U.S. NRC Blog

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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Appointment of NRC Commissioners – How Does it Work?

Last month, President Obama nominated Dr. Allison Macfarlane to be an NRC Commissioner and indicated that if she is confirmed he will designate her as the next NRC Chairman. He also re-nominated Kristine Svinicki to serve another five-year term as an NRC Commissioner.

The NRC was established by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974. Section 201 of that Act specifies that the Commission shall be composed of five members, each of whom shall be a United States citizen. The President designates one of the Commissioners as Chairman to serve in that position at the pleasure of the President. No more than three Commissioners can be members of the same political party. The law establishes a structure where the Commissioners serve staggered terms, with the term of one Commissioner expiring each year on June 30th.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the appointment process begins when the President selects an individual to serve as a member of the Commission and submits the nomination to the United States Senate for its advice and consent. After the Senate receives the President’s nomination, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (the NRC’s Senate oversight committee) holds confirmation hearings and votes on whether to send the nomination to the full Senate for its consideration. Then a majority of the Senate must vote to confirm the nominee. The confirmation hearing for Dr. Macfarlane and Commissioner Svinicki was held on June 13th. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the nominations last Thursday.

Once the Senate has approved a nominee, the President must sign the appointment commission and only then can a Commissioner be sworn into office. At that point, the Commissioner will begin NRC service. Section 201 of the Energy Reorganization Act provides that Commissioners must not engage in any outside business, vocation, or employment, so they must terminate any outside work before joining the Commission.

Sean Croston
NRC Attorney

Dateline Vienna, Austria

In the aftermath of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant tragedy, there has been an increased focus on the issue of communicating nuclear issues during a crisis. There is an axiom that an accident at a nuclear plant anywhere is an accident everywhere. The parallel is that in today’s communications environment — where a tweet can ricochet around the globe with lightning speed — a communication anywhere can be a communication everywhere.

In May, nuclear regulators, communicators, reporters and non-governmental organizations gathered in Madrid to discuss communications topics under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency. Last week, the United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency had a meeting in Vienna, Austria, to further the discussion among global nuclear regulators and communicators.

The NRC was again asked to make a presentation. Jack Ramsey of our Office of International Programs talked about how the NRC communicates with international regulators and how we respond to domestic incidents. While I, as the agency’s director of the Office of Public Affairs, focused on three core points related to overall public and media communications.

First, that it is important always, and particularly so in times of crisis, to communicate early, often and clearly. It is likewise important not to wait until every facet of an accident is clear, because rapid communication is essential to building trust. Communicating often ensures that important information is made available quickly. And clear communication is essential to ensure that what you are saying is understood at a time when it is hard for people to focus. These are basic principles of crisis communication. And we try to communicate early, often and clearly on a daily basis here.

Second, for nuclear communicators it is also important to make sure that crisis communication is practiced in drills. We are fortunate at the NRC that the agency participates regularly – both in our regions and at headquarters – in drills that test decision making and communications.

And third, with rapid changes in the way we communicate, it is important for all nuclear communicators to begin incorporating so-called social media into their programs. The NRC had only recently started this blog when Fukushima occurred. This vehicle became a fast and flexible tool for us to address many topics. Today, the NRC uses this blog, Twitter, Flckr, and YouTube as communications channels to supplement the basic press releases and statements, and other materials that we make available to the public and the media.

It was encouraging that after the conference a number of representatives of both developed and developing nations wanted our guidance and help on social media and other communications. We think that means we’re doing something right.

Eliot Brenner
Director, Office of Public Affairs

New YouTube Video Shows NRC’s Hurricane Preparedness

With hurricane season in the Atlantic beginning this month, the NRC staff has already prepared to take action to ensure NRC-licensed nuclear plants and other facilities remain safe — even during damaging hurricane-force winds and storm surges.

Although nuclear plants are built to withstand the expected storms in their area, the NRC is ready for any storm that might threaten those plants during hurricane season.

From monitoring tropical storms and hurricanes as they develop to checking a plant’s preparations to sending additional inspectors, the NRC’s hurricane preparedness plans and response actions are the subject of new NRC video . We hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it.

Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer, Region II

NRC Creates a Vendor Inspection Center of Expertise

Many people familiar with the nuclear industry know the NRC inspects the facilities of the licensees it regulates. But what may be less well known is that the agency also inspects companies that provide safety-related components and services for these licensees.

The vendor inspection program at the NRC got its start in the 1970s under the Atomic Energy Commission and continued in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) until very recently. The vendor inspection program in NRR primarily performed inspections of vendors that provide safety-related parts and services to the operating reactor fleet. While NRR did perform some routine inspections, many of their inspections were in response to operating experience, reports of defects and noncompliance made in accordance with 10 CFR Part 21, and allegations.

In late 2006, the NRC created the Office of New Reactors (NRO) and a second vendor inspection program to perform routine inspections of vendors that provide safety-related parts and services for new reactors. This is where I’ve worked as a vendor inspector for the past several years.

While the two programs worked closely together, they had separate inspection programs, inspection manuals and inspection procedures. They also spent a lot of time ensuring that the enforcement actions and inspection efforts were consistent between the two programs. So this year, the NRC decided to develop a Vendor Inspection Center of Expertise (COE) to increase cooperation between the two offices and streamline activities.

The Vendor Inspection COE, now located in NRO, is responsible for performing reactive inspections in response to operating experience, reports of defects and noncompliance made in accordance with 10 CFR Part 21, and allegations. In addition, it conducts inspections to verify the effective implementation of vendor quality assurance programs to assure the quality of materials, equipment, and services supplied to the commercial nuclear power reactor industry.

By combining the two vendor inspection programs into one center, the agency can reduce duplicate guidance and the level of resources needed to ensure consistent enforcement actions and inspection effort. The center also will provide a better environment for knowledge management for the vendor inspection staff, and provide the junior staff better accessibility to senior staff for mentoring and on-the-job training.

Samantha Crane
Mechanical Vendor Inspection Branch
Office of New Reactors

Radioactive Rumor Mill Doesn’t Help Anyone

Last week, the NRC’s Region III Office in Chicago spent the better part of a day dispelling rumors of a nuclear emergency on the border of Indiana and Michigan after two non-governmental radiation monitoring networks allegedly showed extremely high radiation readings. Before the readings were verified as anything beyond equipment malfunction – which is exactly what they were – social media and the rumor mill kicked into gear.

A YouTube video about the “radiation spike” was posted early in the morning and spread like wildfire. In the blink of an eye media outlets were inundated with panicked calls from the public who had seen the YouTube video. Calls from the media and the public poured into the NRC, state officials and to the nearest nuclear power plants — Palisades and D.C. Cook.

We did our due diligence –we checked with the power plants, which were operating normally with no unusual radiation release, and we checked with the state officials in Indiana and Michigan. And we also reported the calls to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Eventually, the radiation network reporting the spike, organized and maintained by local citizens, informed the public that they had experienced an equipment malfunction and made a reporting mistake due to “out-of-control readings on the GeigerGraph screen.”

Fortunately, the incident was not real and the rumor mill in this instance was short lived. Though a week later we are still receiving calls from the public and media outlets who had not heard it was a false rumor. It’s important to remember that local and state agencies and the federal government are the best, most accurate source of verified, credible emergency information. As we’ve seen before, unofficial social media can get information wrong.

Prema Chandrathil
Public Affairs Officer, Region III
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