U.S. NRC Blog

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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Reaching Out to Help around the Globe

When you think about countries where the NRC conducts international cooperation and assistance, Tanzania would probably not be the first one that comes to mind; however, that is where a group of five NRC employees recently held a workshop on regulatory practices related to uranium production.

In recent years, there has been increased global interest in uranium mining and milling. This has led to a significant impact on countries with limited experience and a lack of regulatory infrastructure and trained staff. As a result, the NRC’s Office of International Programs initiated outreach on this topic to our counterparts around the world.

Uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that has been mined in the U.S. and other countries around the world for centuries. After being processed, uranium can be turned into fuel for nuclear power plants; however, if uranium mining and milling sites are not properly regulated, the radioactive materials and wastes at those sites can be hazardous for the public and the environment and lead to complex and expensive clean-up operations.

Abandoned or unregulated uranium recovery sites where hazards remain after operations have ceased, are known as “legacy sites.” Restoring these legacy sites may require clean-up of contaminated land and groundwater, and activities to reduce contamination from waste piles. With proper strategies undertaken early in the planning stages of uranium mining and milling, countries can take steps to avoid the creating these legacy sites, which are costly and difficult to clean-up.

The NRC is providing best practices and lessons learned to its international counterparts who are beginning to embark on uranium production, with the focus on helping to build strong regulatory infrastructure and preventing future legacy sites.

The NRC has hosted three workshops for international counterparts on the “Regulation of Uranium Recovery Operations” in Denver (August 2009), San Antonio (May 2011) and Arusha, Tanzania (January 2012). The three workshops have included participants from 31 countries from Central and South America, Asia and Africa. These workshops facilitate the sharing of best practices on the regulation of uranium mines and mills, including regulatory framework (laws, regulations, and guidance), application review, licensing process, oversight and inspection, cleanup, and decommissioning.

The workshop presenters stress the importance of independent regulatory authorities, well-established laws and regulations and long-term planning related to uranium recovery. Presenters from the NRC, the International Atomic Energy Agency and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission have discussed the environmental, health, and safety aspects related to uranium mining, milling and decommissioning and have facilitated the exchange of information between workshop participants.

The workshops in the U.S. also included tours of uranium recovery facilities and decommissioned uranium mills. Future workshops targeting specific regions are being planned.

Eric Stahl
International Relations Specialist

A Reminder about the RIC

The NRC’s 24th annual Regulatory Information Conference (RIC) is around the corner, March 13th to 15th, in North Bethesda, Md. Yes, the conference is free and open to the public, but you still need to register. You can register online before Feb. 28 or on-site at the registration service desk.

In addition to a comprehensive program agenda and network opportunities, participants will have their pick of 36 technical sessions and 24 technical poster and tabletop presentations. There will also be several sessions addressing high-interest topics associated with the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident and the NRC’s response to lessons-learned such as seismic and station blackout events, flooding and ventilation issues, emergency preparedness and incident response.

For your convenience, we have introduced new social media elements including  a RIC Twitter feed, Quick Response (QR) codes and YouTube videos.

• Twitter: Follow us @NRCGOV_RIC and get the up-to-the-minute postings of RIC news and highlights and you can go to the direct RIC Twitter feed. Non-Twitter followers can access the same information at the RIC website.

• QR Codes: displayed on conference materials and technical posters and tabletops that you can quickly scan using compatible hand-held devices to take you to specific conference information links

• YouTube: view the short video snippets of the RIC opening and plenary sessions the day after each session. Additional links will take YouTube visitors to the NRC video archives to view the entire sessions at the NRC video archive web page.

Visit the NRC website for more information on the RIC, registration and access to post-RIC event materials. And check out our new YouTube video: Three Minutes on the  RIC.

Ivonne Couret
Public Affairs Officer

Transcripts Provide Unique Glimpse of an Agency in Action

The NRC today has made available about 3,000 pages of transcribed conversations from the agency’s emergency operations center representing much of our communications over the first 10 days of the Fukushima reactor crisis in Japan in March 2011.

These documents provide a rare look inside the workings of the agency’s crisis center as the men and women of the NRC worked 24/7 to find ways to help Americans in Japan, the Japanese government and the firm that owns the Fukushima reactors.

It is up close and personal, gritty and unvarnished. It lays out the very human stories of staffers working with little rest, talking to counterparts half a world away while at the same time conversing with other agencies in the executive branch, our armed forces and the domestic nuclear industry.

This is a historical record of what went down in those early days.

As you read these transcripts – partially redacted and produced at substantial cost over nine months in response to Freedom of Information Act requests — you’ll see that the first days were very hectic. There wasn’t a lot of information. There was confusion and communication problems.

But the NRC staff quickly settled into a rhythm after the first alert – long hours, little rest, bad food – and important handoffs between shifts, regular communications with our teams in Japan, and in time working directly with the Japanese and TEPCO, the plant owner. And there was steady communication with the American public and the news media. In fact, this blog became a primary communications tool and readership greatly exceeded our expectations.

The situation appears stable now, but it was far from it in the early days as staff experts, under the direction of Chairman Jaczko, made tough and sometimes controversial recommendations.

Today, the NRC is working to implement lessons our experts have culled from what happened at Fukushima.

We invite you to read these transcripts to see an agency hard at work in the name of safety.

Eliot Brenner
Director, Office of Public Affairs

NRC Talking Research Next Week in Virginia, Pennsylvania

We recently issued the draft report summarizing several years’ worth of detailed research and analyses into what might happen during an accident at a nuclear power plant. Now we’re heading to the two plants we analyzed — one in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania — to discuss the results with the surrounding communities.

The project, called the State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses, or SOARCA, looked at situations that could disable a reactor’s normal safety systems. The project used powerful computer programs to predict the plants’ behavior based on decades of real-world experiments into issues such as how reactor fuel responds during the extreme temperatures expected during these accidents. SOARCA then plugged up-to-date information about the plants, including the latest updates to plant systems and operations, into the programs and examined how an accident might unfold.

SOARCA found that additional equipment the NRC required after the 9/11 attacks can, if used according to plan, help prevent a reactor accident from affecting public health. Even if accidents can’t be controlled with the new equipment, the research came to three basic conclusions:

• Accidents occur much more slowly than we originally thought;

• Accidents release much less radioactive material that we originally thought; and

• The emergency plans every U.S. reactor has in place can keep people safe.

The project came to some more specific conclusions about accident effects around the two plants, Surry (southeast of Richmond, Va.), and Peach Bottom (southeast of Lancaster, Pa.). For example, the slowly developing nature of the accidents and the existing emergency plans would keep everyone safe, even during uncontrolled accidents.

Some of the NRC staff involved in SOARCA will discuss the project on Feb. 21 in Surry, Va., and then on Feb. 22 in Delta, Pa. Details are available in the press release .

If you have comments on the draft report, you have until March 1 to send them in. The best way to comment is through regulations.gov , using Docket ID NRC-2012-0022. You can also mail comments (referencing the Docket ID) to Cindy Bladey, Chief, Rules, Announcements, and Directives Branch (RADB), Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWB-05-B01M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001. Comments can also be faxed to 301-492-3446, referencing the Docket ID.

If you submit comments in writing or in electronic form, they will be posted on the NRC website and on regulations.gov. The NRC will not edit or remove any identifying or contact information; please don’t include any information you wish to keep private.

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

NRC Ranked as a “Top 20” Government Agency in “CAREERS & the disABLED” Magazine

The NRC was recently recognized for its diverse workforce. Readers of “CAREERS & the disABLED” magazine selected the top agencies in the country for which they would most prefer to work or believe are progressive in hiring people with disabilities. Readers ranked the NRC as one of the “Top 20 Government Agencies.”

“CAREERS & the disABLED” magazine is the nation’s only career-guidance and recruitment magazine for people with disabilities at undergraduate, graduate or professional levels.

The NRC works hard to recruit people with disabilities. The NRC provides reasonable accommodations to remove workplace barriers for people with disabilities. These accommodations may include specialized computers and other assistive technology or equipment, telework and other flexible work schedules and sign language interpreting services.

In addition, employees with disabilities are provided opportunities for advancement and leadership roles within the agency. Employees with disabilities hold such positions as engineers, branch chiefs and program analysts, among others. In 2011, one such employee was awarded the 2011 NRC Meritorious Service Award for Equal Employment Opportunity Excellence.

We are proud that the readers of this magazine recognize our efforts.

Kim English
Outreach & Recruitment Branch
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