NRC Meeting Challenges with Improved Technology

The last six months have been incredibly busy here at the NRC – not just in response to the tragic events in Japan – but also with our inspections, public meetings and licensing reviews. One way we’re meeting the challenge is with improved technology.

To improve NRC’s use of technology, we have been diligently working toward the goals set forth in the 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management. Implementing this plan is helping us modernize our operations, create efficiencies, save resources and improve effectiveness.

One of the more important components of this reform plan is moving toward cloud-based systems. For example, we are now using a General Services Administration private cloud hosting platform for our capital planning, rather than one hosted internally at the NRC. We expect the NRC will save about $50,000 a year with this move. We are also reducing travel time and expenses using cloud-based online meeting resources. We will continue to look for opportunities to migrate our processes to the cloud wherever possible and where it makes good business sense for the NRC.

I also recently conducted our second NRC TechStat session. A TechStat session is an in-depth, review of an IT system. I’ve found it to be a very effective tool to analyze and improve system performance, to help implement a new system or to address a critical, challenging issue. Our most recent review focused on the retirement of our licensee fee billing system – basically the system the NRC uses to generate bills to our licensees for work we’ve done. Our new accounting system will now be used, but NRC staff needs access to archived, historical data from the old system. Based on our review, we agreed upon an approach that will ensure access to the data, but at a much lower cost than originally proposed.

We are now planning our third TechStat session to review our Enterprise Project Management system, and others will occur over the coming months, as these meetings are now a central component of our IT management strategy.

These are just a few examples of how modernizing our IT enhances the mission of the NRC. Using the 25 Point Plan as a roadmap, my team and I are continuing to find efficient, effective IT solutions to serve NRC. As we find new ways to solve these problems, we plan to share them with our counterparts across the government. By cooperating with other agencies and sharing best practices, we will speed the pace and enhance the quality of IT reform.

Darren B. Ash
Chief Information Officer

Radiation and Public Health

Within days of the start of the Japanese nuclear emergency, the NRC made statements that no unsafe levels of radiation would impact the U.S. Other federal agencies also concluded the radiation reaching the U.S. from the damaged Japanese reactors would not be at levels of public health concern.

What does that actually mean? Radiation released from Japan had to travel a very far distance to arrive in the U.S.—while all along the way being diluted by wind, rain, and radioactive decay. Even the two closest states – Hawaii and Alaska – are still a distance away from the source of radiation.

We expected to detect trace amounts of radiation from the Japanese reactors in the U.S.—modern radiation detection equipment is very sensitive and able to detect very small amounts of radioactivity. However, just because something is detected doesn’t mean it’s hazardous.

Scientists estimate that we receive a dose of about 620 millirem each year from natural sources – like radon – and human sources – such as x-rays. There are NO known health impacts from this typical annual dose. To put this into context, even people living in places where the background radiation is much higher – such as Denver, Colo., where the rate of background radiation is above 1,000 mrem a year – don’t experience adverse health effects.

The U.S. EPA and Department of Energy concluded from their environmental monitoring of the Japanese radioactivity in the U.S. that peak concentrations of particles and gas detected in California or Washington State were 100,000 times less than the dose rate from background sources.

Radiation experts make the conservative assumption, as part of an overall radiation protection philosophy, that any amount of radiation may increase the risk for cancer and damage to DNA, and that the risk increases as the radiation exposure increases. And we do know that high doses of radiation may cause cancer. But there are no studies that clearly show cancer being caused by exposure to low doses of radiation – considered to be below about 10,000 mrem.

The bottom line? The radiation coming from the Japanese emergency can be detected by sensitive instruments, but that does not mean it’s a public health concern. The levels of radiation detected in the U.S. are well below radiation standards and only a small fraction of the average background of radiation we are exposed to in everyday life.

For additional information on radiation protection and health effects visit the NRC website at http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation.html.

Sara Mroz
Emergency Preparedness Specialist
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