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