Spending a Saturday Afternoon at the NRC Listening to All Sides

On a beautiful fall afternoon, when many Americans were focused on college football, viewing the changing leaves (or raking them), or perhaps chasing about on suburban errands, two members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission spent part of Saturday afternoon meeting with leaders of groups opposed to nuclear power who also have complaints about the NRC.

Chairman Allison Macfarlane and Commissioner William Magwood met with the half-dozen individuals in the room at NRC headquarters usually reserved for business meetings of the five-member commission. Macfarlane, in comments opening the hour-long session, told the visitors the NRC values hearing from all points of view.

“I’m really glad to get the opportunity to meet and I look forward to hearing from all of you,” Macfarlane said at the outset of the 75-minute session.” She added after a cordial session that as a former academic she likes to hear all sides of an issue and “the public has legitimate concerns and technical knowledge.”

Magwood, who noted he has met with a number of interest groups on his visits to plants regulated by the NRC and helped set in motion improvements in the way the agency communicates with Tribal governments, said he too valued the meeting. “We like these dialogues because they give us a different perspective,” he said. He also noted, as did Macfarlane, that NRC employees “really do care about the health and safety of the American people.”

Gene Stone, of the San Clemente, Calif.-based group Residents Organized for a Safe Environment, who worked with the chairman’s office to arrange the meeting, said, “We are hoping that you will tighten the ship and through your collegial interactions work together for safety and not just the licensee.”

Topics raised by the vistors ranged from reactor-specific issues to the length of time it takes to get safety issues resolved, real time radiation monitoring, Agreement State issues, the National Environmental Policy Act, disposal of uranium mining products, and on-site waste storage. Plants mentioned in the discussion included San Onofre in California, Davis-Besse in Ohio, Palisades in Michigan, Zion in Illinois, Millstone in Connecticut, Fort Calhoun in Nebraska, and a nuclear fuel plant in Tennesse. Macfarlane was presented with two petitions that the groups said had in excess of 68,000 signatures — 24,000-plus from California — seeking the closure of the San Onofre plant near San Clemente.

Others at the meeting included David Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Information Service in Chicago; Linda Cataldo Modica of the Sierra Club in Jonesboro, Tenn.; Josh Nelson of Credo in Washington, D.C.; Michael Mariotte of the Nuclear Information Resource Service in Takoma Park, Md.; and Nancy Burton of the Connecticut Coalition against Millstone of Redding Ridge, Conn.

The NRC is a 4,000-person strong independent agency that regulates civilian uses of nuclear materials to protect people and the environment. Issues handled by the NRC range from safety improvements after the Fukushima accident to day-to-day oversight of reactor safety, and overseeing the safe use of nuclear materials in medicine and industrial settings.

Eliot Brenner
Director, Office of Public Afffairs