Time to Mark Your Calendars for the NRC’s Biggest Conference

Stephanie West
Public Affairs Specialist

 March 14, 15 and 16 boast some interesting historical events. Albert Einstein was born, the first internet domain name was registered and the first issue of the Federal Register was published. These dates will be noteworthy in 2017, as well, as this is when the NRC’s 29th Annual Regulatory Information Conference will be held in Rockville, Md.

save-the-date-for-web_smEach year, this conference – also just known as “the RIC” — brings together regulators, industry officials and interested members of the public. The RIC provides an opportunity to exchange information, engage in meaningful dialogue and hear diverse perspectives about nuclear reactor and materials safety and security and issues being addressed through NRC-sponsored research.

Attendees can attend plenary and technical presentations, network at poster and tabletop sessions during breaks, attend lunchtime workshops and sign up to take a tour of the NRC Operations Center – or tune into the RIC’s digital channels.

While this annual event has evolved into a large public meeting now attracting about 3,000 attendees and participants from all over the world, that wasn’t always the case.

In its inaugural year in 1989, the RIC had only about 500 attendees mostly from industry, and the focus of the conference was primarily on reactor regulation. The nuclear industry in the mid-1980s was faced with implementing many of the post-Three Mile Island regulatory changes in a heightened, and tightened oversight environment. This made for a challenging relationship between the industry and its regulator. The RIC was envisioned as a forum for non-confrontational communications.

ricblogIn that first year, conference presentations were given only by NRC staff, and while feedback seemed to indicate an appreciation for hearing from the people making the day-to-day decisions, the NRC saw an opportunity to improve the RIC by talking less and listening more. Starting in 1990, industry representatives were invited to participate in discussion panels, still a key feature of the conference today.

And since participants expressed interest in policy issues as well as regulatory matters, the NRC Chairman and Commissioners were featured more prominently. In the post 9/11 environment, and in light of events like Hurricane Katrina, the RIC expanded to include perspectives from state and local officials who are part of emergency preparedness and incident response for the plants in their communities.

Recognizing the importance of all perspectives, even those critical of the nuclear industry and its regulator — groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists — have also joined some RIC panels.

Interest in the RIC extends beyond a national audience. International representation has increased with attendees from more than two dozen countries. The RIC is an opportunity for sharing different perspectives on emerging safety and security issues facing the domestic and international nuclear community.

Public accessibility to the RIC has greatly increased over the years. Making use of technology, the NRC reaches out beyond the walls of the conference rooms. The NRC uses its website and social media platforms to share RIC information by web streaming Commission plenary and some of the breakout sessions and posting presentations and posters on the NRC website.

The agency tweets relevant conference information from a dedicated RIC Twitter account. Images and information from the RIC are posted on the NRC’s Flickr and Facebook pages. And the agency live tweets from the Commissioner plenaries and several of the technical sessions using its primary Twitter account. A link to the RIC’s mobile friendly website will be activated at a later date making it easier to access information from hand-held devices.

The RIC is free and only requires attendees to register. Registration can be done online beginning in January 2017 or in person during the conference.

Learn more about the history of the NRC’s biggest public conference in a video posted on the agency’s YouTube channel Moments in NRC History: Regulatory Information Conference – 25 years.

Updating Radioactive Materials Transportation Regulations

Emma Wong
Project Manager

10cfrIf you have ever wondered about the safety of packaging and transporting radioactive materials, now is the perfect opportunity to learn about it. The NRC is kicking off the process of updating our requirements in 10 CFR Part 71.

We do this periodically to reflect new information. Changes to international packaging and transportation standards published by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which serve as a standard for the U.S. and other nations, can also trigger revisions. Stringent safety requirements, as well as coordination among federal agencies, international regulators, and tribal, state and local officials, help to ensure radioactive materials shipments are made safely.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has primary responsibility for regulatory materials transport, while the NRC regulates packages for larger quantities. This structure provides many layers of safety.

When it is time to review our requirements, the NRC coordinates with DOT to ensure the two agencies have consistent regulatory standards. The process may take several years. We are also working to align our regulations with the IAEA’s.

To encourage public input, we are publishing an “issues paper” that outlines areas we have identified for possible revision. We’ll take comments on it for 60 days. We plan to use that input to develop a draft regulatory basis—a document that identifies a regulatory issue, and considers and recommends a solution. Once finalized, the draft regulatory basis will be made available for public comment. After taking comments on the draft, we can publish a final regulatory basis.

At that point, if our Commission agrees that revision to our requirements are needed, we would move into developing a proposed rule, then a final rule. Each step in the process takes about a year. Details on how to submit comments can be found in a Federal Register notice that will be published on November 21. This information and additional details about the rulemaking will be available on the federal rulemaking website.

We’re also planning a public meeting on Dec. 5-6 at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., to discuss the paper and answer questions. Details on participating, including by teleconference and webinar, can be found in our meeting notice.

img_0230While the regulations are being updated, the fact remains that radioactive materials are transported safely all the time. Millions of these shipments are made each year and arrive at their destination without incident. Occasionally, a carrier might be involved in a traffic accident. But in decades of experience, there has never been an accident that resulted in injury from exposure to the radioactive contents.

All shipments of radioactive material must also be made in compliance with DOT regulations. Smaller shipments pose extremely low risk. The larger the amount of radioactive materials, the more stringent DOT’s requirements are. DOT limits how much radioactivity can be transported in each package. That way, no transport accident involving these shipments would pose a significant health threat.

But what about larger amounts of radioactive materials? What about spent nuclear fuel?

In addition to meeting DOT requirements, larger shipments of radioactive cargo such as spent nuclear fuel and fissile material must meet NRC regulations for packaging and transport in Part 71. These regulations include very detailed requirements for shipping under normal conditions, as well as stringent tests to show the packages can withstand hypothetical severe accidents. These are the regulations we are updating now. If you would like to learn more about the transportation of spent fuel and radioactive materials, see our website.