Public Outreach – The Value of Face-to-Face

John Dixon

Every year as part of its public outreach effort, the NRC holds a public meeting in the vicinity of each nuclear power plant. The meetings are designed to provide members of the local community with an opportunity to hear a report from the NRC on each plant’s safe operation and meet face-to-face with the people responsible for ensuring the safe operation of the nation’s 104 operating reactors.

Some meetings draw hundreds of participants while others are sparsely attended. Typically, the meetings for South Texas Project in Bay City, Texas, draw only a handful of members of the public. In NRC’s Region IV, we have been looking at alternatives to the traditional public meetings held in hotel conference rooms. We’ve been setting up information booths at community events and encouraging resident inspectors to meet with civic groups. As part of this effort, I decided to approach the Bay City Chamber of Commerce to see if I could speak at one of their lunch meetings.

At our request, the C of C agreed to open their Aug. 1 meeting to the general public. Flyers were mailed to the local community and we were told we drew a noticeably larger audience than usual. I provided the group with a brief synopsis of the inspections I had conducted during 2011 and described some of the duties that I, as the NRC’s Senior Resident Inspector, perform on a daily basis.

Despite living so close to a nuclear plant, most of the Bay City residents who came did not know much about the role the NRC plays in ensuring the safe operation of South Texas Project. Many expressed surprise when I described our role as an independent regulator of nuclear safety and told them we had unfettered access to the plant, to people and records. They also did not realize that we were assigned to the site, report to the facility virtually every day, are capable of responding 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are limited to a maximum assignment of seven years.

I answered a variety of questions related to how we perform inspections, how events from Fukushima have changed our actions, and how we assess the safety of each plant. All in all the meeting was quite successful and resulted in interacting with new members of the public that we had never reached before.

John Dixon
Senior Resident, South Texas Project Nuclear Plant

Author: Moderator

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

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