On the Road With the Regulators

Last week the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) held its 21st annual convention in Miami which, for the first time in a couple of years, included a day-trip with a nuclear focus.

The trip started with a visit to a National Park Service solar project on an island at the outer reaches of the Biscayne National Park. Two houses on Adams Key operate entirely with solar power, though, like nuclear plants, there is a backup diesel generator as a backstop. (Reactors generally have two or more units each the size of a locomotive.)

The boat to Adams Key, which has its own interesting history, went past the Turkey Point power plant where a Florida firm operates two reactors. Several years ago the NRC issued a 20-year extension to the original 40-year licenses, and the company wants to put two more reactors on the site. In addition, the firm has asked the NRC for permission to get a bit more power out of the two existing reactors. The site also has three non-nuclear units.

Senior NRC official Jack Grobe, most recently a member of the team of NRC veterans who developed recommendations to enhance reactor safety in this country after the Fukushima accident, and myself, accompanied about 40 environmental journalists on the day trip. It was our job to provide information about NRC activities, and later Jack participated in a panel discussion on nuclear issues.

Reaching out to journalists and editorial writers, and by extension their audiences, is one of the ways the NRC works to inform the public about what it does. Our message was short and simple – we have one job, and that is to protect people and the environment.

On a bus between tour stops, I offered a summary of “who we are and what we do,” and Jack and I took questions – no small feat while standing at the front of a bouncing bus. With one hand on a support and the other holding a microphone, it was a bit like surfing and trying to carry on a conversation. Jack took the question about the work of the NRC inspectors assigned to each of the 104 reactors in this country. As deputy director of the NRC office that oversees the cadre of highly trained experts with that job, he provided a look at the areas of inspection, inspection cycles and what we do if an inspector spots something unusual.

The subsequent roundtable discussion got a tad esoteric and delved into some very nuanced issues. It was there that Jack described the NRC Fukushima recommendations, which had been endorsed as an action plan for the agency in an announcement just hours before he spoke.

The bus ride question and answer session was fun for us and hopefully educational for reporters and editors, and at the roundtable it as interesting to hear so many different perspectives in one place at one time. Thanks to the SEJ for the opportunity.

Eliot Brenner
Public Affairs Director
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