Decoding the NRC’s Acronym Soup

Eliot Brenner
Director, Office of Public Affairs

acronymsA recent post talked about writing in plain language, and as one commenter pointed out, one of the stumbling blocks to that goal is often acronyms.

Acronyms aren’t new. According to historians, acronyms and initialisms were used in ancient Rome. Today, some initialisms are so accepted they stand alone without the definition: CEO, FBI, FAQ. And some have turned into actual words we accept – such as radar and scuba.

And then there are the many abbreviations of science — such as LET and NR – and of regulation: such as CFR, AEA. Together these strings of capital letters make up the perfect storm that is the NRC acronym soup.

To some, acronyms make perfect sense. But they can interfere with public understanding of NRC documents.

Case in point: In the SRM, the EDO directed SFST to update its SRP and eliminate the ISGs related to ISFSI or DSS SARs and COCs, without regard to whether FSME prepares an EA or an EIS to comply with NEPA.

Our 139-page guide to NRC abbreviations does help. And it’s especially helpful for those usages with multiple meanings. Did you know that PDA – in addition to the slang usage for a public display of affection – also stands for pre-docketed application, preliminary design acceptance and preliminary design authorization?

But the guide, as helpful as it is, still doesn’t capture some of the newer usages: JLD (Japan Lessons-Learned Directorate) or SMR (small modular reactor). (By the way, we’re in the process of updating this guide.)

Despite a plain language initiative that is gaining traction within the agency, and the venues, such as this blog, that are something of an acronym-free zone, the pesky strings of capital letters still pop up and still hinder our communication. While we try to reduce their use, let us know if there’s an acronym or initialism you see often and don’t understand. We’ll find the answer for you, and we’ll work to stop using it so much.

By the way, LET is linear energy transfer, NT is neutron transmitter, CFR is Code of Federal Regulations and AEA is Atomic Energy Act.

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