OIG Audits NRC’s Scientific Research Program

Stephen Dingbaum
Assistant Inspector General for Audits

An Office of the Inspector General audit regarding the NRC’s process for ensuring integrity in scientific research is now available here. The audit set out to determine if the NRC has the controls is place to oigassure that scientific research is objective, credible, and transparent.  

The NRC’s regulatory research program conducts research in the areas of nuclear reactors, nuclear materials, and radioactive waste. Scientific information that supports research includes factual inputs, data, models, analyses and technical information, or scientific assessments. This scientific information often informs NRC regulations.

The OIG found that while the NRC has controls in place, the way it manages scientific information, including information associated with scientific research, needs to be strengthened. Specifically, the NRC must improve the internal controls associated with responding to public requests to correct scientific information and for designating it as influential scientific information. Additionally, the OIG audit states the NRC must adopt required guidelines on conducting peer review of its information products associated with scientific research.

The audit also states the NRC must have effective controls in place to ensure that its information products are objective, credible, and transparent. Without effective controls, an opportunity for maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of NRC scientific information is being missed and may result in compromising stakeholder confidence in NRC’s ability to regulate in an unbiased, trustworthy, and open manner.

The report makes five recommendations specific to the way the NRC handles scientific information, to ensure that the NRC adopts federal requirements on peer review, and to ensure that internal guidance that may be impacted by new or revised federal guidance is regularly reviewed to determine if revisions are necessary.

NRC management stated their general agreement with the audit findings and recommendations.

 

EXIT — A Good Sign of Radiation

Maureen Conley
Public Affairs Officer

refresh leafMost people know radioactive energy can be harnessed to provide electricity and even to diagnose and treat certain illnesses. But would it surprise you to learn that radioactive materials also perform an important safety function by lighting emergency EXIT signs?

Look for the EXIT sign the next time you go to work, school, a sporting event, religious service, the movies, or the mall. If the sign glows green or red, chances are it contains a radioactive gas called tritium. The tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is sealed into glass tubes lined with a chemical that glows in the dark. Tritium emits low-energy radiation that cannot penetrate paper or clothing and even if inhaled, it leaves the body relatively quickly. As long as the tubes remain sealed, the signs pose no health, safety, or security hazard.

exit3We estimate there are more than 2 million of these signs in use in the United States. To ensure safety in handling and the manufacturing process, we and our Agreement State partners regulate the manufacture and distribution of tritium EXIT signs. Companies have to apply for and receive a license before they can manufacture or distribute one of these signs.

But because the signs are designed to be inherently safe, the NRC does not require any special training before a building can display the signs. Users are responsible for meeting the requirements for handling and disposal of unwanted or damaged signs and for reporting any changes affecting the signs.

exit2Proper handling and disposal is the most important safety requirement for these signs. A damaged sign could contaminate the immediate area and require an expensive cleanup. That is why broken or unwanted signs must be return to a licensed manufacturer, distributer, radioactive waste broker or radioactive waste disposal facility.

Tritium EXIT signs are one of several types of radioactive consumer products that we allow. These products can be produced and sold ONLY if they have a benefit that outweighs any radiation risk. See our earlier blog post for more information on how we regulate these products.

REFRESH is an occasional series where we revisit previous blog posts.