A Full and Fair Hearing

An Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel hearing.

The public can become involved in the NRC’s licensing process through many different paths. One of these is through hearings in front of the judges of the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP). The ASLBP reports to the Commission and is independent of the NRC staff.

The NRC offers hearings for the granting, suspending, revoking, or amending of any license. These licenses could be for nuclear power reactors or for the manufacturing, treatment, use, disposal, or storage of certain radioactive materials. Any individual or group whose interests are affected by an NRC licensing action may seek to participate in our hearings. These hearings are an avenue for the public to get a full and fair opportunity to raise concerns related to the licensing action.

There are a few ways that members of the public can become involved in a licensing hearing. One of these is to submit a written request to intervene in the licensing action. Because this is a formal way to participate, there are a number of requirements that must be met before an individual or group can become involved in this way. For instance, an individual or group will have to explain their interest in the proposed NRC licensing action and also state their specific concerns and the reasons for those concerns.

If a member of the public would like to be involved more informally, Licensing Boards often provide an opportunity either to make an oral statement or to submit a written statement on issues being considered at the hearing.

Although these statements are not considered testimony or evidence, they can still help the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board make a decision. Finally, subject to some limitations, individuals and groups may sit in on, or in some instances watch, a live web stream of an NRC licensing proceeding.

For some major NRC actions, even if there is no public participation, the NRC will still hold licensing hearings because of a “mandatory” hearing requirement under our governing statutes. This means that even without public involvement, the ASLBP or the Commission will conduct a hearing that evaluates whether the NRC staff has performed an adequate review and reached logical and factual conclusions. The ASLBP or Commission’s review explores the staff’s conclusions by asking questions and requiring additional information when needed.

The Commission itself has decided to conduct the mandatory hearings on uncontested issues on applications for combined licenses (COL) for new reactors. The mandatory hearing process will begin after the NRC staff has finished its final environmental impact statement and the safety evaluation report. The Commission has set a four month objective for completing the mandatory hearing. The Commission will focus these hearings on the non-routine matters associated with each specific COL, such as unique features of the facility or novel licensing review issues.

One recent mandatory hearing was held on January 25, 2011. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board held the first part of a two-part mandatory hearing on an application by AREVA Enrichment Services, LLC, to construct and operate a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility in Idaho. Members of the public were invited to attend the proceeding in person in the court room in our headquarters facility in Rockville, Md., or to watch via web stream. There are a number of other mandatory hearings expected to take place in 2011. Stay tuned to our public website for information on dates, times, and places for those hearings: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/aslbp/2011/ and http://www.nrc.gov/public-involve/public-meetings/schedule.html

For more information on how to participate in hearings, please see our NRC regulations that govern the hearing process at 10 CFR Part 2, the “Rules of Practice for Domestic Licensing Proceedings and Issuance of Orders.”  The NRC recently proposed changes to Part 2 that are designed to promote greater fairness, efficiency, and openness in NRC adjudicatory proceedings. Those changes may be viewed at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-02-28/pdf/2011-4345.pdf.

Kimberly A. Sexton
Attorney, Office of the General Counsel

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

4 thoughts on “A Full and Fair Hearing”

  1. Conflicts of interest???? Jaczko worked for Harry Reid. Does a year removed from that lackey job really remove hos conflict of interest? Really? I’m afraid, as I’ve said before, your credibility is in freefall.

  2. If the OGC is the group avising Mr. Jaczko regarding Yucca Mt, I would have to say you have no credibility. Speaking about fair and open hearings is just plain ironic, given the mockery you and your boss are making of this once-proud agency.

  3. All employees of the NRC are subject to a number of laws and regulations on ethics. These laws are intended to prevent conflicts of interest involving the NRC and its staff – both current and former. These rules include criminal conflict-of-interest statutes and government-wide regulations on standards of conduct, financial disclosure, and post-employment. For instance, a criminal conflict-of-interest law prohibits employees, unless they receive a waiver, from participating in any government matter (including a rulemaking) that could financially benefit their spouse, minor children, or business associates. Employees also must disqualify themselves from participating in certain matters that could affect the financial interest of anyone the employee worked for in the previous year. The NRC has supplemental standards of conduct that prohibit certain employees from owning certain nuclear-related stock. Finally, former NRC employees – including Commissioners – are barred from representing a private company before a federal agency or court on certain matters they worked on while at the NRC.

    Kimberly Sexton

  4. I take issue with your assertion that the NRC provides a full and fair hearing maybe you could reassure me.

    I noticed that the NRC will probably rule this year in favor of letting Southern Company put two new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at its Vogtle site in Georgia and also at a site in South Carolina.
    I also noticed that Shaw Group is a half owner of Westinghouse. And I also noticed (I’m very observant aren’t I?) that former NRC head Jeffery Merrifield was appointed a senior vice president of power operations at Shaw Group after he let his term expire in 2007. Now I’m sure plenty of people who benefited from actions taken on their behalf by Mr. Merrifield are still involved in “regulation” at the NRC.

    In light of this what assurances can the NRC give the public that any decision regarding the placement of Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at Vogtle won’t be influenced by Mr. Merrifeilds time or connections at the NRC. Especially, considering the serious safety concerns sited by many of the world’s leading nuclear experts regarding the safety of the AP 1000 design. Namely the separation of the metal containment from the concrete containment, allowing for the corrosion of the metal containment and radiation escaping from the vent hole in the top of the concrete containment vessel.

    Also how do you respond to the assertion that the NRC is a “captured” agency, ruling not on the safety of nuclear power but on the bottom line of the corporations it “regulates”? And do you have information on how often your former employees go to work for the very same corporations that they were just regulating while working for the NRC? I’m sure that I am in error in thinking that the NRC is captured by industry, if I didn’t know any better the fact that the NRC has never denied an license extension request from a nuclear plant would seem to confirm this point, but I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. Thank you for your time in responding and listing examples of where the NRC has put public safety before corporate profits.

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