Improving Public Confidence in the NRC

In June 2010, the NRC released a Groundwater Task Force report providing a number of observations, conclusions and recommendations that the agency should consider in its oversight of incidents involving low level tritium leaks into groundwater at nuclear power plant sites. One of the themes of that report is the need to strengthen trust with the public by communicating promptly, effectively, and clearly regarding the NRC’s response and assessment of such releases to the environment.

The task force found that some stakeholders view tritium leaks as evidence of inadequate maintenance of the entire facility, which, in turn, casts doubt on the ability of the NRC and the plant to protect people and the environment. Some stakeholders have fear and anxiety regarding their health, even though previous leaks have posed a very low risk and radiation dose to individuals.

The Commission recently met with a number of parties, including industry and environmental groups. To enhance stakeholder confidence, the NRC is considering several communication measures:

1) Communicating information on such events in a more timely manner and using plain language, color graphics and charts;

2) Clearly communicating what the NRC and the industry are doing to prevent such releases in the future, identifying the source(s) of such leaks now, and mitigating their impact on the environment going forward;

3) Putting the potential risks of such releases into perspective by comparing them to other typical radiation exposures (such as from the sun, radon, medical procedures) as well as comparing their relative risk to other risks accepted by society;

4) Training our staff to better communicate technical information and risks in layman’s terms; and,

5) Requesting more detailed feedback on our communication of technical issues via our public meeting forms distributed at public meetings.

What are your thoughts on this subject? What information would you like to see from the NRC? How would you like to see the information presented? In your opinion, what is the best way the NRC can provide you with useful and useable information on such topics?

We appreciate any thoughts you can provide. Your ideas will help us consider ways we can improve the way NRC communicates and thus be a more effective regulator.

Richard Barkley
Nuclear and Environmental Engineer, Region I