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

Author: Moderator

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

5 thoughts on “Improving Public Confidence in the NRC”

  1. The moderator has removed personal information from this comment, but the information has been passed onto the post author.

  2. These five points are very important. NRC is very much helpful according to nuclear power plant sites. So I think, these are enough for the people who needs. Thank you for this important post.

  3. Improving public confidendence in the NRC starts at the top. I’m afraid Mr. Jaczko has truly soiled the agency and its reputation by bringing politics so prominently into decison-making. He need to be removed.

  4. In the late 60s I use to work at LRL. We had excapes then of tritium from the tritium building on the lab. They had a very tall black smoke stack that allowed the tritium to miss the lab. and plate out on the hills to the east. There were stories among the employees of the lab buying a lot of sheep. They also had solar evaporation pans for low level radioactive fluids that would evaporate off the fluid and the pans would later be scraped out and put into 55 gal. drums and shipped to Handford, WA. The problem was the cyclone fence would not keep out the rabbits, snakes, birds, etc. We would on occasion see dead animals. This lack of transparency was control by the government, the lab. and the employees. That is part of the problem with NRC. The lobbyists throught the corporations controlled the lack of data. Just like Japan the people were lied to.

  5. Richard Barkley
    Nuclear and Environmental Engineer, Region I

    Subject: Tritium Leaks

    The NRC needs to describe whether tritium leaks are, or are not, expected operational occurences (such as small fires extinguished within 10 or so minutes). If the leaks are expected, then wouldn’t they be discussed in the design basis? If not expected, then there would seem to be a design gap and/or a regulatory gap for these events. Just because the leaks are common does not make them normal occurrences or part of the design basis.

    Your plan of action seems to focus heavily on calming the public, but has little focus on explaining how the leaks occur, how they could have been or will be prevented, whether the reactor plant design bases are being violated, whether new NRC orders or regulations are being planned in response to the numeous and large volume around the country, whether existing regulations or plant licensing bases are being violated, whether the events are to receive enforcement discretion or escalated enforcement action, whether the staff plans to ask the licensees to come back into conformance with existing requirements (e.g., as was done under GL 2004-02 for a separate issue), etc.. In other words, the plan of action described in the NRC blog does not describe a robust regulatory response.


    Leon of Newark, Delaware (near Salem/HC, Peach Bottom, TMI and Limerick)

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