside the tumor. For the few seconds or minutes that it is there, the source irradiates the tumor tissue directly surrounding it, sparing most of the healthy breast tissue that is further away. When its job is complete, the source retracts into the HDR device, where its shield keeps radiation inside, and it is safe to re-enter the treatment room.

The NRC inspector discusses the procedure with the oncology staff. They talk about interlocks and emergency procedures. While malfunctions are rare, the staff is always ready to respond if the source were to be stuck outside the HDR device or fails to retract when required. The inspector verifies that the physicist uses a radiation meter to check that the source returned to its proper place inside the HDR device. Even though the goal of the treatment is to irradiate the tumor with a large amount of radiation, this must be balanced with the need to reduce the radiation that all the other tissues in the body receive. After treatment, the physicist demonstrates to the NRC inspector how the amount of radiation prescribed by the physician matches the amount of radiation actually deposited in the tumor during treatment.

This is only one example of how radioactive materials are used in medicine. There are many others uses in industrial, commercial and academic applications that the NRC inspects to ensure the safety and security of workers and the public.

Jason Razo
Region IV

Coming Soon — A Better NRC Website

I’m happy to report the NRC is about to unveil the most significant update to our Website in 10 years. NRC.gov will switch to its new design and functionality on midnight this Friday. We’ll troubleshoot over the weekend and make the formal announcement of the new and improved site on Monday.

You can get a sneak peak now, though, with this video or this video.

The redesigned site has better navigation, content and accessibility. Our goal is to make it easier and quicker for users to find the information they want. We consider this redesign an important part of our ongoing support for the goal of openness, transparency and public outreach.

Many of the upgrades and changes reflect public input that we got through online surveys, interviews and focus groups. Some important changes or additions:

• Reporting a safety concern is prominently located on the home page;

• Rotating slides on the home page highlight major areas of interest;

• A new interactive calendar allows quick access to the latest NRC public meetings;

• A new “Spotlight” replaces the Key Topics on the home page, and now is available on each page of the site; and

• Consistent navigation in the header and footer areas aids users in moving through the site.

Please visit the improved NRC.gov and then let us know with your comments here what you think.

Darren Ash
Chief Information Officer
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