Setting the Record Straight

At 2:32 p.m. Pacific Time on Nov. 1, workers at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in California smelled ammonia in the south end of the Unit 3 turbine building. The leakage was traced to a storage tank adjacent to the turbine building. The leak was reported to the control room and announcements were made over the site’s public address system advising workers to stay clear of the turbine building.

NRC inspectors performing baseline radiation safety inspections responded to the Main Control Room and Technical Support Center. John Reynoso, the resident inspector, was offsite and responded to the site to monitor the scene of the leak near the Unit 3 turbine building. (Resident inspectors are assigned to all nuclear power plants so that the NRC has “ears and eyes” on the ground.) Within minutes, the station manager declared an “Alert,” because some vital areas within the turbine building had become inaccessible.

An Alert is the second of four emergency declaration levels and is declared, according to NRC regulations, when events could involve an actual or potential decline in the level of plant safety. Further investigation revealed the storage tank was leaking ammonia at the rate of about one gallon every ten minutes. Workers were able to stop the leak by 5 p.m.

The Alert was terminated shortly after 6 p.m. Both units remained stable and operating at full power. No radiation was released. There were no personnel injuries reported, and all leakage was contained onsite. But it was the first Alert declared at San Onofre since 1999, when a suspected pipe bomb was found on the freeway nearby.

As might be expected, it generated intense media interest, with coverage in 473 different venues overnight, according to a Google news search. The NRC resident inspectors will review the licensee’s response to the event, including the promptness of their efforts to stop the spill and corrective actions taken to prevent recurrence.

Victor Dricks
Region IV Public Affairs Officer

Taking Out The “Gov Speak”

Writing government information in “plain language” doesn’t sound that difficult. But avoiding jargon and “government speak” takes extra effort and attention. The NRC recently rewarded one of its own, Information Technology Specialist Laura Metzgar, in the agency’s first annual Plain Writing Contest. Laura set her sights on improving a section of the Congressional Budget Justification. This document provides details and explanations for our annual funding requests to Congress, but since it’s written by committee it often isn’t as understandable as it could be.

Laura took on the challenge of turning the following paragraph into clear, concise English while still conveying all the same information.

Original Text:

The budgetary resources will enable the NRC to continue licensing and regulatory activities to ensure the safe and secure operation of these civilian nuclear reactors. The NRC has organized Operating Reactors Business Line activities into product lines that best support safety and security strategies that impact strategic outcomes as they relate to existing civilian reactors. The resources requested support the Operating Reactors Business Line within the following seven product lines: Licensing, Oversight, Rulemaking, Research, International Activities, Generic Homeland Security, and Event Response. The outputs of these product line activities contribute to the scoring of the NRC Safety and Security Performance Measures and their contribution to achievement of the desired Strategic Outcomes.

The original paragraph is 111 words. Note that the second sentence alone is 30 words, and has four verbs! Laura rewrote the section.

Revised Text

The Operating Reactors business line consists of seven product lines that represent the licensing and regulatory activities to ensure the safe and secure operation of civilian nuclear reactors. The product lines are Licensing, Oversight, Rulemaking, Research, International Activities, Generic Homeland Security, and Event Response. The performance scores for these product lines contribute to the overall score for the agency’s Strategic Outcomes.

The revised paragraph is 61 words. The original text has a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level rating of 20.2—basically requiring 20 years of education to understand the text. The grade level score of the rewrite is 17.1. A definite improvement!

The NRC is continuing to look to ways to improve the clarity of its writing for the public. You can make suggestions on how we can do that in the comments section below.

For more information, visit the new Plain Writing section of the NRC’s website.

Glenn Ellmers
NRC Plain Writing Chairman