Generic Communications – What That Means for the Nuclear Power Industry

Last January, the Byron Station, Unit 2, automatically shut down its nuclear reactor because of an electrical power problem. But the way the power was lost – only one phase of three-phase alternating current was lost – in addition to a design problem caused the diesel-driven back-up generators to not start up automatically.

While operators were able to get the back-up generators started manually and the plant was shut down safely, this was clearly a problem the NRC has to look into. Since power can be lost to a plant for any number of reasons – including a thunderstorm or other natural events – back-up power is very important to keep vital safety systems working at the plants.

The NRC quickly issued an “information notice” to let other nuclear power plant operators know about the problem. The NRC then, some months later, followed up with a bulletin to all licensees. This bulletin required all 104 reactors and the four licensees that had submitted new reactor designs to provide the NRC with information about their electrical protection systems. The NRC staff will use the information provided by the licensees to determine if further regulatory action is needed.

A bulletin and an information notice are two types of NRC “generic communications.” Along with generic letters and regulatory issue summaries, generic communications provide a method to communicate, primarily with licensees, about issues that might affect all of them, even if the original event – as in this case – is specific to just one plant.

The term “generic” might seem odd in this context – most people probably think of generic in terms of medicine or consumer products. But for the NRC, the term refers to important ways we communicate generally about issues that might affect more than one site.

NRC generic communications can be viewed on the NRC’s public website.

Andrea Russell
Project Manager
Generic Communications and Power Uprate Branch

Thinking ‘Out Of the Box’ on Public Communications

The NRC is constantly challenging itself to enhance its dialogue with members of the public. A case in point is the webinar NRC’s Region III held this week to inform the public about the results of a special inspection at Palisades, which looked into a leak from a control rod drive mechanism in August.

We recognized that this issue is of high interest to the public and looked for an effective vehicle to talk to the public before the official inspection results are issued in mid-October. In addition, we wanted to provide participation opportunities beyond the plant’s home state of Michigan since the interest in this issue goes far beyond state borders. The regional office chose a webinar to meet our goals even though it’s not been used before to talk about a special inspection at a plant.

About 70 people participated in this hour-long public meeting that consisted of two parts – the presentation from the NRC staff and answering questions from the public.

The webinar was held in addition to three public meetings we conducted this year near the plant after work hours to make it convenient for the community. Even though two of these meetings were not required by the NRC process, we went above and beyond our requirements in response to the public’s concerns about the plant’s performance in 2012. We plan to have another public meeting in November to talk about the most recent plant performance reviews.

We are also going beyond what’s required in terms of communicating publically on issues at Palisades that don’t trigger a public notification threshold. Such was the case with a notification Region III issued on September 25 about an essential service water leak. We issued this public announcement in response to requests during public meetings this year to keep people informed about leaks at the plant that don’t represent an immediate safety concern.

Thinking out of the box on public communication led us to raise the bar on transparency in dealing with Palisades. We started generating summaries of significant phone conversations between NRC and Entergy staff and making them publically available on the NRC’s website. The first such summary is associated with this special inspection and can be viewed at under MI12243A519.

Our communications initiatives at Palisades reflect the interest of the NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane in better, broader communication with the public and are clear evidence of our commitment to keeping the public informed every step of the way about issues at plants with performance challenges.

Viktoria Mitlyng
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region III
%d bloggers like this: