U.S. NRC Blog

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Five Questions with Ivonne Couret

Ivonne Couret is a public affairs officer, who oversees the production of the Information Digest

5 questions_9with boxHow would you describe your job in three sentences or less?
I’m a public affairs officer in the headquarters office at the NRC, where I handle public and media relations. As the agency has expanded its social media engagement, my focus has turned to visual communication and producing YouTube videos that promote the understanding of who we are and what we do as an agency. I’m also the project manager for the NRC Information Digest, which provides information about the agency and the industries we regulate.

What is the single most important thing that you do at work?

I believe the most important thing I do at the NRC is managing the annual production and distribution of the Information Digest, one of the agency’s most popular publications. It is packed with easy-to read descriptions about the agency and its responsibilities and activities, while providing general information on nuclear-related topics and data. The Digest includes many infographics that help explain the data and information. I organize the approval and review schedule, propose new conceptual approaches that reflect agency mission, activities and goals, and plan its distribution. I also promote it during the annual Regulatory Information Conference and at other public meetings and information venues. The latest Information Digest has just been published and is available here. I’m very proud of this year’s edition.

ivonne_digestWhat is the single biggest challenge you face?

One of the biggest challenges is working with technical and program staff to understand the advantages of visual communication. Today, many organizations are seeing the benefit of using visual techniques to present information. They can be a more effective way to exchange information, and assist in “telling a story.” We achieve a more meaningful information exchange when a reader sees graphs, pictures and diagrams in addition to text. And complex information, data and figures can be more easily presented via graphs, pictures and diagrams.

If you could change one thing at the NRC or within the nuclear industry, what would it be?

I would have the scientific and technical staff (in the industry and at the NRC) learn to explain complex concepts in simpler terms. It would be great if everyone could explain things like Bill Nye, the Science Guy, on how things work using those easy-to-follow techniques. This type of communication would make it much easier for the non-technical public to more fully understand what we do.

What one thing about the NRC do you wish more people knew?

I wish more people understood how committed the NRC Public Affairs Office is to providing information in a format that the public can understand, as well as how hard we work to respond to inquiries in a timely manner. You can stay connected with us on our Blog, Facebook page, follow us on Twitter @NRCgov, watch us on YouTube and find pictures, graphs and maps on Flickr.

A Solemn Anniversary

Stephen Burns
Chairman

This Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As always, that day is a time for reflection, which the passing years do not diminish. The events of that day still seem as fresh and raw now as they did at the time.

NUREG/BR-0314, Rev. 4, "August 2015 Protecting Our Nation."That was certainly a pivotal day for us as a nation, for us as individuals and us as employees of the NRC. Here, staff went quickly into response mode even as the significance of the day was not yet clear. Senior managers gathered in the Operations Center and at the regional Incident Response Centers; other employees were sent home; security was heightened around the buildings; and licensee facilities were ordered to their highest level of security.

The NRC, like the rest of the country, pulled together and experienced a sense of renewed purpose and affirmation of our values as a democracy. As then Chairman Richard Meserve told employees: These are trying times, but we will persevere.

And we did. In the years since, the NRC increased its focus on security, revised its security inspection program, restructured and enhanced the force-on-force program, strengthened radioactive material controls, updated its Operations Center and exercised regularly for security events in addition to safety events. The NRC responded to the challenge in ways that also still reverberate today and affect nearly everything we do.

The NRC’s excellent publication Protecting our Nation goes into detail about actions the NRC has taken to strengthen security, emergency planning and incident response in the years since. On this anniversary, please take a few moments to read it while we reflect on the tragedy that day still represents for us all.

UPDATED: Hurricanes – And Preparedness — Are In Focus This Month

Update: Over Labor Day weekend, Hermine had minimal impact on nuclear power plants in its path. The Brunswick plant, in North Carolina, temporarily down powered due to a loss of one offsite power line, but no plants in the southeast were forced to shut down and there was no major damage. Nuclear power plants in the northeast fare similarly. The NRC will continue to keep tabs on the storm’s movements with respect to possible impacts on New England nuclear power plants, but for now it appears they will not experience the kinds of wind speeds that could prompt operators to consider reducing power or shutting down a reactor. Roger Hannah and Neil Sheehan

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

The NRC joins the rest of the federal government this September — National Preparedness Month — in urging you keep your emergency plans up to date. Your plans should cover natural hazards for your area, including earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. With Tropical Storm Hermine taking aim at the U.S., now is a particularly good time to think preparedness.

emergencyThe NRC’s preparedness planning deals with potential accidents with radioactive material, particularly nuclear power plants.

If you live within about 10 miles of a U.S. nuclear power plant, the plant sends you emergency planning information every year. You might get this information in the form of a calendar, brochure or other document. A very important part of these materials discusses how emergency plans cover special groups such as students or people with disabilities. The materials include who to contact ahead of time for any additional help you, a family member or neighbor might need during an emergency. When you share this information with emergency officials, they can also use it during natural events.

The planning materials also include basic information on radiation, instructions for protective actions such as evacuation and sheltering in place, and contacts for additional information. It’s always good to store this information where you can easily find it if needed.

Another key part of your emergency plan is staying informed during an event. The NRC requires every U.S. nuclear power plant to have reliable ways of quickly informing people within 10 miles that something’s happening. This can involve sirens, tone-alert radios (think weather-alert radios), or emergency officials driving through your neighborhood and giving instructions over loudspeakers. A plant’s annual planning information will include the radio or television channels to tune to for Emergency Alert System (EAS) information and instructions during an event.

The NRC examines all of this emergency preparedness work in assessing every U.S. nuclear power plant’s ability to protect the public. Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the NRC grades a plant’s full-scale exercise at least once every two years. These exercises maintain the skills of plant, local, state and NRC emergency responders, as well as identify anything the plants need to improve. NRC inspectors also evaluate additional plant drills.

You can find more general information and tips on creating your family’s emergency plans at Ready.gov . Check out our YouTube video on hurricane preparedness at the NRC here.

REFRESH: On the Wild Side at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

Update: At nuclear power plants in the southwest, snakes, scorpions and black widow spiders are not an unusual sight. Resident Inspectors have to be especially careful during their walkthroughs in those plants not to poke into areas between pipes or bundles of electrical cables where venomous critters may be nesting.  But the most exotic wildlife may be the denizens at the South Texas Project nuclear plant in Bay City, where alligators abound. “We usually have about 75 alligators roaming around on site here at any given time,” said Shelia Davis, a corporate communications specialist for the South Texas Project. “If they stray into areas where they shouldn’t be we have people who are specially trained and can move them safely to our 7,000 acre reservoir.” Victor Dricks

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

refresh leafExamples abound of the ways in which nature abhors a vacuum. Raptors will set up shop on a skyscraper ledge, just as they will on a cliff, if it suits their needs. Coyotes have been increasingly spotted in urban settings, even roaming about the streets of Manhattan. Last year, surveillance cameras captured images of a mountain lion strolling the Hollywood Hills after dark.

Nuclear power plants are also home to a variety of wildlife. Despite the industrial nature of these facilities, they are usually situated on large tracts of land encompassing hundreds of acres. They are also adjacent to bodies of water in order to tap into that H20 for cooling purposes.

All of that property and access to water can entice a variety of animals and birds to take up residence on the sites. And they do just that.

Information supporting this can be found in the Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Reports for U.S. nuclear power plants that have ceased operations.

In the report for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which was submitted to the NRC in December 2014, it’s noted that the main emissions stack includes an attached nesting box for peregrine falcons. The box was installed by the company in 2009 at the request of the Audubon Society.

It’s been a rousing success, as according to the report “there have been two consecutive years of four young born and successfully fledged since 2012.”

An alligator crossing sign at the South Texas Project nuclear power plant.

An alligator crossing sign at the South Texas Project nuclear power plant.

Current decommissioning plans call for the Vernon, Vt., plant to be placed in storage for several decades prior to the initiation of major dismantlement work. However, when the time comes to remove the stack, the plant’s owner will need to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to removing the nesting box since the peregrine falcon is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Peregrine falcons can also be found at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, in central Pennsylvania. The PSDAR for TMI-2, where a severe accident occurred in 1979 and which won’t be taken apart until the neighboring TMI-1 permanently shuts down and is also ready for that work, shows peregrine falcons have nested on the TMI reactor building since 2002.

Meanwhile, the plant’s meteorological tower, which collects important weather data, has been home to an osprey nest every year since 2004. Ospreys, also referred to as fish hawks (with a wing span from around 5 feet), like to be around water, so it’s not surprising that TMI, situated on the Susquehanna River, is a place they call home.

A variety of wildlife can be found in the vicinity of the Crystal River 3 nuclear power plant, located on the Gulf Coast of Florida. That plant’s PSDAR, which the NRC received in December 2013, identifies the following threatened or endangered species in the vicinity of the site: Two species of fish — Gulf sturgeon and smalltooth sawfish; five species of sea turtles — green turtle, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback and loggerhead; one crocodilian species — American alligator; and one marine mammal — Florida manatee.

But on the site itself, only one state-listed threatened species, the bald eagle, and one state-listed endangered species, the wood stork, are found, according to the report. The PSDAR adds that three other species can “potentially occur” on the property: the gopher tortoise, the eastern indigo snake and the piping plover.

In the case of all of these plants and the others around the country, precautions must be taken to minimize the impacts of operations and decommissioning activities on these species and their habitats, consistent with federal and state laws.

REFRESH is an occasional series where we rerun and/or update previous blog posts. This post first ran in August 2015.

Throwback Thursday – The Lab Van ‘70s Style

TBT-2_blog sizeaugustGerald R. Ford was president. Median household income was $11,800. Gas cost 57 cents a gallon. And NRC inspectors, as part of the Independent Measurements Program, routinely hit the road in a fully equipped van containing a mobile laboratory. Inspectors measured samples of radioactive effluents from nuclear power plants, checking on the accuracy of sampling routinely done by the plants’ own laboratories.

The image directly above on the left shows an NRC inspector placing a liquid radioactive waste sample in a cryogenic detector for analysis of its isotopic composition. In the image directly above on the right, an NRC inspector reviews analytical data. A similar van, but with portable equipment, was used to verify measurements during safeguards inspections of materials facilities. During a safeguards inspection, the equipment was removed from the van and carried inside the facility for use.

Images from the 1975 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Annual Report

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