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

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

27 thoughts on “Spending a Saturday Afternoon at the NRC Listening to All Sides”

  1. In answer to the comment related to enforcement:

    The NRC posts our escalated actions here http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/regulatory/enforcement/current.html generally within a few days of issuance. The official documents are in ADAMS. All fines go to the general fund at the Department of the Treasury.

    Also, the NRC developed the Allegation Program so that the public and those working in NRC-regulated activities have a viable process for reporting safety and wrongdoing concerns directly to the NRC. While the NRC’s mission for ensuring adequate protection is not dependent upon allegations of safety deficiencies, information provided by the public and thousands of employees working in NRC regulated activities provides valuable insights into their day to day operations. The NRC, therefore, especially encourages employees working in regulated activities to raise safety concerns to both their employers and the NRC. There is no statutory authority that allows expenditures of funds for monetarily rewarding allegers, however.

  2. Exactly a real action plan, with real committed resources is the only way to carry out a project.

  3. To fresh: I agree with you completely!

    Some are some great enforcement questions:
    1. Where does the NRC post its listing of penalties and or other enforcements?
    2. Where do these fines “go”?
    3. Do they REWARD whistle blowers that save the NRC and the Country
    …. from a nuclear incidents or worse?
    4. What is the annual budget for promoting submissions to the NRC?

  4. The NRC does not need to listen to pro-nuclear positions, they are pro-nuclear themselves. Their regulation of our community has been so poor that we say, “Let the nuclear industry pay their salaries, because the regulation would be exactly the same.”

  5. >Science and Engineering can never overcome human greed and ego.

    Interestingly enough, it is more economical to run your plant safely than to try and “skimp” on maintenance costs or the like. Between the plant automatically shutting down when equipment fails, costing millions of dollars at a minimum, to the NRC issuing a confirmatory action letter requiring a shutdown like at Ft. Calhoun for long term degraded performance, it is not economical to be “greedy” when running a nuclear plant, and the big nuclear fleets know this.

  6. >I believe Arnie Gunderson’s comments that TMI has caused 200,000 cancers and other health problems since the melt down.

    Arnie Gunderson’s comments don’t agree with the medical or scientific data of the event. The releases from TMI were far less (<8 mRem under some worst case assumptions) than what a nuclear plant is allowed to release during a year of operation (100 mR, per 10CFR100). It was less than a cross country plane flight, especially during a solar storm. It was less than medical X-Rays. It was drastically less than living in Colorado where background radiation is much higher. These are things which are done every day without significant increases in cancer rates, and it does not follow that TMI would have any significant offsite impacts. Studies to this day have very high confidence levels that even using conservative data and cancer models the number of cancers caused by TMI could be zero, and will not be higher than a few (3-5?).

  7. >The lesson I get from the analysis the NRC did of the Fukushima disaster is that with smart and able operators the RCIC emergency system is surprisingly effective at maintaining cooling in a critical situation.

    I 100% agree. RCIC is pretty incredible as it can be black started or run off of DC power. There are many plants who, in the 80’s and early 90’s, would let their reactors sit in hot-standby on RCIC automatic level control for days while they performed repairs. The thing just plain works, and rarely has issues.

    HPCI (in most BWRs) and turbine driven aux feed (in many PWRs) are also based on the same technology (the terry turbine) and are also known for being very reliable.

  8. The NRC is pro-nuclear, from its very inception. They want to promote nuclear and safe nuclear at that. Are you crying because you missed the opportunity to promote?

  9. Ignorance and Denial are the greatest impediments to proper actions in a real emergency. I am afraid those traits are distinctly human and that we can’t “technology” around that. Not with something as dangerous as nuclear. And what happens when we have a Carrington event which wipes out the grid to 100 plants? Sorry, your helicopter water drop is kind of a farce in that situation.

  10. Nuclear Guy: “TMI is an example where mitigation worked very well, as offsite exposure to the public was still far less than even the yearly allowable offsite exposure for a nuclear power plant (per 10CFR100- 100mRem/year to the public).” I believe Arnie Gunderson’s comments that TMI has caused 200,000 cancers and other health problems since the melt down. These will soon turn into early deaths plus all the pain that they will go through a terrible price to pay for a power system. I also believe in comments about very few liquidators alive from Chernobyl and seen reports on the mutations that are getting more frequent. This saying no death from nuclear is way meth, keep saying it is will not make it so.

  11. The lesson I get from the analysis the NRC did of the Fukushima disaster is that with smart and able operators the RCIC emergency system is surprisingly effective at maintaining cooling in a critical situation. Reactor number 1 that had no RCIC was doomed, and the safety of a reactor of that generation can not be ensured under a similar situation. However the other reactors would have been saved, and the public would have been spared exposure to radiations, if the Japanese had managed to put in place a helicopter air bridge to bring fresh water tanks to fuel the RCIC system. After a few hours, the absolutely required water flow was low enough that this was definitively possible.
    But nobody externally was actually trained and immediately ready to intervene on a situation like that, and set up such an exceptional scheme within the short time frame that they had.
    The French ASN is currently putting in place an emergency intervention team to handle similar situations. I think this is a smart measure and definitively brings the ability to save the day in a situation just as bad as Fukushima.

    The TVA and EPA settlement brings material proof that the coal power pollution costs many lives every year. Exxon declared in the WSJ a few day ago that the current gas price is not sustainable. This means they will lower investment and reduce the amount produced until price becomes much higher, and the hope of unlimited cheap gas some are holding will meet reality.

    All in one, this means nuclear is still deeply needed to provide a large amount of reliable power with the level of safety that smart and able regulation by the NRC can provide. But such a regulation needs to be efficient and effective, and not just a blindly applied large amount of red tape that doesn’t actually enhance security.

  12. Rod, nuclear increases our risk in the pursuit of “cheap energy” and yet we know the nuke is some of the most expensive energy on the planet, with an annual rate of return on investment of 1.666%. After waiting ten years, AND if they don’t blowup or melt down, which more than 1% of reactors do. Fukushima released tens of tons of uranium and plutonium and the EPA air sampling data proves it beyond it, just watch the videos of the reactors blowing up.

    This is not rocket science. Nuke comes with huge risks, and pursuing MOX makes it all the riskier. We can do nuke out of desperation, but thats it

  13. Why did you title this as “Spending a Saturday Afternoon at the NRC Listening to All Sides” than? This meeting was not with “all sides”, it was with strictly anti-nuclear groups. There was not one pro-nuclear representative there.

    Does the NRC have any meetings scheduled with pro-nuclear groups to truly hear from “all sides”?

  14. Then what went wrong with Fukushima and the other 2 plants, Chernobyl and TMI, they have not inproved the existing plants physically. We are waiting for the next melt down that will happen as sure as the sun comes up.

  15. Rod, thanks for reading the blog and commenting. This chairman, like her predecessors over the years, routinely meets with those on the pro-nuclear side of the equation to hear their views both on plant specific matters and broad policy issues. Last Saturday’s session took place because a number of groups were in town and this presented an opportunity to meet with several groups at the same time. As a regulator, the agency values the input it receives from all quarters. Thanks again for reading the blog and taking time to comment.

    Eliot Brenner
    Director, Office of Public Affairs

  16. Having a meeting with six dedicated anti-nuclear activists is most certainly NOT to be considered as “listening to all sides.” While the title should not have been “listening to the opposition,” because the NRC cannot be either pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear as the regulator (regardless of the political motivations of the prior Chairman, of which present Chairman Macfarlane has been reminded at open hearing in Congress) it certainly should have indicated that the group being engaged is wholly against the operation of any nuclear power plants anywhere. Further, the repeated (and tired) implication that the NRC serves licensees and not the interest of safety managed to get printed in this article again as an open-ended accusation which not even the writer of this blog article saw fit to directly refute. I would hope not only that in the future the labeling of such meetings is written factually but also that other future meetings with pro-nuclear sources will be scheduled, carried out, and publicized — factually.

  17. The scary thing about this blog post is the title, which implies that the meeting included “all sides”. Fortunately, the first paragraph admits that this particular meeting involved a completely one sided audience with invited guests who all represent groups that are opposed to the use of nuclear energy.

    I hope that Chairman Macfarlane is ready and willing to engage in discussions with people who represent other aspects of the discussion, which has far more than two “sides”. I hope she will acknowledge that there are citizens that strongly support the use of nuclear energy as a competitor to coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike popular unreliables like wind and solar energy, nuclear fission has demonstrated that it can completely replace fossil fuel combustion when properly designed and implemented.

    I’ve had the rare privilege of living in an “all nuclear all the time” world on deployments that lasted for months. Our nuclear propulsion plant was a modest sized machine that provided all of the power we needed to roam the oceans underwater – at high speeds if desired. It also supplied plenty of fresh water (produced by removing salt and other impurities from sea water), plenty of air conditioning, and power to spare for entertainment, food preservation, computers, and lighting. The compact fuel source that heated the water to make the power weighed a little more than my own body weight, yet it supplied all the energy needed to operate a 9,000 ton submarine for 14 years.

    The world has overreacted to the non-fatal events at Fukushima. I am pretty sure the overreaction was fed by fossil fuel money used to help the media and government spread irrational fear, uncertainty and doubt.

    The admittedly destroyed plants released just 100 kilograms or less of a relatively benign long lived isotope, resulting in concentrations that produce acceptably low radiation doses in almost every square meter of politically evacuated land area. The effects are far less damaging than the routinely accepted consequences of fossil fuel accidents. When nuclear plants operate well, they do not produce any gases that threaten the ability of the atmosphere to support life as we know it, that is a stark contrast to effect of their fossil fuel competition.

    The Chairman should plan to listen to people who depend on the NRC to make correct technical judgements that will enable nuclear fission to help protect the environment, improve American security and make life safer for human beings.

  18. You mean San Onfre Reactor Emergency (SORE)?

    That one is far too dangerous, and the culture of corruption of lying to the NRC should be punished heavily if not with jail terms.

  19. In the 6th paragraph, it is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) not NE Protection A.

  20. Gen 2 nuclear plants require active cooling due to decay heat. A loss of decay heat removal will eventually lead to core damage, which is why decay heat removal systems such as ECCS (Emergency Core Cooling System) and RPS (Reactor Protection System) are given their own unique requirements such as those of 10CFR50.55a (to have an inservice testing program), and 10CFR50.46 (requires for ECCS).

    Ultimately the plant should be designed and maintained in such a way that a loss of all ECCS and decay heat removal systems is not probable, and that if such a loss happens, that offsite radiation release is kept within specific limits. The idea is prevent everything, and if you cant prevent it, then mitigate it to prevent significant consequences. TMI is an example where mitigation worked very well, as offsite exposure to the public was still far less than even the yearly allowable offsite exposure for a nuclear power plant (per 10CFR100- 100mRem/year to the public).

    Faster response is key, as with a hot reactor you only have hours (4-8-12 it really depends on a lot of factors) prior to fuel damage. If portable equipment and hookups are made available, even with onsite equipment, you can extend the amount of time prior to significant core damage by several hours to days, allowing for major equipment repairs and/or large permanent portable equipment being brought on site.

    As for work orders, if the work is technical specifications, safety related, or in specific testing programs, it doesn’t matter if you assign a start date to work orders, if it does not have its required maintenance and surveillance testing then the system is inoperable and the plant is in a strict violation of its operating license. As for non-safety or balance of plant equipment which is not ASME code class and not in IST (10CFR50.55a program), PMs of this nature generally have no regulatory requirement outside of any plant specific commitments, so they don’t need to be performed. However if the failure of that equipment causes a reactor scram or other undesirable consequence that does get reviewed in the reactor oversight process and will count against the cornerstones for the plant.

  21. Nature does not care about “science and engineering” or Corporate Utility profits…
    Ask The Japanese!

    SONGS is one BIG earthquake away from becoming a Fukushima and that is a fact!

  22. I hope that if science and engineering shows that SONGS can safety operate, that the plant comes back online, and that neither belief nor opinion get in the way of that.

  23. My concerns are not the same as the NRC is, they want to steer all talks to safety improvements that can be done at no or even a reduce cost of running the plants, like of all things shift inspections and preventative maintenance on to the plant owners responsibility. The NRC and other safety committees cannot force work orders to be carried out in the past so what makes anyone believe they will now do the work in a timely manner as we have seen work orders held up for years or refused by not publishing the start work date. I have been laughed at for suggesting a nuclear power plant can be caused to explode by a small group did at 711. The right size and cargo on board will do the job. The responses to prevent a meltdown seem to be faster response time, how can that be done when road ways can be plugged, there are too many natural or manmade melt downs, at Fukushima, Chernobyl, and TMI, SIX melt downs and reports indicated SIX deferent problems caused the melt downs and there are hundreds of other ways. There is no way to prevent another melt down, is there?

  24. Safe cheap well manged maintained nuclear free of retailiation harrasment intimidation trasparent power that is the what people expect from nrc utilities senator Boxer President Obama CPCU

  25. I hope the new Chairwomen of the NRC will also join Elmo Collins when he comes to San Diego and Dana Point to talk about what has been going on at SONGS and why it should not be restarted under any conditions, we need her expertise! California is THE earthquake state!

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