How the NRC Works with Native American Tribal Governments

tribal outreach posterMy office, the Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs, oversees NRC’s intergovernmental activities. When you hear the word, “intergovernmental,” you might think it refers to interactions with state or other federal agencies. We do that, but it’s only part of the story. We also have discussions and meetings with members of Native American tribal governments. We seek to inform Native American communities of the nature of NRC’s regulatory activities, and learn of tribal needs and concerns about our work.

The NRC routinely interacts with tribes on such issues as uranium milling and nuclear reactor licensing, nuclear waste storage and transportation of nuclear materials. The NRC is committed to its government-to-government relationships with tribes.

Over the past year, the NRC has developed a protocol to help the agency work with tribal governments, and to increase NRC’s awareness of tribal participation in the regulatory process. This has helped to educate NRC about Native American culture and historical relations between the federal government and the tribes. Our staff has enhanced its ability to work with tribal governments by taking courses in such areas as tribal consultation, environmental policy and historic preservation. We have also made efforts to increase general outreach to tribes and to respond to specific requests.

In addition, we maintain a working relationship with the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, DC. This group represents the needs and interests of all 565 federally recognized tribes.

Our staff is now working on regulations that would require Native American tribes to be notified of reactor fuel shipments that may be transported across tribal reservation lands. We’ve corresponded directly with all 565 tribes and asked for comments on the proposed regulation. Additional information about this rulemaking can be found at http://www.regulations.gov/by searching under Docket ID NRC-1999-0005.

NRC’s tribal outreach is part of a broader federal effort to communicate more closely with the tribes. In this way, we hope we are getting to know one another a bit better. If you’d like to know more about this activity, please contact Rich Turtil at Richard.Turtil@nrc.gov .

George Deegan
Senior Program Analyst (Nuclear Materials/Waste Management)

NRC- It’s Not the Nuclear Reactor Commission

radiation symbolBefore I came to NRC, I thought the agency was set up just to make sure that 100 or so U.S. reactors operated safely. While that remains one of the agency’s most important missions, there is so much more that we do. For example, the office in which I work regulates 3,000 users of radioactive material and oversees 37 states that regulate about 20,000 other users of this material.

Most people know about nuclear medicine, where radioactive materials are used in diagnosing and treating illness. But many may not know that radioactive materials are also used in devices such as the gauges that measure moisture density in highway construction or in analytical equipment that makes sure airplanes don’t have structural defects. Radioactive material is used in a number of different applications (commercial, academic, and medical) with a broad range of societal benefits.

In my office, we make sure the people who use the material do so in a safe and responsible manner, and that they have the material properly controlled to protect it from being stolen or lost. We also make sure our licensees – those we license to use radioactive materials — are aware of their environmental responsibilities and we work to ensure sites where these materials have been used are decommissioned properly.

Our regional staff of license reviewers and inspectors, and their counterparts in the states, work closely with the licensees and with other key stakeholders to monitor performance. We track when things go wrong, what we call “events,” and make decisions on what steps need to be taken based on the safety significance of those events.

We ask various parts of the industry if our regulations make sense and whether or not they are effective; but we also provide members of the public with similar opportunities to express their comments. We typically use the Federal Register to post these public comment notices, but you may see future blogs highlight this, too.

My office has a broad range of regulatory responsibilities. I look forward to highlighting some of our issues and challenges in future posts. If you would like me to focus on one particular aspect of nuclear materials, waste management, decommissioning, or uranium recovery activities, just let me know in the comment section below.

George Deegan
Senior Program Analyst (Nuclear Materials/Waste Management)